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The Way Forward

The Iraq war affects politicians in strange, sometimes unpredictable ways. In this week's issue, Eve Fairbanks explains how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, an Iraq war moderate, became a fierce opponent of the conflict--and how Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a major Iraq war dove, came to his belief that we should withdraw carefully and slowly. What do the presidential candidates think of the war? Follow the below links to read recent speeches from their campaign websites:

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Barack Obama

Last week, Obama delivered a major address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs outlining his foreign policy. On Iraq, he said:

There can be no military solution to what has become a political conflict between Sunni and Shia factions. And I laid out a plan that I still believe offers the best chance of pressuring these warring factions toward a political settlement--a phased withdrawal of American forces with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31st, 2008.

I acknowledged at the time that there are risks involved in such an approach. That is why my plan provides for an over-the-horizon force that could prevent chaos in the wider region, and allows for a limited number of troops to remain in Iraq to fight al Qaeda and other terrorists.

But my plan also makes clear that continued U.S. commitment to Iraq depends on the Iraqi government meeting a series of well-defined benchmarks necessary to reach a political settlement. Thus far, the Iraqi government has made very little progress in meeting any of the benchmarks, in part because the President has refused time and again to tell the Iraqi government that we will not be there forever.

Hillary Clinton

On the occasion of the Senate vote for the troop surge, Clinton laid out her idea of the way forward:

Well, many of us believe--and we've been arguing for this and voting for this for more than a year-and-a-half--that we have to chart a new course that emphasizes greater Iraqi responsibility. I still believe that is the path we should be taking. Instead, the President has chosen a very narrow course that relies heavily on American military force ... .

First, my legislation will cap the number of troops in Iraq as of January 1, and will require the Administration to seek Congressional authorization for any additional troops ... .

Second, as a means to increase our leverage with the Iraqi government and to clearly send a message that there are consequences to their inaction, I would impose conditions for continued funding of the Iraqi security forces and the private contractors working for the Iraqis ... .

Third, I would hold the Administration accountable for their empty promises as well. My bill requires the Bush Administration to certify that Iraq has disarmed the militias; has ensured that a law has finally been passed for the equitable sharing of oil revenues; that the Iraqi government, under American influence and even pressure, has made the constitutional changes necessary to ensure rights for minority communities; that the de-Baathification process has been reversed to allow teachers, professionals, and others who join the Baath party as a means to get a job to serve in the Iraqi government ... .

Finally, I would prohibit any spending to increase troop levels unless, and until, the Secretary of Defense certifies that our American troops will have the proper training and equipment for whatever mission they are ordered to fulfill.

John Edwards

Of the (major) candidates, Edwards is perhaps the most self-assured in his desire to draw troops down beginning now. He spelled it out two weeks ago at a MoveOn forum:

Here's what I believe ought to happen:

Simply put: Congress should use its funding authority to force President Bush to end the war and start immediately bringing American troops home from Iraq.

Christopher Dodd

In February, Dodd--who sounds much like Edwards on Iraq--was frustrated by the moderate Senate bill put forth by Levin.

It doesn't require the President to change course in Iraq.

It doesn't prevent more Americans from being sent into harm's way.

It doesn't even require the President to pay attention to what the majority of the American people and a majority of us here in Congress have to say.

Joseph Biden

Biden elaborates on his beloved partition plan two months ago. Here's a summation:

First, maintain a unified Iraq by decentralizing it and giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis breathing room in regions--as the Iraqi constitution provides. The central government would be responsible for common concerns, like guarding Iraq's borders and distributing its oil revenues.

Second, secure support from the Sunnis--who have no oil--by guaranteeing them a fair share of oil revenues. Allow former Baath party members to go back to work and reintegrate Sunnis with no blood on their hands.

Third, increase economic assistance to Iraq and its regions. Insist that the oil-rich Gulf states put up most of the money, tie it to the protection of minority rights, and create a major jobs program to deny the militia new recruits.

Fourth, initiate a major diplomatic offensive to enlist the support of Iraq's neighbors. Create an oversight group of the U.N. and the major powers to enforce their commitments. These countries have a profound stake in preventing chaos in Iraq and the credibility we lack to press for compromise by all Iraqis. If a political settlement fails to take hold, these same countries are vital to any strategy to contain the fall out within Iraq.

Fifth, instruct the military to draw up plans for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq by 2008. Leave behind a small force to take on terrorists and train Iraqis. The best way to focus Iraq's leaders on the political compromises they must make is to make it clear to them that we are leaving.

Bill Richardson

For a veteran diplomat, Richard's Iraq platform is surprisingly thin. His vision, not surprisingly, relies heavily on diplomacy:

1. We should encourage national reconciliation talks.

2. We should work with the Iraqis and the UN to convene a regional conference similar to the Dayton conference that produced a settlement in Yugoslavia.

3. The United States must lead the way on economic assistance for reconstruction. Working with the UN, the Europeans and other countries [sic]

4. For our own security, we must return National Guard troops to their States, where they are needed, and redeploy troops to Afghanistan, to knock down the resurgent Taliban.

5. Support the March 8th Congressional plan to withdraw the troops by the end of this year, if President Bush is unable to show that the Iraqi government is meeting certain established benchmarks.