Democrat Hillary Clinton’s boasts of national security experience were under the spotlight as aides rowed back from her claim that life-threatening sniper fire disrupted a 1990s trip to Bosnia.
The issue dogged Clinton as she wrestled to switch the presidential campaign narrative back to the faltering US economy, pitching a plan to stop a mortgage crisis degenerating into a full-blown recession.
The former first lady’s recollections of her involvement in several foreign crises have come under a searing spotlight since the publication last week of more than 11,000 pages of schedules dating from her White House years.
The presidential campaign of Clinton’s Democratic rival Barack Obama has used the schedules to buttress its claim that the New York senator dishonestly inflates her resume to argue that she is ready to be commander-in-chief.
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said she may have “misspoke” when, in one such instance, she described coming under sniper fire on a 1996 visit to Bosnia.
Obama’s camp shot back, arguing that a slip of the tongue was improbable since the remarks were not spontaneous.
“When you make a false claim that’s in your prepared remarks, it’s not misspeaking, it’s misleading,” Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
“It’s part of a troubling pattern of Senator Clinton inflating her foreign policy experience.”
Both Clinton and Obama paused Monday to mark the death of the 4,000th US soldier in Iraq, insisting that troops had sacrificed enough already and it was time to bring them home.
Responding to a slew of mocking reports and television footage that showed no danger during her arrival at Bosnia’s Tuzla airbase in March 1996, Wolfson said that Clinton had gone into a “potential combat zone.”
“Now it is possible in the most recent instance in which she discussed this that she misspoke with regard to the exit from the plane,” he told reporters.
The newly aired footage from the trip, on which Clinton was joined by her daughter Chelsea, singer Sheryl Crow and comedian Sinbad, contradicted her own claims to have scurried across the tarmac under gunfire.
Reruns of TV reports showed Clinton’s party being greeted by smiling officials on the tarmac at Tuzla airbase as it disembarked from a US military plane, and listening as an eight-year-old Bosnian girl read out a poem.
“I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base,” Clinton said last week.
Clinton’s White House schedules also failed to shed much light on her assertions that as first lady to president Bill Clinton, she played an instrumental role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland or in opening Macedonia’s borders to Kosovo refugees.
But Wolfson insisted that the Tuzla trip, designed as a morale-booster for US troops keeping the peace after Bosnia’s civil war, took place in an atmosphere of danger.
“This is something that the Obama campaign wants to push because they have nothing positive to say about their candidate, and we welcome this discussion about who has more national security experience,” he said.
The sniping was sure to deepen fears among some Democrats that the discord could boost Republican candidate John McCain, who has touted his foreign policy credentials, heading into November’s general election.
“My Democrat opponents who want to pull out of Iraq refuse to understand what’s being said and what’s happening, and that is, the central battleground is Iraq in this struggle against radical Islamic extremism,” McCain said.
Eyeing working-class voters in Pennsylvania, which hosts the next crucial nominating contest on April 22, Clinton called for emergency action to alleviate a mortgage crisis she said threatened the “American dream.”
She called on President George W. Bush to appoint former Federal Reserve chiefs Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker, and ex-Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, to a bipartisan panel to report on the depth of the crisis within three weeks.
But the Obama camp dismissed the speech as a warming over of already discussed campaign themes, and said Clinton was “wallowing” in millions of dollars from economic special interest groups she was now vowing to challenge.