Twelve months before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, foreign policy, and not abortion, gay rights, tax policy, or voters’ churchgoing habits, is what seems most to separate Democrats from Republicans and, to some extent, from each other. An early test of the Democratic contenders will be how they approach the Iraq war. Clinton, Edwards, and Obama—at this point, the chief competitors—have many views in common. They tend to see China as an economic challenge rather than as a military threat; they are pro-Israel, and support (Bill) Clinton-style engagement to restart the Middle East peace process; they all want more commitment in the fight against AIDS. On Iraq, though, and on the uses of American power, there is less unity.
John Edwards (the 2004 Vice-Presidential nominee, who announced his intention to run just after Christmas) has become the candidate of troop withdrawal. When I asked Edwards last week for a concise description of his Iraq position, he said, “Let’s start leaving.” Hillary Clinton, who has not announced her candidacy but is said to be close to doing so, is a connoisseur of statecraft, the candidate of the Democratic foreign-policy élite. She brings the most experience in foreign policy to the race—much of it gained vicariously, in her husband’s White House. Unlike Edwards, she sees the loss of Iraq as potentially catastrophic for American national-security interests.