US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her strongest statement on the war in Iraq since visiting the country in 2003, on Tuesday defended her vote to authorize military action but harshly criticized President George W. Bush's leadership and called for a plan to begin withdrawing troops next year.
In a 1,600-word letter that was e-mailed to thousands of New Yorkers, Clinton used new verbiage to attack the White House's war planning from top to bottom, while also laying out her general vision for reducing troop levels.
The letter came on the eve of an Iraq speech by Bush, as well as one month after antiwar crusader Cindy Sheehan denounced Clinton's position on the war.
"I take responsibility for my vote, and I, along with a majority of Americans, expect the president and his administration to take responsibility for the false assurances, faulty evidence and mismanagement of the war," Clinton wrote.
She added, "Given years of assurances that the war was nearly over and that the insurgents were in their `last throes,' this administration was either not being honest with the American people or did not know what was going on in Iraq."
With Democrats struggling to coalesce around their own plan of action for Iraq, prominent party members have staked out new ground in recent months. These include some Democrats, who, like Clinton, are believed to be considering a presidential run in 2008.
One of them, former Senator John Edwards, said recently that he regretted his Senate vote in 2002 in favor of military action, while Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin called on Sunday for a public timetable for withdrawal.
Another prominent Democrat, Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania, who voted for the war and is widely respected on military issues, also called two weeks ago for a troop withdrawal.
Clinton, in her letter, did not insist on an absolute timetable to withdraw troops.
"I call on the president both for such a plan and for a full and honest accounting of the failures of intelligence -- something we owe not only to those killed and wounded and their families, but to all Americans," Clinton wrote.