HOW THE WAR SCRAMBLES PARTY LINES
The Iraq war has acted like bleach on this year's primary colors: political stripes have faded and dissolved as candidates scramble to explain how they would get America out of Iraq without igniting the Middle East. The most conservative candidate for the G.O.P., Sam Brownback, is closer on Iraq to Democrat Joseph Biden than he is to John McCain. Democrats John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, are worlds apart.
The Republican Party has perhaps the deepest identity crisis over the way forward in Iraq. G.O.P. voters are down on Bush but still largely behind the war, and three leading RepublicansJohn McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giulianiwould like to change policy but refuse to abandon the mission. All three back Bush's troop increase. McCain has, however, attacked the Administration's handling of the war. Brownbacklike fellow Republican and potential candidate Chuck Hagelsupports scaling back the U.S. military mission and appears to be betting that by next winter Republican voters will be looking for an exit strategy.
Most Democratic voters oppose the war and want it ended. But too dovish a position by candidates now could look weak to independents and centrists in the general election. Hillary Clinton backed the war and the mission through last November's election but has since called for capping troop levels. Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls for cautious withdrawal and scores points for his proposed political solutions, including direct talks with Iran and Syria. Always antiwar, Barack Obama has taken the party position of cautious withdrawal: a troop drawdown starting in four to six months. John Edwards has come out hard and early to declare his vote authorizing the war was a mistake and to issue the strongest antisurge message among the major Democratic candidates.
No position on either side is particularly safe; they are all gambles on a certain outcome in Iraq. If the situation on the ground stabilizes, the leading Republicans and Clinton will appear steady hands; if it deteriorates, Biden, Brownback and Edwards will look wiser.