The battle for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination is set for a rigorous debate about what the United States should do in Iraq.
The possible entry of former Republican Gov. George Pataki of New York, who opposes the president's plan to send 20,000 U.S. troops to Iraq, sets up a clear divide between the front-runners for the nomination (Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; former Gov. Mitt Romney R-Mass.; and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y.), and the second-tier candidates in the field.
In a speech Friday morning at Georgetown University, Pataki said the United States has gone from liberator to occupier in Iraq, and that the Iraqi government must meet certain requirements if U.S. troops are to remain in the country.
"If they want Americans to continue to die in defense of their government, if they want Americans to continue to pour tens of billions of dollars into their people's schools, services and security, we can and must first demand action on their part," he said.
Pataki also endorsed a timeline for the Iraqi government to meet benchmarks and said the U.S. commitment must not be open-ended.
According to his spokesperson, Pataki is expected to announce his 2008 intentions sometime within the next few weeks. In opposing President Bush's new way forward in Iraq, Pataki, if he chooses to enter the presidential waters, joins Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., as Republican 2008 hopefuls who have broken with their party and opposed the president's strategy in Iraq.
No Republican has more fervently expressed his opposition to the war than Hagel, who co-sponsored and voted in favor of a Senate resolution that declares the troop increase against the national interest. He has also described the war as "the worst foreign policy blunder since Vietnam."
Brownback, one week before he officially launched his White House bid, announced from Iraq that sending more troops there is not a solution to the sectarian strife. "Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution," the senator said.
However, Brownback has been very careful in how he presents his opposition to the war. Unlike Hagel, Brownback has said that he does not support the Democratic-led Senate resolution opposing the war.
Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Brownback told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that the Congress has to show unity for the United States to succeed in Iraq. "I think one of the biggest things we're in danger of right now is being split, one party for the war and one party against the war. And you cannot conduct a war in this country with one party for it and one against it."
While Brownback, Hagel and Pataki could potentially be fighting for the support of Republicans who have turned against the war, they will be battling the better-funded and better-organized McCain, Romney and Giuliani.
Romney has not offered very much of late as to what he believes is the best path forward in Iraq other than a brief statement of support shortly right after the president announced his new plan to the country.
Giuliani aggressively campaigned for Bush in the 2004 election and has been a strong supporter of the president's handling of Iraq and the global war on terror.
But no likely candidate has supported a troop increase and no one will be more of a target in the GOP nomination fight should conditions on the ground continue to deteriorate than McCain. On numerous occasions, McCain has called for more troops in Iraq. McCain supports sending tens of thousands of more troops, and has said that the price of failure in Iraq would be "humiliation for the United States and disaster for Iraq."