Clinton Campaign Stays on the Offensive Over Iraq

“I grew up in Lousiana and I learned a little bit about milking a cow,” said Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard on a Clinton campaign conference call today, referring to Barack Obama’s record on Iraq. “Just because you recognize the cow doesn’t mean you know how to milk it.”

“No one can tell you how to milk a cow—you have to learn that yourself,” Ballard went on. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he [Obama] can recognize a cow, but there’s no experience that shows me he know how to milk one.”

Hillary Clinton’s vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq has long been seen as one of her great liabilities, in contrast to Obama’s early opposition to the war.

But the Clinton campaign is seizing on two recent developments to poke holes in Obama’s rhetoric about Iraq. The first is a recent comment by former Obama foreign policy adviser Samantha Power, who said Obama would not necessarily stick with the plan for Iraq his campaign has articulated if he were elected. The second is an article in the New York Times yesterday that examined Obama’s early days in the Senate and portrayed him as cautious on legislation opposing the war.

On the conference call today, Ballard, General Wesley Clark, Congressman (and Vice Admiral) Joe Sestak, along with Clinton national security director Lee Feinstein and communications director Howard Wolfson tried to upend the issue of Iraq in the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“This is going to be a central test of presidential leadership,” Wes Clark, a longtime Clinton supporter, said. “What I have heard from the Obama campaign is a matter of serious concern.” He recounted Power’s comments to the BBC about how Obama will reshape his Iraq plan "together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president."

“Those inside advisers have no magic formula,” Clark said. “It comes down to the resolve and conviction of the president.” He went on to push Clinton’s assets, saying, “She has the strength of character and purpose to get us out of Iraq relatively quickly and responsibly.”

Sestak was more specific, speaking about “The strong lessons that we learned in Somalia.”

“When I heard Senator Clinton come out early and say one to two brigade combat troops at a time, “ he said, “there was an understanding, there was a deliberateness.” He added, “It’s not just the number that Senator Clinton threw out it’s the memory.”

Feinstein spoke after the military officials. “Senator Obama gave a great speech which we admire, in 2002, opposing the Iraq war.” But, he added, “he didn’t oppose funding the war” and “there isn’t much of a record when it comes to specific action…prior to becoming a presidential candidate.”

In case that wasn’t clear, Wolfson wrapped the campaign’s comments by saying, as he has before, “Senator Obama has not passed the commander in chief test.”

Clinton Campaign Stays on the Offensive Over Iraq