Iraq Debate Heats Up Presidential Campaign

The political wrangling over Iraq reignites this fall when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill after their August recess.

Members will consider several key reports and hearings assessing Iraq's military and political progress, and President Bush's U.S. troop surge plan in Iraq.

Many of the reports on Iraq are widely expected to provide Democrats in Congress -- and Democrats on the campaign trail -- fresh ammunition for their argument that a fundamental shift is needed in President Bush's Iraq policy.

The president is expected to push Congress to fund a heightened U.S. troop presence in Iraq through spring, as initially planned. However, Democratic leaders have suggested they will use the war spending bills to demand a change of course in Iraq before then.

Candidates Weigh Iraq Debate

The renewed Iraq debate in Washington will spill onto the campaign trail, as presidential candidates stake out positions on the debate -- and are pushed to flesh out their Iraq policies in greater detail.

For White House contenders doing double-duty as members of Congress -- like Sens. Hillary Clinton., D-N.Y., Barack Obama, D-Ill., and John McCain, D-Ariz. -- the Iraq debate could quickly become a political minefield.

"They will have to take formal positions that are represented by votes on legislation that they don't necessarily control and that will represent an enormous challenge that each one will have to deal with," said Rand Beers, a national security expert who was an adviser on the Democratic presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry in 2004.

"There will be an effort on the part of Republicans in Congress to have votes that make Democrats, and therefore the presidential candidates, look weak," said Beers, president of the National Security Network, a foreign policy group calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Leading Dems Attempt to Distinguish Positions

All of the Democratic presidential candidates advocate ending the war in Iraq, with slight variations on how they would do it. However, they have attempted to distinguish themselves from their rivals.

Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. -- who voted to authorize the war in 2003 but is now vehemently opposed to it -- is running to the left of his Democratic rivals in the Senate, calling on them to vote to cut off funding for the war.

"This fall they must use their constitutional funding power to stop the surge and implement a timetable [for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq]," Edwards said Thursday.

Clinton, a leading Democratic contender, also voted in 2003 to give Bush authorization to wage war on Iraq, but now is calling for an end to the war.

She has advocated an immediate drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq, keeping an unspecified number of troops in the country for an unspecified period of time.

"We need to begin moving our troops out, and we have to do it carefully and responsibly," Clinton said during the ABC News Democratic debate in Iowa on Aug. 19.

Obama, another leading Democratic contender, is also calling for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq. Like Clinton, he says he would leave an undetermined number of residual forces in Iraq, but he has set a timeframe of getting all other troops out by March 31 of 2008.

Obama, who wasn't in the Senate in 2003, has attempted to win over anti-war Democrats by reminding them of Clinton and Edwards' Iraq war votes.

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