PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Both parties' candidates struggle to define their position on Iraq

Jill Zuckman
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

WASHINGTON - In the short life of the 2008 presidential campaign, one issue has overshadowed everything else: the war in Iraq.

Candidates in both parties are eager to talk about other matters. Instead, they are spending the bulk of their time explaining to insistent voters why they voted - if they did - to authorize the war, how they would end American involvement in Iraq, and how they differ from - or resemble - their opponents and the administration.

They all face a tricky balancing act. The Democrats are courting a base that is passionately anti-war, but they cannot risk appearing critical of the troops or weak on defense. The Republicans are under pressure to support President Bush and his troop escalation, without appearing detached from the reality of a war that is going badly.

The result is a scramble, as the candidates struggle to reconcile past actions with current positions. To complicate matters, they must simultaneously think about the primary contests in early 2008 and the general election several months later, which will feature very different electorates.

"For some voters, this is a defining issue they'll remember, in terms of how a candidate felt about the war and what they said about it after they announced their candidacy," said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, the assistant majority leader from Illinois who is supporting Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who opposed the war before he was elected to the Senate.

All the candidates have become enmeshed in the issue in one way or another. The Democratic frontrunner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has struggled to fend off demands that she admit she made a mistake in voting for the 2002 resolution authorizing force in Iraq. Clinton has adopted an increasingly harsh tone on the war while simultaneously depicting her refusal to admit error as a sign of resoluteness.

The Republican frontrunner, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, has sought to portray himself as a Bush ally on the war and a longtime supporter of the "surge" of troops. But he has also called former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld one of the nation's worst defense secretaries and described Bush's handling of the war as "a train wreck."

Adding pressure is a decision by congressional Democrats to keep the legislative focus on Iraq. In the Senate, Democratic leaders are hoping to repeal the 2002 resolution and replace it with one that approves the withdrawal of combat forces. That debate will entangle each of the presidential candidates who is now serving in the Senate; those not in the Senate also will probably be forced to take a position.

The need to address the Iraq matter is most urgent in the Democratic contest, as the candidates face primary voters and activists who are intensely angry about the war.

"For the Democrats, the issue is how fast can you get (the troops) out of there," said Thomas Rath, a longtime Republican strategist in New Hampshire. "This is not an issue that the American people are accepting of nuances, at least not the people involved in the nominating process."

That has translated into voters pressing Democratic candidates, specifically those who served in the Senate in 2002, to say they made a mistake in voting for the resolution authorizing Bush to use force if necessary in Iraq.

"Yes, I've said that on your show about 50 times," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., when radio host Don Imus asked again recently whether the vote was a mistake. Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., has also said his vote was mistaken.

But Clinton, fearful of appearing to flip-flop, has said she made her decision five years ago based on the information she had at the time. "Knowing what we know now, I would never have voted for it," she said in New Hampshire.

Later, trying to quell the clamor for further penance, Clinton said: "If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from."

There is some understanding among those in the anti-war camp for her stance.

"It's going to be challenging for someone to say, `I was there, I was misled and I made a mistake,'" said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who opposed the Iraq resolution. "It's a little tough to say, `I was wrong and I should be president.'"

The Obama campaign has cast Clinton's refusal to say she made a mistake as a character issue. "One of the things people find disconcerting about President Bush is his stubbornness and unwillingness to admit mistakes," said David Axelrod, a top Obama adviser. "Some find it troubling when others follow that same pattern."

Meanwhile, Obama has continued to remind voters that he opposed the war from the beginning. On Friday, he called for the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq to begin May 1, following Prime Minister Tony Blair's announcement that the British would soon begin withdrawing some troops.

"Tony Blair's announcement made it clear that one of our greatest allies recognizes the fact that there is no military solution to this war," Obama said. "Just about everyone in the world understands this except the White House and a few of their friends running for president."

On the Republican side, most candidates are voicing support for Bush's policies on Iraq. With 65 percent of Americans unhappy about the direction of the war, polls say, the GOP candidate, whoever he is, could bear the brunt of that frustration as he faces the Democratic nominee.

So while the Republican candidates are supporting the administration, they are also finding ways to criticize the war.

On CNN's "Larry King Live," former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said recently that as president, he would have done some things differently.

"I would remove Saddam Hussein again," Giuliani said. "I just hope we'd do it better."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has said he supports Bush's plan to boost the number of troops in Iraq, while Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., has opposed it.

But the man with the most to lose is McCain. So closely is McCain identified with Bush's policies that Edwards dubbed the surge in troops "the McCain doctrine."

Nevertheless, McCain has criticized the administration's handling of the war since its inception, publicly and privately pushing for additional troops. Now, his rhetoric has become even sharper.

"We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement - that's the kindest word I can give you - of Donald Rumsfeld of this war," McCain said in Hilton Head Island, S.C., on Monday. "The price is very, very heavy and I regret it enormously."

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.