MUSCATINE, Iowa – Barack Obama on Wednesday laughed off comments by former President Bill Clinton, who a day earlier said that he "opposed (war in) Iraq from the beginning."
"If he did, you know, I don't think most of us have heard about it. But I'll let you check with him as to where he made these, made these statements," the Democratic presidential candidate said in a conference call with reporters.
Asked if Obama thought Clinton's position had any bearing on his wife, Hillary Clinton's position on the Iraq war, Obama responded that all he can say is he actually did oppose the war from the start.
"I spoke out against it before the vote to authorize, spoke out against it after the vote to authorize. Senator Clinton made a different decision. My understanding is Senator Clinton and President Clinton were talking frequently so you'll have to, you know, talk to them about whether ... they discussed this issue at all," he said.
Republican presidential primary frontrunner Rudy Giuliani also came out to question the remarks, suggesting that Clinton's comments reflect his wife's vulnerability on the subject of the Iraq war.
"On Iraq, she's taken so many different positions that I think people are having a hard time seeing where the authentic position is, and I don’t think Bill Clinton’s comment that I just heard helps her very much,” Giuliani told radio host Sean Hannity.
“The conclusion is going to be that Hillary Clinton, because of her shifting positions, because of the ambiguity and because of all the Clintonese that seems to know no bounds, I think it comes out that people are going to conclude that she’s weak on terrorism,” he continued.
Clinton was in Iowa on the campaign trail for his wife when he offered the seeming inconsistency on an issue that has dogged Hillary Clinton throughout the primary campaign trail.
On Iraq, he told the crowd that wealthy people like he and his wife should pay more taxes in times of war. "Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning, I still resent that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers," Clinton said, according to The Washington Post.
But the former president's opposition to the war has not been clear from the start. Like his wife, Clinton has been critical of the Iraq war in recent months, but in the past gave President Bush the benefit of the doubt.
"I supported the president when he asked for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," he said in May 2003, the same year he was quoted praising Bush's handling of the war.
In a June 2004 article in Time magazine, Clinton also suggested that he would have acted the same way Bush did.
"So, you're sitting there as president, you're reeling in the aftermath of (Sept. 11), so, yeah, you want to go get (Usama) bin Laden and do Afghanistan and all that. But you also have to say, 'Well, my first responsibility now is to try everything possible to make sure that this terrorist network and other terrorist networks cannot reach chemical and biological weapons or small amounts of fissile material. I've got to do that.' That's why I supported the Iraq thing," he is quoted telling the magazine.
Sen. Clinton voted to authorize the war in Iraq, and has not apologized for her decision despite attacks from war opponents Sen. Barack Obama and John Edwards.
Asked about the discrepancy, Clinton aides said Tuesday's comment was a short-handed explanation of his long-held views that weapons inspectors should have been given more time in Iraq. "As he said before the war and many times since, President Clinton disagreed with taking the country to war without allowing the weapons inspectors to finish their jobs," said spokesman Jay Carson.
The Clinton camp also said that in the Time article, Clinton stated that he "would not have done it until after (then-chief U.N. weapons inspector) Hans Blix finished the job."
Commenting on the apparent shift, Sen. Joe Lieberman, the 2000 vice presidential candidate and a pro-Iraq war Democrat, said he was surprised by Clinton's turnaround.
"Clinton and (Al) Gore basically believed in a principled foreign policy, pro-freedom, sounds familiar, just like George W. Bush, and the willingness to use military force to back it up, as they did in Bosnia and Kosovo, Lieberman told FOX Radio's "Brian and the Judge." Lieberman added that he can't explain why Clinton would now change his philosophy. "I don't know. To me that’s when the Democratic Party was where it should be and, frankly, when it’s there, it wins elections.”
Surrogates on Parade
The former president's visit to Iowa marked the start of a battle of campaign surrogates — Bill Clinton vs. Oprah Winfrey. Clinton is stumping for his wife while the media mogul is backing Sen. Hillary Clinton's chief rival, Barack Obama, in appearances scheduled for next week.
"Oprah vs. Bill! Now, there's a race," said Gail VanGundy, 59, an undecided voter who said the former president is a bigger draw for her than Winfrey.
"Both have star power," said Alfred Monroe, 76, as he awaited the former president's appearance in this eastern Iowa town.
Clinton himself said Winfrey ought to be for Obama because both hail from Chicago. He didn't mention that his wife is also from suburban Chicago. "I like Oprah Winfrey," he said. "We're friends."
Whether surrogates like Clinton and Winfrey sway voters is debatable, but operatives in both campaigns welcome their ability to draw crowds and attention in the closing days of a hotly contested Democratic presidential primary race.
Speaking for more than an hour, Clinton discussed his wife's agenda and experience in exhaustive terms, sprinkling the remarks with asides about his presidency and his activities on the world stage since he left office in January 2001.
"I think she has proven in all these debates, and especially the last one, that she is the strongest, most reliable person that we could elect," he told more than 400 potential voters at a YMCA gym.
In three eastern Iowa stops, Clinton made a personal appeal for voters to back his wife. He said his opinion should matter because "I know what it takes to be president" and "because of the life I've lived since I left office."
Hillary Clinton will bring America "back to the future," Bill Clinton said, promoting his own legacy in public life almost as much as his wife's presidential campaign.
"Here's why I think that she is the person to bring us the right kind of change that we need. First of all, what kind of change do we need? We need to get American back to the future. We need to get America back to the solutions business."
He said his wife has the experience to be president, noting among other things her work as Arkansas' first lady on behalf of school standards, her travels as the nation's first lady to 82 countries and her victory as a Senate candidate in several GOP counties in New York.
Left off his list of Sen. Clinton's experiences: her stewardship of the Clinton administration health care plan that failed in the 1990s.
"You need somebody who is strong, competent, has a good vision and never forgets what it's like to be you," Clinton said.
He pulled a pledge card out of his pocket, held it up to the crowd and asked people to caucus on his wife's behalf Jan. 3."The reason I want you to sign one of these cards is because I know her," he said. "I hope you make her the next president because she would be a great president and you would never, ever regret it."
FOX News' Aaron Bruns and The Associated Press contributed to this report.