WASHINGTON — Five years after she voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is coming under attack from rivals in the presidential race for a recent vote that they say could bring the nation closer to war with Iran.
On Thursday, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) added his voice to the criticism, comparing Clinton's vote on the measure to the "blank check" that he said she gave President Bush to wage war against Iraq.
Last month, Clinton joined a majority of senators in voting for a resolution that labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a government-sponsored military organization, a terrorist group. Obama said Bush could use the measure to justify a military strike against Iran.
Efforts by Obama and fellow Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards to highlight Clinton's Iran vote come as the two are struggling to break her campaign momentum by reviving questions about her 2002 vote authorizing U.S. force in Iraq. Clinton has refused to call that vote a mistake.
"They've been trying, and they haven't found a way that works," said Donald F. Kettl, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "My sense is that she's done a pretty masterful and smooth job in making the transition she needed to make from the original vote to the position she has now, which is more strongly antiwar." Clinton says that as president, she would immediately start withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and that her goal would be to have them all out by the end of her first term.
Edwards and Obama see Clinton's Iran vote as an opening. Edwards has been most vocal in criticizing her over the measure.
"Hillary Clinton may try and argue all sides to justify her vote, but the truth is her vote has helped open the door for George Bush and Dick Cheney to go to war with Iran," senior Edwards advisor Joe Trippi said Thursday in an e-mail to the candidate's supporters. "John has stated unequivocally that we cannot allow the president to use force against Iran when so many other diplomatic and economic options are still available."
In 2002, then-Sen. Edwards (D-N.C.) voted to authorize the war. But he later said his vote was a mistake.
Clinton, in an MSNBC interview Thursday that addressed her recent Iran vote, said: "I think people have either misunderstood or decided to misrepresent the meaning of that vote.
"I believe in using pressure and sanctions as a tool of diplomacy, and that includes against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard."
An opinion piece by Obama, published Thursday in the New Hampshire Union Leader, called the Iran measure "dangerous" and "reckless."
"Sen. Clinton says she was merely voting for more diplomacy, not war with Iran," the Illinois senator wrote. "If this has a familiar ring, it should. Five years after the original vote for war in Iraq, Sen. Clinton has argued that her vote was not for war -- it was for diplomacy, or inspections. But all of us knew what the Senate was debating in 2002."
Obama was not in the Senate when the Iraq vote took place, but he spoke out against the war at the time. Last month, Obama missed the Iran vote while campaigning in New Hampshire, but he said he would have opposed it.
Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said it was unfortunate that Obama was "abandoning the politics of hope and embracing the same old attack politics."
Last week, Clinton signed on as cosponsor of legislation that would bar U.S. spending on military operations against Iran without explicit congressional approval.