Clinton and Obama Lock in Iraq Positions During Debate

During the debate in Pennsylvania, both Democrats left little room for changing their minds on Iraq.

Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama participate in a Democratic presidential debate at the National Constitution Center.

Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at a Democratic presidential debate at the National Constitution Center.

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Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama locked themselves into rigid positions on Iraq during a debate in Philadelphia Wednesday night.

Both said they would begin withdrawals of U.S. troops soon after taking office and would move quickly to end the war. They didn't leave themselves much room to change their minds even if the military situation were altered or U.S. commanders gave a different recommendation. This could make it more difficult for each of them to be flexible during the general-election campaign and, more important, as commander in chief.

"Only through our commitment to withdraw will the Iraqis begin to do what they have failed to do all of these years," Clinton said. "We don't know what will happen if we withdraw. We know what won't happen if we don't."

Obama said, "The president sets the mission. The generals and our troops carry out that mission."

These antiwar positions are popular in the Democratic Party, but they are sure to be used against the party's presidential nominee by GOP candidate John McCain and the Republican National Committee in the fall campaign. McCain says the Democrats favor retreat. He argues that the Iraq war is finally being won, and the United States must stay until victory is assured or the region will descend into chaos.

Overall, Obama seemed extremely cautious, even tentative, at times during the debate, sponsored by ABC News. Clinton seemed more in command and confident and repeatedly criticized her Democratic opponent on a variety of issues. The key Pennsylvania primary is next Tuesday, and Clinton clings to a modest lead. But Obama is ahead among delegates to the national convention, 1,643 to 1,504, according to the Associated Press, with 2,025 needed for the nomination. Ten contests remain.

Clinton may have caused herself the most severe problems Wednesday night when she said that Obama could definitely be elected president, in contrast to what she and her aides have been saying privately in raising questions with party leaders about his electability. Asked if Obama could win the White House, she replied, "Yes, yes, yes." Obama, when asked the same question about Clinton, replied, "Absolutely, and I've said so before."

But many voters appear to be unhappy with Clinton's attacks on Obama and her false claim that she faced sniper fire on a visit to Bosnia while she was first lady. These developments have apparently hurt her more than Obama's stumbles over describing small-town voters as bitter and his links to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his controversial former pastor in Chicago. Clinton again raised those two issues in the debate, while Obama generally stayed away from attacking her.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds only 39 percent of Americans believe Clinton is honest and trustworthy, while 62 percent have such positive feelings about Obama. The poll also found that 51 percent of likely Democratic voters nationally favor Obama and only 41 percent favor Cinton, his biggest advantage up to date.