The Iraq war looms as, perhaps, the most important foreign policy issue during the 2008 election. With thousands of U.S. troops stationed there and sectarian violence always threatening to engulf the country, candidates will have to grapple with the day-to-day events taking place more than 6,000 miles away. Read the stances of the presidential candidates below. The views of the vice presidential candidates are shown where available.
Voted in 2002 for use of military force in Iraq. Supported Bush veto of war spending bill that would have withdrawn most U.S. troops by March 2008. Was one of the earliest proponents of sending additional American troops to Iraq.
Does not believe in setting a withdrawal timetable. During a July interview, McCain said, "anything is a good timetable that is dictated by conditions on the ground. Anything is good. But the timetable is dictated not by an artificial date but by the conditions on the ground."
States on campaign Web site, "I do not want to keep our troops in Iraq a minute longer than necessary to secure our interests there. Our goal is an Iraq that can stand on its own as a democratic ally and a responsible force for peace in its neighborhood. Our goal is an Iraq that no longer needs American troops."
During a May speech that projected the state of the world after his first term, McCain said, "By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq war has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced."
Believes that the United Nations should play a role in supporting provincial governments' elections in late 2008 and the national government elections in 2009.
Believes that economic progress is essential to sustaining security gains in Iraq. States that international community should bolster proven microfinance programs to spur local-level entrepreneurship throughout the country. Also believes that Iraq's neighbors should promote regional stability by directly investing the fruits of their oil exports in Iraq.
Supported January 2007 "troop surge" and was one of the earliest proponents of the strategy. Stated in July campaign speech, "all the polls said the 'surge' was unpopular. ...I chose to support the new counterinsurgency strategy backed by additional troops, which I had advocated since 2003, after my first trip to Iraq. ... Today, the effects of the new strategy are obvious. The surge has succeeded, and we are, at long last, finally winning this war."
Status of Forces Agreement
Support U.S.-Iraqi negotiations for a Status of Forces Agreement, saying, "while negotiations with the Iraqi government are ongoing, reports indicate that all dates included in the draft security agreement are aspirational goals, based on conditions on the ground. ... We are today negotiating a conditions-based agreement that will enable us to withdraw troops in victory and with honor." Watch McCain speak about Iraq
Stated during the vice presidential debate October 2, "We don't need early withdrawal out of Iraq. We cannot afford to lose there or we're going to be no better off in the war in Afghanistan either. "
We cannot afford to lose against al Qaeda and the Shia extremists who are still there, still fighting us, but we're getting closer and closer to victory. And it would be a travesty if we quit now in Iraq."
Opposed use of military force in Iraq. In October 2002, when he was an Illinois state senator, Obama said, "I know that invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East and encourage the worst rather than best impulses in the Arab world and strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars; I am opposed to dumb wars." Voted for war spending bill that would have withdrawn most U.S. troops by March 2008. Had once called for troop withdrawal to begin by the end of 2006.
Would redeploy U.S. troops at a pace of one to two brigades a month. The Obama campaign says the proposed schedule would remove them from Iraq within 16 months and be complete by summer 2010.
Would maintain residual force to perform specific missions in Iraq, like targeting remnants of al Qaeda, protecting U.S. service members and diplomats, and supporting Iraq's security forces.
Would commit $2 billion toward an international effort to support the more than 4 million displaced Iraqis.
Would make it clear that the United States seeks no permanent bases in Iraq.
Would pursue diplomatic effort to reach a comprehensive compact on the stability of Iraq and the region, including Iran and Syria. Compact would aim to secure Iraq's borders, keep neighboring countries from meddling inside Iraq, isolate al Qaeda, support reconciliation among Iraq's sectarian groups and provide financial support for Iraq's reconstruction and development.
Opposed January 2007 "troop surge." In July, Obama said, "I have acknowledged repeatedly that the fact that we put more troops in there helped to quell the violence. The question is whether or not my position, in suggesting that we need to begin a phased withdrawal, we should have begun it earlier, whether that position that I took was a mistake. And I do not believe it was, because I continue to believe that the only way for us to stabilize the situation in Iraq -- I believed it then, and I believe it now -- is for the parties to arrive at a set of political accommodations."
Status of Forces Agreement
Believes that any Status of Forces Agreement, which allows U.S. military forces to operate within the host country, should be negotiated in the context of a broader commitment by the U.S. to begin withdrawing its troops and forswearing permanent bases. Also believes that any security accord must be subject to congressional approval. Watch Obama speak about Iraq
Voted in 2002 for use of military force in Iraq but has become a critic of the war. Said the vote was a mistake. "I regret having … believed that this administration had any competence," he told NBC News. Co-sponsored the Iraq War Policy Bill in 2007 that opposed the troop surge advocated by President Bush. Co-sponsored a Senate resolution in January 2007 that stated, "It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq."
In 2006, proposed a five-point plan for Iraq that advocated a political solution that would have created separate regions for Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis; shared oil revenues among different provinces and regions; held an international conference that would facilitate a political solution; drawn down U.S. troops and increased reconstruction assistance.