Where They Stand: Iraq

How and why the United States went to war with Iraq will be debated for years. How the United States can get out, however, is a far more urgent question. On that topic, the candidates have remarkably similar answers.

During a stump speech at New York University earlier this month, Kerry said the United States should "train the Iraqis to provide their own security" and to "take the steps necessary to hold credible elections."

Bush has said the United States will "help new leaders to train their armies" and "move toward elections" in Iraq.

The details of how to achieve those goals are where the candidates differ.

Kerry's Plan

Kerry's plan relies heavily on finding more foreign troops.

"We cannot hope to succeed unless we rebuild and lead strong alliances so that other nations share the burden with us," Kerry said in a speech at New York University on Sept. 20.

Kerry has made it a major political theme; his "Respected in the World" slogan is a jab at the president for alienating allies in the build-up to the war.

But could Kerry's plan work?

"There was a lot of broken crockery and hurt feelings surrounding the manner in which the war originally unfolded, and those things to some degree have a lasting impact. But Kerry would have an opportunity to start over without that baggage," said James Dobbins, director of the RAND Corporation's International Security and Defense Policy Center.

Bush has brought more than 30 countries into the so-called "Coalition of the Willing," but the majority of those countries have only a small number of troops, and the United States is largely footing the bill.

The question of when U.S. troops could leave also sets the candidates apart.

Kerry has a set timeline for departure.

Said Kerry during his NYU speech: "We could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring our entire troops home within the next four years."

Bush's Plan

Bush says that's a mistake.

"My opponent said if he's elected, the number of troops will be significantly reduced within six months," said Bush during an Aug. 18 campaign stop in Chippewa Falls, Wis. "See, that's a bad signal to send to the enemy. All they got do is wait six months and one day."

Could a timeline work? The former head of operations at the Pentagon says providing an exit date is not an exit strategy.

"I would agree with those who would say that putting a timeline on it is usually not helpful," said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, an ABC News consultant.

Newbold said Bush's plan to put Iraqis "on the path of stability and democracy as quickly as possible" is not a strategy either.

"On the path to stability — what does that mean? Does that mean at some point they don't have to be stable but on the path, we can then withdraw our troops at a time of our choosing? That's the Vietnamization argument and there is some merit to that," said Newbold.

Kerry's best ammunition against Bush is what has already happened in the war: a determined and deadly insurgency, more than 1,000 American soldiers killed, and many more Iraqi casualties. Neither of the candidates has yet to spell out exactly how they will turn that trend around.

"I think that the campaign has the sort of perverse effect of actually postponing serious debate and decisions about Iraq," Dobbins said. "Both candidates are compelled to emphasize consistency, and therefore there's a premium on not departing from their existing statements, which obviously inhibits creative thinking and debate."

Military observers agree that is what is badly needed at this point and what the American people should demand.

ABC News' Martha Raddatz filed this report for World News Tonight.

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