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Hillary's New Hope

Clinton aims her fire at the antiwar left's favorite target, Dick Cheney.

12:00 AM, Sep 20, 2007 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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"YOU CAN ALWAYS tell when the Republicans are getting restless, because the Vice President's motorcade pulls into the Capitol, and Darth Vader emerges," Hillary Clinton said at a town hall meeting in New York, according to a report by Politico's Ben Smith.

She continued: "I'm not invited to their meetings and I don't know what he says or does. But all the brave talk about bringing our troops home, and setting deadlines, and getting out by a certain date just dissipated."

There is no downside to attacking Dick Cheney, especially if you're Hillary Clinton. You voted for the war and for its continued funding. And although you're now running as an antiwar candidate you refuse to call your vote a mistake, a fact that has infuriated many of the Democratic primary voters who will choose your party's nominee.

No one is more despised by the antiwar left than Dick Cheney. And by going after the vice president, Hillary may be able to deflect some of the criticism she has gotten for suggesting David Petraeus was not telling the truth in his recent congressional testimony. She told Petraeus last week that accepting his answers required a "willing suspension of disbelief."

As she quickly learned, it is foolish to question the integrity of a highly respected military leader in a time of war. Calling Cheney "Darth Vader" is certain to get her lots of media attention, even if the rest of her comments were, in their own way, a backhanded compliment.

(Even Republicans on Capitol Hill have long regarded Cheney as the Bush administration's enforcer. "When I'd get a phone call from the vice president that was bad news, because he wanted me to do something," former speaker of the House Dennis Hastert told me. "When I'd get a call from the president it was an attaboy or a slap on the back for getting something done. Dick was going to call--there was a tough deed to follow.")

In a sense, this Hillary versus Cheney battle is a proxy for what is certain to be one of the central debates of the 2008 election. Who did a better job of protecting Americans--Bill Clinton in the 1990s or George Bush and Dick Cheney ever since? No one has been a more outspoken defender of the Clinton record than Hillary Clinton, and no one has been a more aggressive proponent of Bush administration policies than Cheney.

At a Democratic debate on June 3, 2007, in New Hampshire, Clinton boasted about her husband and his administration's policies on terrorism. "You know, my husband actually tried to take out bin Laden. You know, he did fire missiles at a training camp that we had intelligence that that's where bin Laden was. Because, by that time, bin Laden had already bombed our embassies--bin Laden had already demonstrated his hostility toward the United States."

And in September 2007, after her husband lashed out at Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, Hillary rose to his defense by offering blunt criticism of the Bush administration's handling of intelligence before 9/11.

"I'm certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team."

Not only was this criticism particularly harsh, it was also unintentionally humorous. As Tom Joscelyn reported here, Bill Clinton signed a classified intelligence report in December 1998 that read: "The Intelligence Community has strong indications that Bin Laden intends to conduct or sponsor attacks inside the United States." (If Dick Cheney had made such an erroneous claim, the left would have called him a liar and if Fred Thompson had done so it would be evidence of his lack of knowledge of the issues. Because the gaffe came from Hillary, it received little attention in the mainstream press.)

For his part, Cheney has long been critical of Clinton administration policies on terrorism. "They weren't very successful, obviously," he said, shortly after the 9/11 attacks.