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New York Times - Clinton And McCain Differ On Iraq At Veterans' Meeting

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New York Times - Clinton And McCain Differ On Iraq At Veterans' Meeting

By Jeff Zeleny, New York Times

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Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton told an audience of war veterans on Monday that some elements of the strategy in Iraq appeared to be achieving success, but said a military solution was unattainable and the best way to honor the service of American troops was to "bring them home."

"We've begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Al Anbar Province, it's working," said Mrs. Clinton, the New York Democrat and candidate for her party's presidential nomination. "We're just years too late changing our tactics. We can't ever let that happen again. We can't be fighting the last war; we have to be preparing to fight the new war."

The remarks were notable because Mrs. Clinton has been a consistent critic of the Bush administration's troop escalation in Iraq, and Republican presidential candidates have been seizing on signs of progress in Al Anbar Province in arguing against a troop withdrawal.

In their back-to-back speeches at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Mrs. Clinton and Senator John McCain of Arizona, who seeks the Republican nomination, praised the fortitude of American forces, but presented starkly different views of the war and the strategy going forward.

The reception for Mrs. Clinton was respectful yet tepid. Mr. McCain received loud applause when he suggested that a troop pullout would be "a mistake of colossal historical proportions."

It was an unusual juxtaposition for Mrs. Clinton, who has weathered criticism from some Democrats for initially supporting the war. In her appearance here on Monday, though, it was her opposition to the war that was at odds with the views of many people seated in the crowd.

Still, she devoted only a small part of a 41-minute speech specifically to the mission in Iraq, instead detailing legislation she has introduced to improve services for military veterans. She received no jeers when she called for a gradual withdrawal of troops from Iraq, but the downtown convention center was nearly silent.

"There is a vigorous debate in our own nation and probably among many of you about the right way forward in Iraq," Mrs. Clinton said. "I know we may disagree about whether there is or isn't a military solution to this war."

At this stage of a presidential race, candidates spend nearly all their time courting voters in their own party. So the appearance here before hundreds of veterans, many of whom vigorously support the war, offers a glimpse of the challenges ahead for whoever wins the presidential nomination.

Aides to Mrs. Clinton said her remarks that military tactics in Iraq are "working" referred specifically to reports of increased cooperation from Sunnis leading to greater success against insurgents in Al Anbar Province. Looking ahead to September, when Congress will receive an Iraq progress report, Mrs. Clinton said: "We will have some very hard decisions to make. I'm not sure there are any good options."

The organization of military veterans invited four presidential candidates to its annual summer meeting. Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, and Fred D. Thompson, a Republican, are scheduled to address the assembly on Tuesday. President Bush will speak here on Wednesday.

Mr. McCain, a forceful advocate of the Iraq strategy, offered an opposing view when he took the stage shortly after Mrs. Clinton. He said it was in the best interest of the United States to stay in Iraq.

"As long as there is a prospect for not losing this war," he said, "then we must not choose to lose it."


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