In the aftermath of General David Petraeus’ stay-the-course presentation to Congress and as George W. Bush prepared yet another major speech-to-the-nation on Iraq, the top-tier Democratic presidential candidates each tried to position him- or herself as the potential commander in chief most in favor of removing U.S. troops from Iraq. But in doing so, can any of them score political points?
During Petraeus’ multiple appearances on Capitol Hill, neither Senator Hillary Clinton nor Senator Barack Obama stood out when legislators questioned the Bush administration’s pitchman for the war. When Obama and Clinton had their chances, each speechified against the war, without being too tough on Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. But Clinton did toss more pointed queries at the pair than did Obama. Given the hype surrounding Petraeus’s congressional testimony, Obama missed a chance to outshine Clinton as the Democrat best able to take on Bush’s war. (Judge for yourself. See Clinton’s performance here and Obama’s here.)
But soon after Petraeus had withdrawn from the Hill, Obama and Clinton renewed the fierce competition over their antiwar bona fides. On Wednesday, Obama delivered a speech in Clinton, Iowa, in which he “unveiled” (as his campaign put it) a “comprehensive plan to turn the page in Iraq.”
This plan essentially reiterates what Obama has been proposing since early this year: a phased withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. In January, he introduced legislation to start a pullout with a goal of redeploying all U.S. combat brigades by March 31, 2008. In his Clinton speech, Obama proposed the immediate withdrawal of combat troops at the pace of one or two brigades a month. That would lead to the complete removal of combat forces by the end of next year. Under the Petraeus plan, which Bush backs, U.S. troop levels are projected to be about 130,000 by next summer (the pre-surge level), with no guarantee of any decrease after that.
Though Hillary Clinton has vowed to extricate the United States from Iraq should she be elected president, she has not been as specific in proposing a date or schedule for the drawdown of troops. In July–in a speech in Des Moines–she released her Iraq plan “to end our military engagement in Iraq’s civil war and immediately start bringing our troops home.” One of her “first official actions” as president, she said, would be to direct the Pentagon and the National Security Council to create within the first two months of her administration a “clear, viable plan” to bring U.S. troops home. Like Obama, she called for a quick start to disengagement. Unlike Obama, she has not offered a target date for the completion of a withdrawal.