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'08 hopefuls harden views on Iraq war

Candidates have much at stake if the war outlasts President Bush's tenure.

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Among the 45 senators who questioned the top US military and diplomatic officials in Iraq in Congress this week, perhaps none had more at stake than the five who are running for president.

It may be one of them, after all, who inherits the substantial US troop presence in Iraq that President Bush apparently intends to leave for his successor. And so, at times, the hearings were as much a campaign event as a signal moment in Mr. Bush's long struggle to turn Iraq into a "beacon of liberty in the Middle East," as he has put it.

The sound bites served up for possible campaign ads weren't hard to miss: "This continues to be a disastrous foreign-policy mistake," said Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois, who used up most of his seven minutes with his own remarks rather than questions.

"The reports that you provide to us require the willing suspension of disbelief," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) of New York, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

"I will do everything in my power to see that our commanders in Iraq have the time and support they request to win this war," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the only Republican among the five senator-candidates and the Republican candidate most closely aligned with Bush's Iraq policy.

The long-awaited appearance on Capitol Hill by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassdor Ryan Crocker had the immediate effect of sending all the presidential candidates into their parties' ideological corners, where all but one of the Republican hopefuls supports Bush on Iraq and all the Democrats oppose him.

Just last week, during a campaign appearance in New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) called the Iraq war a "mess," while this week he is putting out press releases that say the surge is working.

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