At an AFSCME forum this morning, Chris Matthews said he was going to ask five Democratic presidential contenders a question posed by a member of the union: “What is your specific exit strategy for bringing American troops home from Iraq?” He ended up asking four of them; Barack Obama, the last candidate to speak to the group, answered the question before Matthews could ask it.
This is what the candidates said:
Bill Richardson: Here’s my strategy — 3,500 Americans have died. Our troops have become targets. My specific strategy is this: If I were president today, I would withdraw all our forces before the end of this calendar year. But where I differentiate with the other candidates is I leave no residual forces. And my view is this: We cannot do the hard diplomatic work in Iraq until our forces are withdrawn. When 61 percent of the Iraqi people say it’s OK for troops in Iraq, American troops, to be shot [it] is wrong. When 70 percent of the Iraqi people say they want Americans out — Sunni and Shia — by the end of the calendar year, the time has come to withdraw our forces. I would redeploy our troops to Kuwait, where we’re needed, where we’re asked to be, to deal with any international terrorism contingency. But it is my view, Chris, that any kind of rebuilding of America’s foreign policy — dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue, with nuclear proliferation, with international terrorism — can only happen after we withdraw from this obsessive, disastrous policy in Iraq.
Dennis Kucinich: I’m the first person who really took up the issue of the war. Four years ago I said that there was no proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and, actually, Chris, did an analysis which disproved the cause for war. Since then, what I’ve done is to write a plan, embodied in H.R. 1234, which will do the following: First of all, it’s predicated on the Congress telling the president no more funds for the war. At that point, President Bush must go to the international community to put together a peacekeeping and security force, which won’t be done until we end the occupation and indicate an intention to end the occupation and close the bases, an international security force which moves in as our troops leave, because our troops have to leave … We’re the occupiers. The occupation is fueling the insurgency. I’m calling for a whole new approach. We have to negotiate with Syria and Iran. There is no nation in the region who wants this war to continue. The instability it’s bringing out threatens all the nations in the region. So what I’m talking about, Chris, is a plan — you asked for a plan — which not only calls for reaching out to the region to put together a peacekeeping and security force to stabilize Iraq and the region. As they move in, our troops leave. But in addition to that, Chris, I’m talking about a program for honest reconstruction, for reparations for the Iraqi people, the million Iraqis whose innocent deaths have occurred, a million Iraqi citizens. I’m talking about a program which will give the Iraqi people control over their own oil assets.
Hillary Clinton: Well, I have been saying for some time that we need to bring our combat troops home from Iraq, starting right now. I would not wait. I would begin to get them out of the multisided, sectarian civil war that they are part of. You know, our American young men and women in uniform have done their job. They were asked to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and they did. They were asked to let the Iraqi people have elections, and they made it possible. They were asked to let the Iraqi government have some space and time to get organized in order to defend the Iraqi people, and they’ve given them that time. But the Iraqi government hasn’t done their part. They haven’t met the conditions that are necessary for a political solution — because there is no military solution. So I think it is time that we start bringing our troops home. I also think we have to make it very clear to the Iraqi government that if they don’t meet conditions that they themselves have [set], like how they’re going to allocate oil revenues, how they’re going to bring the different sectarian groups together to hammer out what is the political determination that they’re going to agree upon — if they don’t do that, we should begin cutting aid to them. We cannot continue to support them if they’re not going to do the job that they have to do. And, finally, we should have intensive regional and international diplomacy. I believe in diplomacy, unlike our current president, who apparently doesn’t. He thinks you don’t talk to people you disagree with or people you think are bad people. Well, I don’t know how you get through the day, the week or the year if you don’t talk to people you don’t agree with every so often. So I believe that we’ve got to start engaging in diplomacy. And that’s what I would do, beginning now, if I were president. And if our president doesn’t end our involvement in Iraq, when I am president, I will.
John Edwards: If I were president of the United States today, what I would do is draw 40,000 to 50,000 troops out of Iraq immediately, out of the north and the south. I would continue to draw combat troops out of Iraq over the course of about the next 10 months. I would get the Sunni and the Shia leadership engaged in serious discussions to see if they can reach some kind of political solution, political reconciliation. Because without that, there’s never going to be peace in Iraq. And I would engage every other country in the region, and specifically the Iranians and the Syrians, in helping stabilize Iraq. They have no interest in stabilizing Iraq as long as America’s an occupying force there. But as America makes clear we’re leaving and we’re pulling combat troops out of Iraq — the Iranians, for example; the last thing they want is a million refugees coming across their border. They don’t want to see a broader Middle East conflict between Shia and Sunni, because they’re a Shia country in a Sunni-dominated Muslim world. So they have an incentive to stabilize Iraq once America’s not occupying Iraq.
Barack Obama: We should not have gone in. Once we went in, we continue to make mistakes and blunders, and we have for the last four years. But look, what’s done is done. We have no good options in Iraq left. We’ve got bad options and worse options. The best option, I believe, is to make certain that we begin a phased redeployment, that we’re as careful getting out as we were careless getting in, but that we start bringing our troops home, and send the signal to the Iraqi people, and most importantly, to the factions that are still warring in Iraq, there is not going to be a military solution to the problems there. There are only political accommodations to be had. And while we’re at it, we should be talking to countries like Iran and Syria that are acting irresponsibly, in part because they think we can keep a lid on things. And as we let them know they’re going to have to take some responsibility, then I think we have the possibility of creating the kind of regional framework that allows us to scale back our commitments there and, most importantly, allows us to start bringing our troops home. I am tired of meeting young women whose husbands are over there. I am tired of meeting mothers who are crying on my shoulder at town hall meetings because their sons or daughters are not coming back. It is time for us to bring our troops home.