By: John Bresnahan
November 25, 2007 05:37 PM EST
Iraq and electability once again dominated the Sunday talk shows as the race for the White House kicked into high gear, less than six weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), fresh off his latest visit to Iraq, told This Week’s George Stephanopoulos that “significant progress” is being made in reducing sectarian violence thanks to President Bush’s decision to send an additional 30,000 U.S. combat troops to the war zone.
McCain, who is trying to ride the improved security situation in Iraq to an improved standing in the polls, took shots at several Democratic candidates, including Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), for their suggestion that the United States should begin withdrawing its forces from Iraq soon.
“Is that the same Sen. Clinton that said she had to suspend disbelief in order to acknowledge to that the strategy of the surge was succeeding?” McCain said in reference to Clinton’s statement that the United States should stop trying to intervene in a “civil war” in Iraq. “Clearly, it’s succeeding. You would have to suspend disbelief to believe that it’s not.”
McCain later said Clinton’s support for a phased withdrawal from Iraq “would have been a catastrophe for the United States of America.”
“Look, now the same people who were saying seven or eight months were saying you can’t succeed militarily, we’ve succeeded military. Sen. Edwards used to call it the ‘McCain strategy.’ He doesn’t call it that anymore,” McCain claimed. “Their record is wrong on this. My record is right.”
But on the same ABC program, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who has advocated a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, pointed out that dozens of Americans continue to be killed every month in Iraq, in spite of a lower overall level of violence.
Richardson, like other Democratic candidates and party leaders on Capitol Hill, also noted that there has not been significant political progress inside Iraq among competing Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions.
“Progress shouldn’t be measured by casualty counts, by body counts,” Richardson said. “There is no military solution to the war in Iraq. There is a political solution. And there’s little [political] progress.”
“I believe that no American death is worthy of saying the body count has gone down,” Richardson added.
On Fox News Sunday, the Iraq conflict, and U.S. plans for the future there, also provoked a sharp exchange between Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the panel.
Levin and other Democrats have refused to provide Bush with an additional $200 billion to conduct military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan during 2008, saying the president should not get the money unless he agrees to a “goal” of withdrawing most U.S. combat forces by Dec. 15, 2008.
Graham has been one of Bush’s staunchest supporters on the way and wants the new funds approved promptly.
“I think history will judge the surge as probably the most successful counterinsurgency operations in history,” Graham said. Graham accompanied McCain on the Thanksgiving trip to Iraq. “We’re on the right track with the surge.”
But Levin, like Richardson, echoed the Democratic line that the Bush surge has not brought about political reconciliation inside Iraq.
“The president’s policy very specifically had as its purpose . . . to give the Iraqi leaders breathing space to work out a political settlement, and that purpose has not been achieved,” Levin said. “Why in the name of heaven are we not willing to at least establish a goal for the removal of most of our troops?”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has risen to second place in the GOP polls in Iowa behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, got the Sunday show treatment on CNN’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.
Under questioning by Blitzer, Huckabee slammed Romney for changing his views on hot-button social issues. Huckabee said Romney’s shifts were a major reason he has closed to within four points of Romney in Iowa, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
“Mitt has changed his position. He has been all over the board. But my conservatism has been consistent,” Huckabee said.
“When he was pro-abortion, I was still pro-life and always have been. When he was for gun control, I was against it. When he was against the Bush tax cuts, I was for them. When he was against Ronald Reagan's legacy and said he wasn't a part of that Bush-Reagan thing, I was a part of that Bush- Reagan thing.
“So it is not just about where we are now, it is where we have been and where we can be predicted to be if we are elected president,” Huckabee added. “People are looking for not just authenticity, but consistency. And that is one of the reasons that my numbers are surging, not only in Iowa, but in the other states as well.”
Huckabee responded to Romney’s charge that he was soft on illegal immigration, specifically for supporting tuition breaks for the children of illegal immigrants, stating that it was not his policy to “punish the children of those who break the law.”
Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), during an appearance on Fox News Sunday, defended his campaign for the White House, as well as his support for allowing states to decide their own policies on abortion by repealing Roe v. Wade.
Thompson opposes efforts to enact a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, arguing that the effort is bound to fail because the proposal cannot garner enough support in Congress or the states to be enacted.
Instead, Thompson would like to see Roe abolished, allowing states to impose laws banning abortion, and thus shifting the abortion battle, in Thompson’s view, to those states that would retain access to abortion. “The game would be on the pro-life side,” Thompson said.
“What the situation is now is as follows — because of Roe v. Wade, all states are restricted from passing rules that they would maybe like to pass with regard to this area,” Thompson added. “If you abolish Roe v. Wade, you’re going to allow every state to pass reasonable rules they might see fit to pass.”
Thompson, who unveiled a new tax cut plan on Sunday to go along with his previous release of a Social Security reform proposal, even lashed out a Fox News during his appearance.
"This has been a constant mantra of Fox, to tell you the truth,” Thompson said when asked by Fox’s Chris Wallace if he is really running hard for the White House. Numerous conservative commentators on Fox and elsewhere have questioned Thompson's will to win and his work ethic.
“From Day One, they said I got in too late, I couldn't do it ... wouldn't raise enough money, and that sort of thing. And that's their opinion. They're entitled to their opinion. But that doesn't seem to be shared by the cross section of American people. If you look at the national polls, you'll see that I'm running second and have been running second for a long time."