Republican and Democratic presidential candidates offer starkly different views on how to proceed in Iraq, with one side calling the war a success and the other roundly calling for a pullout.
“The fact is, we’re succeeding in Iraq,” Senator John McCain said late on Thursday at a Republican debate in Florida in which top contenders all endorsed the war and excoriated Democratic views on the conflict.
“Her approach to the war in Iraq: just get out as fast as you can,” former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said of Senator Hillary Clinton, a leading Democratic candidate for president.
“We cannot turn Iraq over to al-Qaeda and have al-Qaeda have a safe haven for which they can recruit people to carry out bombings, attack our country and our friends around the world,” Romney said. The top Republicans generally see the Iraq war as justified even if the alleged weapons of mass destruction cited as its main rationale never materialised.
They say it was badly managed under former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld but is now back on track under the “surge” policy that President George W Bush announced a year ago.
“The problem was not the invasion of Iraq. The problem was the mishandling of Iraq for nearly four years by Rumsfeld,” said McCain, setting himself apart from his rivals as the sole Republican who has argued that consistently. Among the Democrats, Senator Barack Obama tries to distinguish himself as the one candidate who never voted in support of the war.
But all three Democratic White House hopefuls say they will withdraw combat troops from Iraq in their first year as president.
“I have opposed this war consistently. I have put forward a plan that will get our troops out by the end of 2009,” the senator from Illinois said at a January 15 Democratic Debate in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“As soon as I become president, we will start withdrawing within 60 days. We will move as carefully and responsibly as we can ... and we’ll have nearly all the troops out by the end of the year,” Clinton said. The Iraq war has not been Americans’ top concern with the 2008 White House campaign on. Worries over the US economy and other domestic issues often have dominated.
Hints of US military progress in Iraq have meanwhile shifted the political ground under Democratic White House candidates, and boosted the spirits of Republicans who have taken a beating over the unpopular war. A year ago Bush announced he was sending roughly 30,000 more US soldiers to Iraq to quell violence and give the Baghdad government “breathing space” to forge national political reconciliation, and said that Iraq’s security forces should be ready to assume responsibility of the country by November 2007.
Republicans say the surge has worked, but Democrats strongly disagree. Earlier this month, Bush zeroed in on political progress in several provinces, as well as on what he described as a steady country-wide decrease in violence and increasing US efforts to improve Iraqis’ day-to-day lives.