At the Campaign for America’s Future “Take Back America” conference in Washington Tuesday, two U.S. senators with 2008 presidential ambitions addressed a large audience of mostly liberal Democrats from around the country.
New York Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who voted for the 2002 Senate resolution authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq, told the crowd, “I have to just say it: I do not think it is a smart strategy either for the president to continue with his open-ended commitment, which I think does not put enough pressure on the new Iraqi government, nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain. I do not agree that that is in the best interest of our troops or our country.”
Clinton, who otherwise earned a warm reception, drew boos and hisses for that remark.
Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, who also voted for the 2002 resolution, followed Clinton to the podium later in the day. He offered the crowd a decidedly different line. “Let me say it plainly,” the Democratic party’s 2004 presidential nominee began. “It’s not enough to argue with the logistics or to argue about the details or the manner of the conflict’s execution or the failures of competence, as great as they are. It is essential to acknowledge that the war itself was a mistake, to say the simple words that contain more truth than pride. We were misled. We were given evidence that was not true. It was wrong, and I was wrong to vote for that Iraqi resolution.”
Kerry, whose failure to use such language during the 2004 campaign frustrated anti-war Democrats, has recently joined Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, another potential 2008 contender and scheduled speaker at the “Take Back America” conference, in advocating for an exit strategy. At Tuesday’s session, he spoke of the need to “end a war in Iraq that weakens the nation each and every day it goes on.”
The Massachusetts senator drew sustained cheering and applause for acknowledging past errors and for advocating the course correction that Hillary Clinton still refuses to support.