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Dems Take On Petraeus, Call For Firm Withdrawal Date

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Democratic presidential hopefuls faced questions on Iraq at a debate hosted by Spanish language network Univision sunday.

A partial transcript of the exchange follows:

MODERATOR: Unfortunately, the question is for Senator Edwards. Senator Edwards, if General Petraeus has indicated that there was some success of these troops, would you still be in favor of withdrawing [from] Iraq in a few months?

MR. EDWARDS: I'm absolutely in favor of America leaving Iraq. What I'm concerned about, about the Petraeus report, is that it will be basically a sales job by the White House, that it'll be a PR document -- (applause) -- because that's what we've continually gotten from this administration, throughout the course of the war.

And it will be focused on this benchmark or that benchmark than whether some minor progress has been made on one particular benchmark.

The underlying question that has existed the entire time that we've been in Iraq is, have the Sunni and Shi'a moved toward some sort of serious political compromise? Because without that compromise, there cannot be peace or stability in Iraq. It cannot happen.

And I think we know the answer to that right now. The answer to that question is there has been no political progress. In fact, the Iraqi parliament went on vacation for three or four weeks while American men and women were putting their lives on the line in Iraq.

Here's what I believe. I believe no political progress means no funding without a timetable for withdrawal. And if the president vetoes a bill that has a timetable for withdrawal, the Congress should send him another bill with a timetable for withdrawal and continue to do it until he's forced to start withdrawing troops. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Senator Clinton, the same question: For the -- in the next few days, we'll have a report from General Petraeus. If the troop surge has had partial success in Iraq, would you still withdraw from Iraq?

SEN. CLINTON: I was against the surge when it was first proposed. And I believe that nothing which General Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker or anyone else coming before the Congress will say next week will in any way undermine the basic problem: There is no military solution. That has been said for years now. And that is why I believe we should start bringing our troops home.
That however does not in any way suggest that our young men and women in uniform have not performed magnificently and heroically, because they have. (Applause.) They were asked to do what they do best, which is to try to provide some amount of stability or security to give the Iraqi government the time and space to do what the Iraqis must do. Unfortunately despite the heroism of our American forces, the Iraqi government has not reached any kind of political reconciliation. Therefore we need to quit refereeing their civil war and bring our troops home as soon as possible. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Senator [sic] Richardson, what would you do with the troops?

GOV. RICHARDSON: What I would do with the troops is I would bring them all home -- every one of them. And you know, there's a fundamental difference that I raised in the last debate with Senator Obama, Senator Clinton, Senator Edwards. Under their plans, under their website, they leave either 25 or 50 or 75 troops behind. I'd bring them all home within a period of time of six to eight months, because our troops have become targets.

You can't bring reconciliation to Iraq, or an all-Muslim peacekeeping force or a partition, without getting all our troops out. Our kids are becoming targets. They are dying -- the last three months, the highest total. Iraqis are dying.

And I -- there is a basic difference between all of us here that I mentioned, involving, what do we do about leaving troops behind? Some say they want to leave combat troops behind. They don't want to leave them --

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
...
We want to go to Senator Dodd. The question: The question isn't that in the past things haven't been done right, but what would you do differently to capture Osama bin Laden -- something that hasn't been done?

SEN. DODD: Well, first of all, I think in this debate about the forces in Iraq -- what time they come out, how many come out, and when they come out -- the underlying question is the safety and security of our country. We're running for the presidency of the United States. The first obligation and job of an American president is to keep this country safe and secure.

I would argue that today presently our troops in Iraq are doing just the opposite of that. We're more vulnerable, less safe, more insecure today as a result of the presence there because we've turned Iraq into an incubator for jihadists and terrorists.

And so it's important, I think, that we do begin that process. And I'll strongly support in the coming days efforts here to terminate that participation based on firm deadlines.

Then we ought to be taking those resources and putting them into Afghanistan here so that you have a serious effort here to go after Osama bin Laden. We failed to do that. As we went into Iraq here, we lessened our participation in Afghanistan, and as a result, we've seen the resurgence of the Taliban and the reemergence of Osama bin Laden.

If we focus our attentions there, return there, then I think we can make a huge difference and apprehend Osama bin Laden and also rebuild the coalitions necessary to have the kind of cooperation to deal with international terrorism that we're not getting today because of our military -- continued military participation in Iraq. I think that's the danger. (Applause.)

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