Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush's Troop 'Surge' Shapes 2008 Race ; the Candidates' Positions Could Be Pivotal to Their Prospects in the Primary and General Presidential Elections

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush's Troop 'Surge' Shapes 2008 Race ; the Candidates' Positions Could Be Pivotal to Their Prospects in the Primary and General Presidential Elections

Article excerpt

For most Americans, the nation is enjoying a welcome lull between elections - the '06 midterms just ended and the '08 presidential race is too far in the future to contemplate seriously.

But in reality, the jockeying among hopefuls, and potential hopefuls, is fierce, and no more so than over Iraq, as the Bush administration presses ahead with its plan to boost US troops levels there. For now, the biggest impact is on the nomination races within the parties, but if the Iraq war remains the top issue in November 2008, positions candidates take now could prove central to their chances of winning the Oval Office.

For the Democrats, all eyes are on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who is expected to announce her presidential intentions by the end of the month and who has remained cautious in her criticism of the Iraq war. With more overtly antiwar Democrats running against her, at least one of whom could prove strong in the early nomination battles (former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina), the question is whether she will feel pressure to ratchet up her opposition to the war to win over the antiwar Democratic base.

And if Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois decides to run, his approach to the war - so far, like Senator Clinton, staying away from the forefront of antiwar opposition in Congress - could affect how Clinton positions herself. Senator Obama is considered potentially the most formidable threat to Clinton's nomination. Having taken his Senate seat in 2005, he did not take part in the October 2002 vote authorizing the war. Clinton voted yes in that vote, and has yet to repudiate her position clearly.

The danger for the former first lady is that a clear repudiation opens her to charges of flip-flopping and being weak on defense. In the short run, backing a planned nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush's escalation of US involvement in Iraq would be a safe position, analysts say. Beyond that, supporting any measures that would restrict funding for US troops would be riskier.

"That's really the critical point - the cutting off of funds - and that will be the dividing line of the candidates, if it comes to pass," says a Democratic Senate aide. "This is the ongoing Democratic dilemma, which they experienced in Vietnam. There was overwhelming sentiment against the war, however, Democrats became branded as an antiwar party and weak when it came to national security."

Another potential hurdle for Clinton could be the strength in Iowa of a Democratic candidate who has already declared - former Senator Edwards. He has repudiated his 2002 vote for the war, and now does not hesitate to talk about blocking funding for an escalation of troops. …

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