- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2007

Democratic candidates whom many consider underdogs for the presidential nomination in 2008 continued their party’s attacks on the Iraq war yesterday, demanding it be ended and the troops brought home immediately.

“We must stop this war,” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware declared on the final day of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) three-day winter meeting here.

Democrats at the meeting approved a party resolution opposing President Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, calling instead for a “broadening of diplomatic initiatives” to end the conflict.

Mr. Biden, who is making a second bid for his party’s nomination, said reducing the number of troops in Iraq, “not escalating America’s troops, is the only way to force Iraq’s leaders to seek a political settlement.” “The surge in troops is not a solution,” said Mr. Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It is a tragic mistake, and I will do everything in my power to stop it.”

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack went further than many of his Democratic rivals who are calling for a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq over the next year or two. He said that reducing the number of U.S. forces in Iraq over time would not represent “a real change” in policy on the war.

“The real change is we want our troops out now. The war must end, and our troops must be brought home now, not eventually but immediately,” Mr. Vilsack said.

The two-term governor also reminded DNC members that the only Democrats to win the presidency in recent decades were governors who ran against the Washington establishment.

Identifying himself as “an outsider” who has run a government, balanced a budget and managed a state economy, Mr. Vilsack said “we win as outsiders.” Though he did not mention any names, his remark was a reminder to his audience that a half-dozen of the party’s presidential contenders — including front-runners Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois — are members of Congress.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the only other state chief executive seeking the Democratic nomination, also raised the end-the-war ante against his party’s pack of candidates in a speech that pointedly criticized the Democrats’ pending nonbinding Senate resolution against Mr. Bush’s troop surge.

“As someone who served in Congress for 14 years, I know the power they hold, should they choose to wield it. The Congress passed a resolution authorizing the war. They need to pass another that overturns that authorization … and brings our troops home by the end of the year,” he said.

And in an unusual twist in the increasingly heated debate over the war, Mr. Richardson offered an assessment with which even Mr. Bush might partially agree.

“The reality is, we have done in Iraq what we said we would do. We have rid the world of a brutal dictator. We have brought about free and fair elections three times over,” he said. “The Iraqis now have a constitution, over 200,000 armed soldiers and they have oil revenue. It’s time for our troops to leave with honor.”

Moreover, at a time when foreign policy and national security have become central issues, the former U.N. ambassador who has brokered foreign policy disputes around the world, implicitly raised the lack of foreign policy experience among most of his party’s candidates.

“I know the usual rap on governors — that we don’t know anything about foreign affairs,” Mr. Richardson said. “Well, maybe you can say that about governors from Texas, but not this governor.”

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