- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sen. Barack Obama yesterday joined a chorus of potential Democratic presidential candidates criticizing U.S. policy in Iraq, telling supporters he opposes sending more troops and urging them to send letters to persuade President Bush to change the course of the war.

Democrats considering White House bids have spent the past several weeks outlining, clarifying and strengthening their positions on Iraq as Mr. Bush weighs his options.

The president, who met yesterday with key advisers, plans to announce a new strategy for the war early next month. He is thought to favor sending 20,000 to 40,000 additional troops to Baghdad, an idea several Democratic White House prospects have criticized.

In an e-mail titled “Escalation is not the answer,” Mr. Obama yesterday asked voters to tell Mr. Bush “our soldiers are not numbers to add just because someone couldn’t think of a better idea.”

The Illinois Democrat’s message includes a link to the White House’s “contact” page.

“They are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and friends who are willing to wave goodbye to everything they’ve ever known just for the chance to serve their country,” Mr. Obama said of the troops. “Our men and women in uniform are doing a terrific job under extremely difficult conditions. But our government has failed them so many times over the last few years, and we simply cannot afford to do it again. We must not multiply the mistakes of yesterday, we must end them today.”

He repeated his call to begin a phased troop withdrawal and send a signal “that ours is not an open-ended commitment.”

It is a message more hopefuls and potential candidates are echoing as the 2008 election nears.

“Iraq is a question that dominates the political focus of both parties,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, who will seek the Republican presidential nomination.

Mr. Obama, who used the term “quagmire” to describe Iraq, reminds supporters that he has spoken against the war since 2002.

It’s a subtle dig at likely Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who each voted for the war but now oppose it.

Mr. Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee, announced yesterday that he is making another bid for the presidency.

Last year, Mr. Edwards said in an editorial that voting for the war in October 2002 was a mistake. He wants to withdraw 40,000 troops immediately.

“What we need to do is make it clear that we’re not going to stay there forever as an occupying force,” he said on CNN’s “American Morning.”

Mrs. Clinton said last week on NBC’s “Today” show that she cannot support increasing troop levels unless it is part of a larger plan to end the violence in Iraq.

But the idea of a surge in troops has at least one prominent supporter — likely Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Mr. McCain’s call for more troops prompted Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, an announced 2008 Democratic candidate, to start his own letter-writing petition.

“Your suggestion to deploy additional American servicemen and women to Iraq would make a big mistake even bigger,” Mr. Vilsack wrote in a letter to Mr. McCain that he has asked supporters to sign.

Democratic Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, also seeking the nomination as an anti-war candidate, has proposed completely cutting off funds for the war as a way to end it.

“We should not be thinking about spending more money and sending more troops,” he says on his Web site.

Other Democratic presidential hopefuls opposing a surge are incoming Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut.

Mr. Hunter, the outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said yesterday that he recommended that Mr. Bush hold off on a troop surge and instead send equipped and trained Iraqi battalions into Baghdad.

“Nothing matures a military force quicker than actual combat operations,” he said, adding that those Iraqi troops could use the experience, and are “a truck ride away from battle.”

“If you push the insurgency back in Baghdad with an American force that is temporary, you achieve only a temporary stability,” he said.

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