On Iraq policy, next U.S. president will have to adapt
Despite their rhetoric, '08 candidates try to keep their options open.
In the military, there's an adage that even the best plans don't survive contact with the enemy – a recognition that any approach must be adapted to the circumstances of the moment. The same might be said of the major presidential candidates when it comes to how each intends to tackle the war in Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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However adamant they are now about their respective plans, the candidates will have to conform their positions to whatever security and political situations they confront as commander in chief next year, say analysts.
The two Democrats' plans to withdraw US troops quickly, for instance, may be tempered by the practical realities of what that entails. If Republican Sen. John McCain is president, he would need to be responsive to the electorate and find a US troop level for Iraq that is sustainable.
The quest for wiggle room came into relief recently when an aide to Sen. Barack Obama (D) disclosed that Mr. Obama's plan to remove most US troops from Iraq within 16 months was "a best-case scenario," a nod to those who suggest that Obama's plan is unrealistic. That aide, Samantha Power, left the campaign. But supporters of each of the candidates acknowledge that positions could change at least slightly when any one of them gets into office.
"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.