Vote 2008 ? Inside the Issues: Iraq

January 23, 2008 9:02:37 PM PST
This week, we're stepping back from the day-to-day politics of the presidential race to look at where the candidates stand on the major issues.The war dominated much of the presidential campaign season until the violence started to diminish. Candidates are divided over whether to withdraw American troops. And if so - how quickly?

The biggest single issue for the leading Democratic contenders this past year has been: Who got it right on opposing the war? And when?

Republicans have disagreed on their level of support for the president's war strategy, and the debate in both parties in recent months has been over the question, "What now?"

Nearly five years into the war in iraq, what would the frontrunners do if they were president?

The words shock and awe became a cliché for virtually everything big and bold in the aftermath of the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003. But now, the words describe the feeling of many Americans about an invasion that turned into a bloody and protracted occupation.

The Democratic presidential candidates want to start bringing the troops home this year. But they have different withdrawal timetables."

Senator Hillary Clinton, who initially supported the war, is now promising to start bringing the troops home within 60 days of taking office and completing most of the withdrawal within five years.

John Edwards also voted for the war when he was a senator. But he is now offering the most aggressive withdrawal plan, pulling out as many at 50,000 troops immediately and the rest within 10 months.

Barack Obama, who opposed the war before he became a senator, wants to pull out one or two brigades a month until virtually all of the troops are home within 16 months.

On the Republican side, all of the frontrunners oppose a withdrawal timeline. And in fact, favor deploying additional troops and spending more money, if necessary, to finish the job.

But John McCain, who supported the war from the beginning, was also deeply critical of the military strategy in Iraq until the recent troop surge began to get things under some control.

And former governor Mitt Romney is opposed to maintaining a military presence in the region permanently.

Ex-governor Mike Huckabee calls setting a timeline to withdraw troops "a mistake." Both he and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani support increasing funding for the war in Iraq and possibly of raising the number of soldiers deployed.

The only Republican candidate who favors a total and immediate troop withdrawal is Texas Congressman Ron Paul. But he hasn't generated enough support in the primaries to join the crowded list of frontrunners. And neither has Democrat Dennis Kucinich, who is equally dovish on the war issue.