NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 27, 2008

Both presidential candidates are betting that Iraq plays to their strengths, says James Kitfield of the National Journal.  For John McCain, the war highlights his opponent's relative inexperience on the world stage.  For Barack Obama, a focus on the war will help define McCain as a double-down bet on George W. Bush's foreign policy. 

McCain on the Iraq War:

  • A strong and consistent advocate of removing Saddam Hussein from power since the late 1990s.
  • Rejects the idea of setting any timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq; he hopes most troops can be home by 2013, but has said that any withdrawal is dependent on the United States winning the war and defeating al Qaeda.
  • He has not definitely ruled out permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, but his comments suggest he is open to the idea.
  • One of the strongest congressional backers of the Bush administration's "surge" policy to send additional troops to Iraq in early 2007.
  • Rejects negotiations with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Obama on the Iraq War:

  • Publicly opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2002, when he was a state senator in Illinois.
  • Has set a clear timetable of 16 months for the withdrawal of major combat brigades from Iraq.
  • Expressly rejects the idea of permanent U.S. bases in Iraq.
  • Objected to the Bush administration's "surge" policy to increase force levels in Iraq in early 2007.
  • Has proposed wide-ranging negotiations with the Iranian President to address multiple issues.

The Iraq debate is notable because each side has staked its claim to the White House on shifting sands, says Kitfield.  If developments on the ground in Iraq continue to improve in the months ahead, Obama will risk seeming out of touch by sticking to a narrative that the United States must abandon a failed cause.  Conversely, by tying his fortunes so tightly to the success of the surge, McCain is vulnerable to any major setbacks in Iraq. 

Source: James Kitfield, "The Fulcrum," National Journal, June 14, 2008.


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