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On Iraq policy, next U.S. president will have to adapt

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"Anything can always change because you have to deal with the situation when you inherit it," says Rep. Joe Sestak (D) of Pennsylvania, a retired rear admiral and a supporter of Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. Senator Clinton has not offered a "date certain" for the last troops to exit but has said that, within 60 days of taking office, she would want the Pentagon to produce a withdrawal plan.

Representative Sestak does not expect Clinton's withdrawal plans to change a lot if she's elected president, but he acknowledges that direct counsel from the Pentagon staff could result in a slight tweak of her plan to remove troops at the rate of one to two brigades a month, to suit the realities at the time.

The Obama campaign, which has focused on what it calls the "strategic blunder" of invading Iraq in the first place, says the 16-month time frame is realistic. "We need to draw down our combat brigades, we hope roughly at the pace of one to two a month," Susan Rice, an Obama adviser, said earlier this month. "We have to calibrate that, obviously, to circumstances on the ground."

Senator McCain has also met criticism for saying US troops should remain in Iraq for many years. McCain, long a supporter of the "surge" of American troops and of leaving them here as long as it takes to achieve political ends in Iraq, will fight to keep substantial numbers there. But his position will also reflect the circumstances he would confront as president. McCain, who arrived in Iraq Sunday, has maintained that Americans will not object to a sizable number of forces in Iraq as long as the troops are not getting shot at.

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