There is a working assumption among the American people that a new president enters the White House free of responsibility for the errors of the past, free to set a new course in any program or policy, and therefore free—at the very least in constitutional theory, and perhaps even really and truly free—to call off a war begun by a predecessor. No one would expect something so dramatic on the first day of a new administration but it remains a fact that the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces, and the power that allowed one president to invade Iraq would allow another to bring the troops home.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the current presidential campaign have promised to do just that—not precipitously, not recklessly, not without care to give the shaky government in Baghdad time and the wherewithal to pick up the slack. But Obama and Clinton have both promised that the course would be changed on the first day; ending the American involvement in the Iraqi fighting would be the new goal, troop numbers would be down significantly by the middle of the first year, and within a reasonable time (not long) the residual American force would be so diminished in size that any fair observer might say the war was over, for the Americans at least, and the troops had been brought home.
The presumptive Republican candidate, John McCain, has pledged to do exactly the opposite—to "win" the war, whatever that means, and whatever that takes. Politicians often differ by shades of nuance. Not this time. The contrast of McCain and his opponents on this question is stark, and if they can be taken at their word, Americans must expect either continuing war for an indefinite period with McCain or the anxieties and open questions of turning the war over to the Iraqi government for better or worse with Obama or Clinton. Which is it going to be?