John Edwards’ Iraq Plan: Let’s Move Next Door
“To me, that is a continuation of the occupation of Iraq,” he said in a 40-minute interview on Sunday aboard his campaign bus as it rumbled through western Iowa.
In one of his most detailed discussions to date about how he would handle Iraq as president, Edwards staked out a position that would lead to a more rapid and complete troop withdrawal than his principal rivals, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, who have indicated they are open to keeping American trainers and counterterrorism units in Iraq.
Elizabeth Edwards, his wife and political partner, who listened in on the interview from a seat across the aisle, intervened at the end of the session to underscore that Edwards did not intend to stop all training and was prepared to train Iraqi forces outside the country. Edwards continued the theme while acknowledging that the benefits of such training would be limited.
His plan, like that of many of his Democratic opponents, is at odds with the strategy developed by American military commanders, who have said the situation is still too fragile to set a timetable for such extensive troop withdrawals and a curtailment of the training effort in Iraq.
Edwards’s plan calls for immediately withdrawing 40,000 to 50,000 troops. Nearly all of the remaining American troops would be removed within 9 or 10 months. The only force that would remain would be a 3,500-to-5,000-strong contingent to protect the U.S. Embassy and possibly humanitarian workers.
Edwards also stated in a speech in September that he would put forces to fight foes in Iraq somewhere outside of Iraq:
Even though the presence of U.S. troops has served as an attractive target for terrorists, our eventual withdrawal will not remove the threat. As president, I will redeploy troops into Quick Reaction Forces outside of Iraq, to perform targeted missions against Al Qaeda cells and to prevent a genocide or regional spillover of a civil war.
He said something similar in May to the Council on Foreign Relations:
I believe that once we are out of Iraq, the U.S. must retain sufficient forces in the region to prevent a genocide, deter a regional spillover of the civil war, and prevent an Al Qaeda safe haven. We will most likely need to retain Quick Reaction Forces in Kuwait and in the Persian Gulf. We will also need some presence in Baghdad, inside the Green Zone, to protect the American Embassy and other personnel. Finally, we will need a diplomatic offensive to engage the rest of the world in Iraq’s futureâ€”including Middle Eastern nations and our allies in Europe.
Furthermore, in the article today, author and military expert Michael Gordon indicates that Edwards plan is against what top military experts believe. Edwards seemed to indicate in his May speech he would listen to such advisers:
George Bush’s civilian leadership at the Pentagon repeatedly ignored the counsel of their more experienced military colleagues. They disregarded wise generals like Ric Shinseki, who advised that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to secure the peace in Iraq.
As president, I will repair this breach. I will institute regular, one-on-one meetings with my top military leadership, so their analysis and advice will not be filtered, and so I will have the best information about what’s best for our troops on the ground.
This also seems to be in contrast to what Edwards said in 2004, when he criticized Bush for not getting more people involved and in Ir
MR. DISTASO: … Senator Edwards, after voting to authorize the president to go to war in Iraq in 2002, you voted last fall against an $87 billion expenditure to support the troops there and aid the anti-terrorism effort. These votes may appear to some to be inconsistent and a reaction even, perhaps, to the political winds of the moment. Why aren’t they inconsistent? How are they consistent?
SEN. EDWARDS: Because — because I said from the very beginning, before the first resolution was ever voted on in the Congress, that in order for this effort to be successful, it was absolutely critical that when we reached this stage, that it be international; that it not be an American operation; that it not be an American occupation; and so long as it was that, we’d see the problems we’ve seen right now.
Everyone on this stage has been critical of the way George Bush has conducted this phase of the operation. But at the point where we had to stand up and say yes or no, we had to stand up and vote and support that vote, I thought it would be a mistake for me to say to the president, “What you’re doing is right. I support it. Go forward. Here’s your blank check. Come back next year and ask for more money.”
He needed to change course. We needed to have the United Nations in charge of the civilian authority. We needed NATO present to help provide security there, at least along the Saudi Arabia and the Iranian borders, so we could concentrate on the Sunni Triangle.
And actually, I have to say there are two of us on this stage — Senator Kerry and myself both voted against it. (Bell rings.) And I know that both of us felt we need to say loud and clear to President Bush that what he was doing was wrong and we thought he needed to change course.
He said the following to a Florida Democratic Party state convention four years ago (12/6/03):
MADDOX: “Do you have an exit strategy for Iraq, and what is it?”
EDWARDS: The first thing we need to do is we need to change this from an American operation to an international operation. That should have been done a long time ago.
What I would do is go to the United Nations immediately and do everything in my power to get them to take over the civilian authority in Iraq.
Second, I would change the security force in Iraq from an American security force to an international security force.
And, third, get on a reasonable timetable to turn Iraq and the governance of Iraq back over to the Iraqi people.
Moreover, this look at Iraq positions shows just how difficult to believe Edwards’ original speech is. Since, Edwards has apologized for his vote, but seems to have done it to hide from how convoluted his original explanation was.
Since he turned against the war, Edwards’ for the longest time criticized the ‘American face’ of it. That seems to have changed in this primary, when he wants American troops out, but still going in. It’s as if Edwards thinks the problem is where the troops sleep, not what they are doing.
I’m not sure such an odd distinction from Clinton and Obama (who both say to leave troops in Iraq to do the same thing Edwards wants them in Kuwait to do)will be practical come the general election.
Edwards remarks on October 7, 2002 to CSIS reflect this:
Nothing can undermine this important goal of disarming Iraq. That is why as we work with the Security Council to establish the parameters for weapons inspections, we must insist that inspections be airtight, watertight, and “Saddamtight” — anytime, anywhere, without warning and without delay. After 11 years of watching Saddam play shell games with his weapons programs, there is no reason to believe he has any real intention of disarming.
At the end of the day, there must be no question that America and our allies are willing to use force to eliminate the threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction once and for all.
And I believe if America leads, the world will join us.
Eliminating Iraq’s destructive capacity is only part of our responsibility. We must make a genuine commitment to help build a democratic Iraq after the fall of Saddam. And let’s be clear; a genuine commitment means a real commitment of time, resources and leadership. Democracy will not spring up by itself or overnight in a multiethnic, complicated society that’s suffered under one repressive regime after another for generations. The Iraqi people deserve and need our help to rebuild their lives and to create a prosperous, thriving, open society. All Iraqis, including Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds, deserve to be represented.
This is not just a moral imperative; it’s a security imperative. It is in America’s national interest to help build an Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbors, because a democratic, tolerant and accountable Iraq will be a peaceful regional partner. And such an Iraq could serve as a model for the entire Arab world.
We know that military planning’s in high gear, and that’s good, but democracy planning needs to be in high gear as well. For example, we should be asking NATO now to start planning for a post-conflict peacekeeping role, and we need to start consulting with others now about sharing the financial burden of reconstruction.
We also must remember why disarming Saddam is critical to American security, because halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction and ensuring they don’t fall into the wrong hands, including terrorist hands, is critical to American security. This is a problem much bigger than Iraq. We must lead our allies to greater collaboration. We must lead our friends to greater vigilance. We must lead our partners to greater participation. And we must lead problem states into adherence with the international agreements and programs to prevent proliferation.
If we’re serious about dealing with this problem once and for all, and if we want to prevent future threats like Iraq from arising, then the United States must see nonproliferation for what it is: a strategic imperative vital to our national interest.
His foreign policy voting record:
Voted against a set withdrawal date for troops from Kosovo
Voted for Biden’s resolution authorizing force in Kosovo
Voted for authorization of military force in Iraq;
Edwards is running far to the left on foreign policy in this election. Before this, though, his record and other remarks reflected a far more conservative approach to foreign policy. If nothing else, this will likely be a problem in the general election.