Troop-surge proposal fodder for '08 presidential hopefuls

Few Republicans sprinted to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) side when he first came out in support of a troop surge in Iraq several months ago, and some of those who did wound up backing off amid campaign-season criticism.

Few Republicans sprinted to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) side when he first came out in support of a troop surge in Iraq several months ago, and some of those who did wound up backing off amid campaign-season criticism.

The proposal still isn’t popular among Republicans, even as the Bush administration mulls putting it into action. Among Democrats, there is a similar brand of hesitance, despite varying degrees of support expressed by leaders including incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), incoming Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and incoming House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas).

None of those three is facing a tough campaign this cycle, however.

About two months after voters delivered what many Democrats interpreted as a strong message of discontent with the war in Iraq in the 2006 election, Democratic presidential candidates and lawmakers who are likely to face some of the most competitive races in 2008 are largely joining with Republicans in resistance to the idea of adding troops, citing the need for a political solution instead.

Democratic presidential contenders Sens. Joseph Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) became the latest to come out forcefully against a surge in Iraq. They and other presidential candidates appear ready to make “The McCain Doctrine,” as Edwards dubbed it Sunday, one of the first big issues of the 2008 campaign.

Polls have shown support for adding troops in Iraq to be below 20 percent, with a clear majority against it.

Biden, who has repeatedly said he is a candidate, and Obama, who has said he will decide soon, sent e-mails to supporters last week detailing their anti-surge positions.

Obama reinforced that he “strongly opposed” the war from the start and called for a phased withdrawal: “We must not multiply the mistakes of yesterday,” he said, “we must end them today.”

Biden, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, vowed to fight the surge, saying it wouldn’t work without a political settlement between the Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds. Biden said he intends to hold a series of hearings this month to produce a better option.

Edwards weighed in after officially declaring his candidacy last week. Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, he called the proposal “The McCain Doctrine” and said that, though McCain is his friend, “I think he’s dead wrong about this.”

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) echoed Biden by calling for a “political settlement” and said the responsibility should belong to the Iraqis. Vilsack is asking supporters to sign a petition on his website urging McCain to find an alternative plan.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) came out against the idea after a Middle East trip two weeks ago. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has left open the possibility if it’s part of a “larger plan” for ending the war.

The proposal is also unpopular among incoming House Democrats, many of whom could draw strong challenges in two years. Veteran Rep.-elect Tim Walz (D-Minn.), who defeated Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R) in November, is opposed to ramping up troops, as are Reps.-elect Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Paul Hodes (D-N.H.).

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who is up for a fifth term in 2008, believes the solution in Iraq is a political one, not a military one, said spokesman Tom Reynolds. “More troops doesn’t get us to that goal.”

Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), who was one of the few Democratic incumbents to face a close reelection battle after redistricting tilted his district in Republicans’ favor, “generally speaking” does not support an increase, said spokesman Doug Moore, who added, “There would have to be a very specific plan with very specific goals.”

Three months ago, Sen. Jon Kyl (R) expressed support for his Arizona colleague’s position, and Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) said during a campaign visit from McCain that he would consider the idea. Chafee’s campaign manager said later on a local radio show that the senator was looking at everything.

Both of their opponents pounced. Kyl’s campaign scaled back its statements, saying the senator would support an increase only if the commanders on the ground requested it, and Chafee’s campaign manager told The Hill that the idea was “off the table.” Kyl won reelection; Chafee lost.

In similar fashion, Reid was quick to back off his statements, originally made Dec. 17 on “This Week.” Two days later, in a post on the Huffington Post blog, Reid said, “Frankly, I don’t believe that more troops is the answer for Iraq. … We obviously want to support what commanders in the field say they need, but apparently even the Joint Chiefs do not support increased combat forces for Baghdad.”

On the Republican side, among those running in 2008, Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) have denounced the idea of adding troops, while Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have expressed support.

After visiting Iraq in mid-December, Coleman returned and issued a statement saying he doesn’t believe a troop surge “is the answer at this time.” Last week, after an Iraq trip with McCain, Collins wrote in a journal on her website that adding troops would be “a mistake” and suggested repositioning the ones already on the ground instead.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) who is unlikely to face a tough reelection contest in 2008 but could run for president, has emerged as a chief critic of the idea and penned an op-ed in The Washington Post in late November calling for a phased withdrawal.

Cornyn has been calling for the surge for more than a month, and Graham has also recently emerged as an important backer. Both serve on the Armed Services Committee.