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Election '08: For candidates, Iraq debate shifts

The question used to be 'withdraw or not'? But now, some progress in Iraq is prompting a more nuanced discussion.

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While it may have been eclipsed by the economy, Iraq is almost certain to remain a top issue in the presidential campaign – though perhaps in a different way than anticipated just a few months ago.

Until recently, the debate over Iraq was framed in simple terms: withdraw or not? Democrats were essentially on one side, and the Republicans on the other.

But now a sustained reduction in violence, as well as still-fledgling but gathering signs of Iraqi political progress, is adding up to a new focus for the Iraq debate. The question, some experts say, is now less one of whether the United States will remain in Iraq under the next president, and more what kind and size of presence it will be over the course of the next presidency.

"There is no one who is planning today to have either [the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan] won before the end of the next presidency," says Anthony Cordesman, a national-security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

That does not mean the US effort is destined to remain at current troop or combat levels, adds Mr. Cordesman. But it could mean that what he calls "unrealistic" talk of rapid withdrawal will be replaced with discussion of such complex issues as advisory and training efforts and development and governance aid.

The candidates' positions

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