John Edwards on the War in Iraq and Saddam's Execution

John Edwards was on the Situation Room yesterday. I happened to watch it live and thought both anchors were very negative to him. But, he never lost his cool and gave some excellent answers, particularly on the war in Iraq.

On the minus side, he said executing Saddam was a "good thing." From the transcript:

HENRY: Now, you want to be commander-in-chief. And in your first move, you would take 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq. Do you really believe the Iraqi government could survive?

EDWARDS: Here's what I believe: I believe an escalation of our presence in Iraq is a enormous mistake. I think this McCain doctrine doesn't make any sense. There is no military solution to what's happening in Iraq. Everyone knows that. The only solution -- potential solution is a political solution. I mean, the Iraqis are going to have to decide whether they're actually going to have a representative government that includes everybody, including the Sunnis. And that's the only way to ultimately tamp down this violence.

If the idea is that we put more troops there and we stay there over and extended period of time for years and somehow that's going to solve this underlying political problem, it's just not reality.

HENRY: But, Senator, I want to ask about you, not about Senator McCain.

You want to pull 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq. Do you just want to give up?


HENRY: You want to give up?

EDWARDS: No. I think it's -- no, sir. I think we have two choices. And it's basically one -- they're bad and worse. We're in a very difficult situation. Nobody can say -- certainly with not any honesty -- that they -- the path that they're proposing will be successful in Iraq. We're in a very difficult situation.

Here's what I believe: I believe that the smartest and best thing for America to do is to make it clear that we're not going to stay in Iraq forever, that we're going to leave. I think that's the way to shift the responsibility to the Iraqis, to have the kind of political solution that they need. And I think the best way to signal that we're going to leave is to actually start leaving.

And there are a large number of provinces in Iraq that are, in fact, secure -- obviously not Baghdad, not the Sunni Triangle -- but there are places from which we could remove troops.

MALVEAUX: But Senator, the one thing that al Qaeda has said consistently is, they want a nation-state, they want Iraq, and commanders on the ground inside of Iraq and Baghdad say, you pull U.S. troops out now, that's exactly what you're going to give them.

EDWARDS: Here's the question: is America going to stay in Iraq for the next 20 years? I mean, are we going to have 150,000 troops in Iraq, or 100,000 troops, for the next 20 years?

MALVEAUX: But the question the president faces --

EDWARDS: Al Qaeda is a long-term -- long --

MALVEAUX: Mr. Senator -- I'm sorry, but the question the president faces, of course, is whether or not an immediate troop withdrawal is necessary, or a surge. You are arguing that we should withdraw troops, the president is considering, perhaps, putting more troops in, as well as your Democratic colleagues. How do you support that, when so many commanders on the ground say that is not the right thing to do?

EDWARDS: Every commander in Iraq, every military person that I've talked to about Iraq, says there is no military solution to Iraq. The argument that Senator McCain and the president, I presume, is going to make, is that, if we put more troops in Iraq, we can help stabilize the violence, and by stabilizing the situation on the ground, we can ultimately reach a political solution. I don't even think they would argue that anything other than a political solution is the solution to Iraq. That's obvious.

So I just think they're wrong about that. This is a judgment that has to be made. I think the most effective way to shift this responsibility to the Iraqi government, to reach a political solution, is to start shifting it to them now.

Now, there is a risk associated with that, in fairness, and being self-critical -- there is a risk associated with that. The risk is, as we embed American troops in Iraqi forces, that they become greater at risk when we're reducing our presence over time. That's the risk associated with what I'm suggesting.

HENRY: No, Senator --

EDWARDS: But there are risks associated with every -- every proposal that anybody makes has risks associated with it, and what we have to do is make our best judgment about what makes sense. And this is my best judgment about what we should do.

HENRY: Okay, now, Senator, you voted for the war in 2002 -- I know you've said you were wrong, it was a mistake. But you said, at the time, quote, "Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a menace. He is doing everything in his power to get nuclear weapons." Saddam Hussein is about to be executed; we all know that. Do you think the president at least deserves some credit for getting that part of the job done?

EDWARDS: I think the American military deserves credit for their success in Iraq and for capturing Saddam Hussein, and Saddam Hussein being out of power and being executed is a good thing.

HENRY: Are you concerned that there may be more terrorism directed at the United States, more attacks on U.S. soldiers, after Saddam is executed, though, that that might spark more violence?

EDWARDS: No, I think -- first of all, there's no way to predict what's going to happen. But my gut tells me that it's likely to have a more positive than negative influence.

But I think the most important thing about what's happening in Iraq is, the fighting and the violence, the sectarian -- the Shia/Sunni violence -- that's going on now is being driven by the fact that the Sunnis don't have a stakehold in the long-term success of a unified government. And unless and until that happens, we're going to continue to see the violence that we're seeing now.

MALVEAUX: Now Senator, you have said that your vote, of course, for the Iraq war was a mistake -- obviously, looking to the American people to forgive you for that mistake. But a likely opponent of yours, Senator Barack Obama, has been very consistent on his position against the war, from the very beginning. Why shouldn't the American people believe that this is simply just a convenient message, a flip- flop, on your part, if you will, to win the vote? EDWARDS: Well, you're making all the arguments today.

The answer to that question is, I said what I said about the war in Iraq, not for politics, not for any reason other than I think it's important for all of us to take responsibility for what we did. I voted for this war; I take responsibility for that. I don't put responsibility on anybody else. Whatever the consequences of that are, political or otherwise -- more important, personal -- I accept those responsibilities.

And I think what I'm asking America to do today, as a candidate for president of the United States, is, I'm asking Americans to take responsibility for their own country, not just for their individual responsibility, their individual actions, but to actually be patriotic enough to not wait for just the government to solve their problems, or the president to solve their problems, but to take responsibility and take action. That's what my campaign is about and it's what it's based on.

Well, it's a little hard to do that if I don't personally take responsibility for what I've done, good and bad. And I've done good and bad; I'm not perfect -- I'm human, just like everybody else.

MALVEAUX: And of course, Americans had their choice in 2004; they didn't pick Kerry. Your home state, North Carolina, did not pick you. Why do you think that this message of two Americas is going to resonate any more so with the American people, than it did when you first presented it? It's no longer a fresh or new idea.

EDWARDS: And it's not the basis for my campaign. What I have learned -- I'm like a lot of people, we all mature and evolve as we go through life -- and what I've learned is, it's a wonderful thing to identify a problem, which I did, of the two Americas in 2004, to talk about hope and inspiration, which I've done an awful lot, in the past, but it doesn't change things. If you want to change things, you actually have to take action. You have to take responsibility. I've actually seen it happen in the last few years, where we raised the minimum wage, and made college available to kids who are willing to work, and organized workers around the country into unions.

You can't wait and hope that the next election is going to produce a president or a political leader who will solve your problems. America, at its best, is when Americans, themselves, take action. That's what the `greatest generation' did, the government and American citizens working together. It's what America needs again. We can't just sit home and complain about somebody else not doing what they're supposed to. All of us have to do that --

HENRY: Senator --

EDWARDS: -- and take our own responsibility.

HENRY: Senator, as a last question, you've talked about ending poverty, but you know the attacks are out there already: in 2004, Republicans said you were a wealthy trial lawyer, and they used that as a negative. Now, already, the New York Post -- the headline was, `A State of Denial,' talking about your anti-poverty campaign, at the time -- same time, you're buying a $3.1 million beach house. Do you have an image problem?

EDWARDS: Well, at risk of arguing with you, your facts were completely messed up. But I -- I won't go into that. It doesn't matter.

The truth is that I have now had -- had everything you could ever have in this country. And I have been totally open about that. Everybody knows it. It's not the place I started from. I make jokes now about being the son of a mill worker, because everybody has heard that ad nauseam, and they don't want to hear it anymore.

But I came from a very different place. And I have been lucky enough to -- to have everything you could ever have in this country. And I feel a responsibility to help people help themselves. It's for you and the American people to judge whether they think that's real and authentic. I believe it is, but that's not my judgment to make. It's for people who are listening and hearing what I have to say to make.

HENRY: And, Senator, as a final question, obviously, your wife had breast cancer at the end of the last campaign.

How is your family now, as you approach this campaign? And how did that change your outlook on life, obviously, having such a -- a close loved one go through such a battle like that?

EDWARDS: Well, you know, we -- I'm like millions of Americans. We don't -- I don't claim to be unique. And we certainly don't claim to be unique in some of the things that we have faced.

You know, my -- Elizabeth went through breast cancer. She's been -- she's doing great, to answer your question, doing very well. My kids are doing great. They're in school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where we live. My older daughter, we're all -- we're all -- we're all doing fine.

And, you know, we -- as Elizabeth has talked about a lot, we lost our son about 10 years ago, a little over 10 years ago, which was a traumatic event in our -- in our family's life. But we have been blessed, you know?

And -- and this -- what I have done is made the decision in my own heart that -- that the best way for me to serve this country is -- is to run for president. And that's what this is about for me. It's about service.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, former Senator John Edwards.

Of course, it was exciting to cover you the last time in the campaign. And we will have more good times on the road, I'm sure, in -- in the following years to come.

Thank you again for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

EDWARDS: Thanks, Suzanne.

HENRY: Thank you.

EDWARDS: Thank you for having me.

MALVEAUX: And new polls show John Edwards is among the top contenders in the early presidential battlegrounds.

A new American Research Group survey of likely Democratic caucus- goers in Iowa shows Senator Hillary Clinton leading the pack, 11 points ahead of Edwards. Outgoing Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and Senator Barack Obama round out the top four. In New Hampshire, Senator Clinton also comes out on top. The ARG poll of likely Democratic primary voters shows Senator Obama a close second in the Granite State, followed by Edwards.

It is worth noting that the 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, gets only single digits in both states.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Too defensive (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by Al on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 01:58:55 PM EST
    This sums up my impression of the whole interview:
    EDWARDS: Well, at risk of arguing with you, your facts were completely messed up. But I -- I won't go into that. It doesn't matter.

    What does he mean, it doesn't matter? If the reporter's facts are wrong, you smack him with the correct facts. If Edwards can't debate an obviously hostile reporter, how does he expect to debate the real opposition?

    Here's an example. Question:

    MALVEAUX: But Senator, the one thing that al Qaeda has said consistently is, they want a nation-state, they want Iraq, and commanders on the ground inside of Iraq and Baghdad say, you pull U.S. troops out now, that's exactly what you're going to give them.

    And answer:

    EDWARDS: Here's the question: is America going to stay in Iraq for the next 20 years? I mean, are we going to have 150,000 troops in Iraq, or 100,000 troops, for the next 20 years?

    Edwards answers with another question, which is irrelevant to what Malveaux is asking. The correct answer is of course "Al Qaeda is a loose network of bombers that has never shown any inclination to organize itself into a nation-state as you call it. And if you think Al Qaeda has anything to do with the situation in Iraq right now, you're an ignorant fool, and you don't know anything about Al Qaeda or Iraq. The Bush administration thinks that it can raise the Al Qaeda bogeyman and make people forget the original reasons for invading Iraq, associating the invasion instead with the 9-11 attacks."

    The Republicans are a vile bunch of thugs. They have to be hit, and hit hard.

    I agree, Al (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by aw on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 08:06:33 PM EST
    and he might also have mentioned that al-Qaeda is a Sunni outfit, while Iraq is majority Shiite.  It is an impossibility that al-Qaeda could organize a nation-state in Iraq.

    aw - Saddam was a Suni... (1.00 / 0) (#12)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 08:52:48 AM EST
    and he figured out that if you control the military and the press that he could rule Iraq.

    Why do you think al-Qaeda can't do the same thing??


    Because (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by aw on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 09:33:39 AM EST
    al-Qaeda are foreigners, like us.

    Oh, really? (1.00 / 0) (#18)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 04:09:57 PM EST
    Oh, really? Remember you are saying that we have a Sunni - Shia civil war.

    To use one of your favorite expressions (3.00 / 0) (#19)
    by aw on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 10:21:03 PM EST
    I think you are confused.  Sunnis in Iraq are not al Qaeda.  Al-Qaeda are foreigners in Iraq even though it is a Sunni Islamist organization.

    Go read about Al-Qaeda.


    Edwards inconsistency (1.00 / 2) (#4)
    by ProgressiveRick on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 10:56:51 AM EST
    How can Mr. Edwards advocate Universal Health Insurance and at the same time base his campaign on asking people "to not wait for just the government to solve their problems, or the president to solve their problems, but to take responsibility and take action."

    Seems that if people would take the responsibility for their own health insurance, then we wouldn't need the government to dictate our health insurance to us.

    We already have universal health insurance... take responsibility to pay for it just like you take responsibility to pay for your dinner and home (you do don't you?)

    when wages aren't stagnant for decades (5.00 / 4) (#5)
    by Dadler on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 11:14:09 AM EST
    then you can yap about everybody being flush with so much cash they can pay ridiculous premiums.

    do you think healthcare is affordable for the average american?

    do you think it better to not give the american people a competitive benefit when negotiating with gigantic health corporations?  or do you just want it to be financial anarchy for everyone?  if you have, great, if you don't, sorry, you get to suffer.

    i mean, seriously, do you not realize that, as the largest conglomeration of the people's capital in the nation, the Federal Government is in THE single most advantageous position in terms of competitive leverage, to use for the good of all its citizens?  why do you want to throw your fellow americans to the wolves if you don't have to?  why do you want to encourage social instability?  

    do you not realize that healthcare in this nation is a for-profit business that puts health second to money?  is that good?  is that desirable?

    while you're at it, cancel your police department, your fire department, all public educaton including universities, environmental protection (which is sh*t right now), fdic insurance, cancel everything you benefit from that comes as a result of having a strong federal government.  which means cancel your stable society.  

    wealth in this country is controlled by a small percentage of people, that's reality.  the only hope most americans have in this game is the massive leverage of their collected resources, and a government that is supposed to serve their interests and needs first.

    your attitude is vindictive, and i'm constantly amazed at how many people really believe creating social instability is a good thing.

    go find a blue-collar worker and give them your spiel.  you'll get your block knocked off.  it's amazing how many people think creating social instability is a good thing.  look at iraq if you want to see where that leads.



    that should read.... (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Dadler on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 11:17:19 AM EST
    "...cancel everything you benefit from that comes as a result of government."

    Rick (1.00 / 1) (#13)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 09:06:20 AM EST
    dadler gets a bit excited from time to time, but leaving off his untoward remarks you are totally wrong. I can only conclude that you are very young with lots of money or just have lots of money, or you work for a company that pays your insurance.

    Beyond the cost, we have the pre-existing condition bugaboo if you change insurance companies.

    But, if you want everyone to pay, then I will agree. Everyone should pay via a national sales tax. To do otherwise is to expect some to pay and to others to receive free health care. I would guess a 5% tax on everything except unprepared food and utilities would pay for it.

    Now that I have solved that problem for you, can we count on your support??


    and as you know (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by soccerdad on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 09:11:42 AM EST
    a national sales tax is regrssive hitting the poor harder than the rich.

    How about undoing the tax relief the rich got?


    Politics is the art of the possible. (none / 0) (#17)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 04:05:57 PM EST
    How about putting a plan forward that will actually be passed?

    If the plan is seen by the middle class as another welfare type give away, it will never get out of Congress.


    Where to begin? (none / 0) (#1)
    by Molly Bloom on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 10:23:12 AM EST
    In no particular order:

    How does anyone know that pulling out of Iraq will give Al Qaida a nation state? And if it does, does this preclude overrunning Iraq again? It is not like we didn't take out the Taliban or Saddam's government. What Bush did was foul up the 2nd half. And at this point in Iraq, there isn't any salvaging of Bush's Iraq fiasco.

    Is having a 3 million dollar house and wanting to do something about ending poverty mutually exclusive?

    Are TV news pundit/reporter and intelligence mutually exclusive?

    I don't think he said it was a good thing... (none / 0) (#2)
    by jerry on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 10:30:31 AM EST
    He said it was likely to have more positive influence than negative.  I think everyone hopes he's right.

    He said it was a good thing (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 10:33:14 AM EST
    I think the American military deserves credit for their success in Iraq and for capturing Saddam Hussein, and Saddam Hussein being out of power and being executed is a good thing.

    I missed that.... (none / 0) (#8)
    by jerry on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 12:07:25 PM EST
    I see, sorry about that.

    Dadler (none / 0) (#7)
    by Che's Lounge on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 11:46:17 AM EST
    Well put.

    Josh Marshall lights it up also (HT to C&L):

    Try to dress this up as an Iraqi trial and it doesn't come close to cutting it -- the Iraqis only take possession of him for the final act, sort of like the Church always left execution itself to the 'secular arm'. Try pretending it's a war crimes trial but it's just more of the pretend mumbojumbo that makes this out to be World War IX or whatever number it is they're up to now.

    Deaths... (none / 0) (#10)
    by desertswine on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 02:04:47 PM EST
    There have now been 2,998 American servicemen and servicewomen killed in Bush's Debacle (not counting several hundred "contractors"),

    109 in December alone (I guess they're still trying to influence the elections, eh).

    Dadler (none / 0) (#16)
    by jondee on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 11:57:19 AM EST
    You just got the orthadox "Libertarian" position. Once you decide thats who you are, you have to accept all the tenets, regardless of any societal implications. Not that they believe theres such a thing as society.