Obama, McCain Move to Own Iraq -- From Different Directions


Here in this post-Petraeus political world, with Iraq still the dominant issue of the day, it's all about the next move.

And with approximately half the Senate running for president -- and the current president not giving up on his war quite yet -- those next moves will be critical in determining the future course of the war, not to mention the 2008 elections.

President Bush is going the expected route, with a primetime speech tomorrow night that will endorse General David Petraeus' recommendations of a (very) partial pullout and a (maybe very) long-term commitment.

Democrats in Congress are doing what they can to force a faster withdrawal, not that anything -- including a too-frank admission from Petraeus himself on whether the war is making the US safer -- has changed the numbers in Congress.

And a pair of presidential candidates are poised to dominate the news cycle with what they're saying on Iraq, as they seek to own the war issue from extremely different directions.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., today travels to a town called Clinton (!) to unveil his new Iraq plan, calling for a troop pullout that would be completed by the end of next year: "The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops," Obama, D-Ill., plans to say, per excerpts released by his campaign. "Not in six months or one year -- now."

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., enjoying a 14-point lead over Obama. That's why Obama is taking his argument directly to Clinton (literally and figuratively) as he connects his strongest Iraq argument -- that he was against the war since before it was authorized by Congress -- to a plan that looks forward.

"Despite -- or perhaps because of -- how much experience they had in Washington, too many politicians feared looking weak and failed to ask hard questions," Obama plans to say in Clinton, Iowa.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank even caught Obama reviewing a memo at yesterday's Iraq hearing laying out the "differences between your speech on Iraq and the most comprehensive on Iraq given by Senator Clinton." Milbank: "Obama's juxtaposition -- contemplating the nakedly political as he prepared to question the top U.S. general in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq -- was stark. Not that Obama was the only senator with one foot on the campaign trail yesterday."

Indeed, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., went directly from the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to his "No Surrender Tour" last night, and he has three more events today in Iowa before heading to New Hampshire tonight.

He's owning the troop "surge," pinning his hopes for a campaign revival on success in Iraq. "I choose to win, and I choose to stay, and I choose to support these young men and women," McCain said last night in Sioux City, Iowa, ABC's Bret Hovell reports. McCain sits down with ABC's John Berman for his first major interview of the tour on "World News" tonight.

If McCain has a moment left in him, this could well be it. His Republican rivals aren't paying him much mind -- or doing much to distinguish themselves on the issue of the moment.

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