Covering Hillary's Right Flank

The Times covered Hillary's right flank on defense issues on Tuesday's front page, with an entry from Hillary-beat reporter Patrick Healy, "Mindful of Past, Clinton Cultivates the Military."

"Of all the early problems Bill Clinton faced as president, few stand out to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as more frustrating and avoidable than his rocky relationship with the military, her advisers say.

"During his 1992 campaign, Mr. Clinton was attacked for avoiding the Vietnam draft and organizing antiwar marches in the 1960s. After taking office, his early focus on gay men and lesbians in the military drew sharp criticism from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin L. Powell, and other officers. Even his ability to salute properly was called into question."

That statement is a blandishment of President Bill Clinton's attempt immediately upon taking office in 1993 to remove the military bans on gays and lesbians.

"For Mrs. Clinton, exhibiting a command of military matters is not just about learning from her husband's experience. It could be vital to her, as a woman seeking to become a wartime commander in chief, to show the public that she is comfortable with military policy and culture - and with the weight of responsibility that accompanies life-and-death decisions.

"It is also part of an effort to shed the image some voters hold of her as an antimilitary liberal, defined by her opposition to the Vietnam War and, now, by her criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq."

The story doesn't lack voices who think Hillary is engaging in Bill Clinton-style triangulation. But Healyconcluded withthe perfect Hillary supporter - retired general Jack Keane: "The Republican National Committee's research staff members have already compiled a series of examples that they say show Mrs. Clinton at odds with military interests, including her Iraq war positioning and her opposition to sending additional troops there.

"General Keane - whose support for sending more troops to Iraq is at odds with Mrs. Clinton's view - and other admirers of hers see these skeptical or critical portrayals of her as playing into false stereotypes. He recalled how his own initial impression of her changed after their first meeting: It was supposed to last 15 minutes, but continued for a half hour longer as they talked about West Point and moved onto global hot spots.

"John Batiste, a retired major general and former commander of the First Infantry Division, who also consults with Mrs. Clinton, said, 'Very, very few politicians have any military experience, and they're naïve - they don't understand what it takes to develop a big picture, unified strategy to take a country to war.

"'She's the kind of person who would listen to sound military advice,' General Batiste said, 'and not dismiss it or discard it. And I'm a lifelong Republican.'"

The Times has obliquely raised issues of Hillary's liberalism before, only to suggest they are mere "caricatures," or in today's case "false stereotypes."