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TUESDAY, JUNE 27, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Would-be presidents can't tie Bush's hands on Iraq

Democrats running for president in 2008 will benefit from the public's disillusionment about President Bush's war. But not all potential candidates are willing to use their current powers to limit the president's.

By an 86-13 vote, the U.S. Senate refused last week to require combat forces to be out of Iraq by July 2007. By a lesser margin, 60-39, the Senate voted against a nonbinding resolution that would have urged the administration to start withdrawing troops by the end of this year.

The five Republican senators who are considering running for president — John McCain of Arizona, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Bill Frist of Tennessee and George Allen of Virginia — voted with the Republican president and against publicly proclaiming intentions to pull out. Their position is not surprising. Accusations of disloyalty would hurt them in seeking their party's nomination.

Democrats, on the other hand, are more free politically to criticize the president. But only two of the Senate's potential Democratic presidential candidates — John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin — supported the mandatory pullout. The nonbinding resolution received support from the other four: Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Joe Biden of Delaware and Evan Bayh of Indiana.

Sen. Clinton illustrated the ambivalence of this middle group with her comment: "I simply do not believe it is a strategy or a solution for the president to continue declaring an open-ended and unconditional commitment, nor do I believe it is a solution or a strategy to set a date certain for withdrawal without regard to the consequences."

That doesn't sound like an effective sound bite for her (or her opponents) in the 2008 campaign. But it is in fact a responsible position. Congress should not limit the options of the commander-in-chief as he tries (we hope) to extricate himself and the nation from the mess that he got us into.

What we will need to hear from presidential candidates, though, is how they, if elected, would handle the situation differently from Mr. Bush, and with more prospects of success.

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