Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Democrat says Bush wants to run out clock on Iraq

Democrat says Bush wants to run out clock on Iraq
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic White House hopeful Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday President George W. Bush wanted to "run out the clock" on Iraq and defer the tough decisions on its future to the winner of the 2008 race.

Vilsack, governor of Iowa and the first Democrat to officially jump in the White House race, also criticized likely Republican presidential contender John McCain's call for more troops in Iraq and said the U.S. military was suffering from the strain of repeated deployments.

"Currently the president has a strategy to run out the clock and shift responsibility to make the tough decisions to the next administration, which is an unfortunate thing for America and unfortunate thing for Iraq," he said in a Reuters interview.

Vilsack said he hoped the Iraq Study Group, which is to make recommendations to Bush on Wednesday, would mirror his proposal to "get our troops out of harm's way" by withdrawing U.S. forces from central and southern Iraq and redeploying for a limited time a smaller force for security in the north.

Bush has said he is not satisfied with progress in Iraq and will consider the proposals offered by the study group.

"I sincerely hope that we don't go down the path that Senator McCain has espoused, which is to make a big mistake bigger by adding more troops," Vilsack said.

McCain, an Arizona senator and early Republican favorite in the 2008 race who has formed an exploratory presidential committee, has been an ardent supporter of the war and says more troops are needed to complete the job.

"We've deployed some of these troops two and three or four times over there. Our military is under a lot of stress," Vilsack said. "I don't know where these troops are going to come from."

Vilsack, who came to Washington after a five-state tour launching his presidential candidacy, said he was not daunted by his underdog status in a Democratic field that could include political heavyweights like Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

He said his experience as Iowa governor dealing with issues like renewable energy and his familiarity and appeal to rural and small-town voters would be a prime asset in the 2008 race.

"Democrats have not been talking to people in small towns and rural America, and we have been losing states west of the Mississippi that we shouldn't be losing," he said. "I think I can broaden the map, and at the end of the day broadening the map is what is going to win for us."

Vilsack, who held a weekend fund-raiser in Iowa, said he could raise enough money to be viable in a race with more high-profile candidates. Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a former governor, formed a presidential exploratory committee on Tuesday.

"It's not about having more money, it's about having enough money to compete," he said. "Will I outraise Hillary Clinton? Heck no, but I'll stack my ideas up against anybody's."