Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

John Edwards vs. Hillary Clinton on Iraq and Iran

Hillary Clinton likes to claim there is not much difference between the Democratic candidates. She's been seeking to minimize the very real differences so that people will just accept her without question.

Check out these quotes from the Democratic debate in New Hampshire on June 3, 2007:

CLINTON: The differences among us are minor. The differences between us and the Republicans are major. And I don't want anybody in America to be confused.

EDWARDS: There are differences between us. And I think Democratic voters deserve to know the differences between us.

There are many differences between Edwards and Clinton. This diary focuses on their differences on Iraq and Iran.

Today is an unfortunate and sad anniversary, and we might as well note it. Five years ago, Congress voted to authorize Bush to use force against Iraq. John Edwards and Hillary Clinton both voted for the war on that date. John Edwards has since regretted it and apologized rather profusely (and sincerely, in my opinion).

Today, John Edwards made a statement on this anniversary.

"Five years ago tonight, Congress voted to authorize the president to use force against Iraq. Unlike Senator Clinton, I have apologized for my vote in support of that bill. This war has become one of the greatest disasters of American foreign policy. In light of the terrible mistruths that permitted this president to guide our nation to war, voters have a right to honest answers and straight talk from those running for president. That is why I have made it clear that I oppose the Iraq war, why I have offered a specific plan on how I will end this war as president, and why I have made my position very clear on Iran.

"Unfortunately, political rhetoric aside, Senator Clinton has no specific plan to end the war in Iraq. Instead, she refuses to commit to a specific timeline for withdrawal and has made it clear that she will continue 'combat missions' in Iraq. The Washington Post reports today that Senator Clinton has described multiple missions that would require us to keep combat troops in Iraq—from protecting the Kurds to countering the Iranians to training Iraqi troops to protecting oil to a vague need to 'protect our interests.' These missions would just be excuses to justify continuing George Bush's failed strategy in Iraq.

"Now, we are again facing another challenge: whether to let the president go to war with yet another country, Iran. Evidently, Senator Clinton and I learned two very different lessons from the Iraq war. I learned that if you give President Bush even an inch of authority, he will use it to sanction a war. As the New Yorker recently reported, the administration is actively preparing plans to attack Iran. Despite this clear evidence, Congress recently passed a bill to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, a bill Senator Clinton supported and that takes this nation one step closer to war. While Senator Clinton tries to argue both sides of the issue, the truth is her vote opens the door for the president to attack Iran. I believe we must not allow the president to use force against Iran when so many other diplomatic and economic options are still available."

Now let's dig a little deeper into the differences with Clinton that Edwards is noting in his statement.

Although both voted for the war, the differences between John Edwards and Hillary Clinton on their approach to the Iraq war now are very clear. John Edwards would end the war and bring all combat troops out of Iraq within the first nine months or so of his presidency. Hillary Clinton says her goal is to get all our troops out by the end of her first term, but she would leave combat troops in Iraq, with the nebulous mission of fighting terrorism, which isn't really too far from what George Bush has been saying all along. Isn't fighting terrorism supposed to be our original mission there? Hasn’t Al Qaeda been the excuse for the war all along?

An article today from the Fact Checker at the Washington Post notes:

It is only when you examine the details--like the fine print in an insurance contract--that you discover that Clinton's pledge to "get out of Iraq" is far from iron-clad. There are numerous conditions attached. She enumerated some of them in the June 19 Democratic debate when pressed by Chris Matthews. Read the full transcript here. Clinton's list of "vital national security interests" in Iraq turns out to be quite lengthy:

"We cannot let Al Qaeda have a staging ground in Iraq."
"We have made common cause with some of the Iraqis themselves in Anbar province."
"We also have to look at the way the Kurds are being treated."
"We also have to pay attention to Iranian influence."
"We will have to protect our interests. We'll have an embassy there."
"If the Iraqi government does get its act together, we may have a continuing training mission."

Here are a couple more reasons cited by Clinton for a continuing deployment of American troops to prevent Iraq degenerating into a failed state "that serves as a petri dish for insurgents and Al Qaeda." They come from an interview she gave to the New York Times back in March.

Iraq "is right in the heart of the oil region."
Leaving Iraq altogether would be "directly in opposition to our interests...to Israel's interests."

Somehow that doesn't sound like a firm promise "to get out of Iraq" or, even less, a guarantee to "end our involvement there."

Check out these quotes from the MSNBC Democratic debate on September 26th, 2007.

CLINTON: Well, Tim, it is my goal to have all troops out by the end of my first term. But I agree with Barack; it is very difficult to know what we are going to be inheriting. Now, we do not know, walking into the White House in January of 2009 what we are going to find.

RUSSERT: Senator Edwards, will you commit that at the end of your first term, in 2013, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq?

EDWARDS: I cannot make that commitment. But I—well, I can tell you what i would do as president. When I’m sworn into office, come January of 2009, if there are, in fact, as General Petraeus suggests, 100,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq, I will immediately draw down 40,000 to 50,000 troops; and over the course of the next several months, continue to bring our combat troops out of Iraq until all of our combat troops are, in fact, out of Iraq.

I think the problem is—and it’s what you just heard discussed—is we will maintain an embassy in Baghdad. That embassy has to be protected. We will probably have humanitarian workers in Iraq. Those humanitarian workers have to be protected.

I think somewhere in the neighborhood of a brigade of troops will be necessary to accomplish that, 3,500 to 5,000 troops.

But I do say, I want to add to things I just heard. I think it is true that everyone up here wants to take a responsible course to end the war in Iraq. There are, however, differences between us, and those differences need to be made aware. Good people have differences about this issue.

For example, I heard Senator Clinton say on Sunday that she wants to continue combat missions in Iraq. To me, that’s a continuation of the war. I do not think we should continue combat missions in Iraq.

And when I’m on a stage with the Republican nominee, come the fall of 2008, I’m going to make it clear that I’m for ending the war. And the debate will be between a Democrat who wants to bring the war to an end, get all American combat troops out of Iraq, and a Republican who wants to continue the war.

RUSSERT: Governor Richardson...

CLINTON: Well, Tim, could I just clarify that, you know, I said there may be a continuing counterterrorism mission, which, if it still exists, will be aimed at Al Qaida in Iraq. It may require combat, special operations forces or some other form of that. But the vast majority of our combat troops should be out.

EDWARDS: But, can I just say that my only point is—I don’t have any doubt that Senator Clinton wants to take a responsible course. There is a difference, however, in how we would go about this. And I think Democratic primary voters are entitled to know that difference.

And the difference is really very simple. I would have our combat troops out of Iraq over a period of several months, and I would not continue combat missions in Iraq.

Combat missions mean that the war is continuing.

I believe this war needs to be brought to an end.

In the MSNBC debate, Senator Edwards referred to something Senator Clinton said about combat troops on the previous Sunday. From my research, it seems this was on Wolf Blitzer’s Late Edition show on CNN. Here is the quote:

BLITZER: But on the issue -- excuse me for interrupting, Senator. But on the issue of Al Qaida in Iraq, if you were president, would you still retain troops in Iraq to fight Al Qaida there?

CLINTON: Well, I have voted for that. That is one of the remaining missions, Wolf. I have voted for a remaining mission bringing home our -- the bulk of our combat troops, but doing what we can to continue the counterterrorism effort against Al Qaida in Iraq, protecting our embassy and our civilian employees.

If the Iraqis change in accord with some of the recommendations by General Jones and his commission, continuing a training mission, and I have added, doing what we can to protect the Kurds. Those are among the limited missions that I think are really merited, and that I and others have continued to vote for. I voted for most of that just this week, when I voted for Senator Feingold's amendment to try to set a date to begin withdrawing our troops.

So there is no doubt that if we're making progress against Al Qaida in Iraq, we want to continue that. But we don't need 160,000- plus troops to do that, and the mission has to change. And that seems to be what the president really refuses to do.

On Iran, Senator Clinton voted for the Lieberman-Kyl amendment, which declares the Iranian National Guard a terrorist organization. This is essentially moving us one step closer to war with Iran, as many people, including Senator Jim Webb, have noted. John Edwards says that he and Senator Clinton learned very different lessons from their votes on the Iraq war.

EDWARDS: Well, let me say, first of all, I think there’s a clear responsible course for America with respect to Iran. And that responsible course is to recognize that Ahmadinejad is unpopular in his own country.

And if we work with our friends in Europe in the European banking system, we can put a clear proposal on the table for the Iranian people; sticks and carrots. Carrots being, we will help you with your economy if, in fact, you give up your nuclear ambitions. The flip side being, there will be severe economic sanctions if you don’t.

But I want to come back to a discussion that took place a few minutes ago to make everyone understands what Senator Gravel was talking and Senator Clinton was talking about. Because there was a very important vote cast in the United States Senate today. And it was, basically, in a resolution calling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

I voted for this war in Iraq, and I was wrong to vote for this war. And I accept responsibility for that. Senator Clinton also voted for this war.

We learned a very different lesson from that. I have no intention of giving George Bush the authority to take the first step on a road to war with Iran.

And I think that vote today, which Senator Biden and Senator Dodd voted against, and they were correct to vote against it, is a clear indication of the approach that all of us would take with the situation in Iran because what I learned in my vote on Iraq was you cannot give this president the authority and you can’t even give him the first step in that authority because he cannot be trusted.

Brief note about Obama: Obama was not present for the vote on Lieberman-Kyl.

Issue Summary:
Edwards would end the war within his first year in office and get all combat troops out of Iraq. Clinton would try to end the war by the end of her first term in office, but would meanwhile continue combat missions. Edwards would use diplomacy and economic sanctions to try to work something out with Iran. Clinton has already voted to declare the Iranian National Guard a terrorist organization, taking us one step closer to war with Iran.

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