SAN FRANCISCO - An arms control group in Washington, DC has begun a petition drive urging Congress to stop President Bush from signing an agreement they say could bind his successor to continue the occupation of Iraq for another five years.
"When the Bush administration launched its attack on Iraq in 2003, it assured the American public that the war would be quick, cheap, and easy," reads the petition from the Council for a Livable World. "Five years into this disastrous war, both Bush and Iraqi officials are talking about occupying Iraq for another decade -- or even longer.
"Withdrawing our military from Iraq, while helping rebuild Iraq and assisting refugees, is the just and honorable solution to an unjust war," it continues. "We reject the idea of committing the United States to a long-term occupation in Iraq, and ask our elected officials to quickly and safely bring our American troops home."
So far, more than 3,200 people have signed the petition, which was originally sparked by a deal Bush reached with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that commits the United States to a "long term" relationship with Iraq and lays the groundwork for binding his successor to a permanent relationship with Iraq.
But that agreement isn't the only target of the petition. The group is also concerned about the positions of most of the Republican candidates for president -- chief among them Arizona Senator John McCain.
Earlier this month, McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war and ardent supporter of Bush's 2007 "surge" in Iraq, was asked at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire whether he supported keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for 50 years.
"Make it 100," McCain responded. "We've been in Japan for 60 years, we've been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. I hope it would be fine with you if we retain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al-Qaeda is training, recruiting, and motivating people."
"The war has been going on since 2003 but in McCain's eyes we've only recently gotten our act together and started to wage this war in the right way," notes Travis Sharp of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a Washington DC-based nonprofit group that conducts research about foreign affairs and militarism.
"So if anyone thinks [McCain] is going to be enthusiastic about reducing troop levels or winding down operations in the near future if he's elected, those people have another thing coming," Sharp told OneWorld.
McCain isn't the only candidate to support the invasion of Iraq and Bush's 2007 surge -- every Republican but Texas Congressman Ron Paul has espoused those positions. But McCain has been the most adamant on those issues, and has made continuing the war a cornerstone of his campaign.
Over the weekend, he attacked his rival, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, for telling ABC's Good Morning America program he would support "a series of timetables and milestones" that wouldn't be "for public pronouncement."
"You don't want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you're going to be gone," Romney said. "You want to have a series of things you want to see accomplished in terms of the strength of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police, and the leadership of the Iraqi government."
McCain's response: "One of my opponents wanted to set a date for withdrawal that would have meant disaster. If we surrender and wave a white flag, like Senator Clinton wants to do, and withdraw, as Governor Romney wanted to do, then there will be chaos, genocide, and the cost of American blood and treasure would be dramatically higher."
Writing in the conservative National Review, David Freddoso said "Romney has always been cautious about the Iraq war -- many hawks would say it is to a fault. He has said he supported the war at the time, knowing what he knew in 2003. He says he supports it now because we cannot abandon the mission we began. But, unlike most of his Republican rivals, Romney has never explicitly embraced the idea that it was the right thing to do in retrospect, knowing what we know now -- that is, that he would do it again if given the choice."
"Romney's style is very methodical and very data driven," said Solon Simmons of George Mason's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. "His strength is in the economy. He seems a little tired when he talks about defense policy -- not necessarily a flip flopper but a little bit on that side."
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's Iraq policy has also been somewhat confusing. In presidential debates, he has spoken out strongly in favor of the war and the surge but in a December article in Foreign Affairs he accused the Bush administration of an "arrogant bunker mentality" that "has been counterproductive at home and abroad."
"The United States, as the world's only superpower, is less vulnerable to military defeat," he wrote. "But it is more vulnerable to the animosity of other countries. Much like a top high school student, if it is modest about its abilities and achievements, if it is generous in helping others, it is loved. But if it attempts to dominate others, it is despised."
"Huckabee is sort of unformed on the foreign policy front," says Justin Raimondo, the editorial director of Antiwar.com. "I think he is giving force to the idea that the Bush administration is arrogant, but on the other hand he will say we have to go after the Iranians, but he's very vague about it."
As an antiwar conservative, Raimondo supports Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who voted against the Iraq war. Paul argues that the U.S. troop presence in Iraq is itself feeding the insurgency.
"The al-Qaeda wasn't there, but they're there now," he said in last week's MSNBC debate. "There were no weapons of mass destruction and [Iraq] had nothing to do with 9/11."
"It's a sad story because we started that war. We should never be a country that starts war needlessly," Paul said.