CHICAGO--NBC's Tim Russert is the moderator of Wednesday's Democratic presidential debate at Dartmouth U. in New Hampshire. It's on MSNBC and will be on until 10 p.m. Chicago time. Russert threw the first question to White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Since it is likely U.S. soldiers will be in Iraq when the next president takes office in 2009, how would he end the war? Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) get pressed on the same point. Only Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Ct.) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said they could get the troops out by the end of the new presidents first term
"Phased redeployment," Obama said.
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MR. RUSSERT: Good evening, and welcome. We have some big issues
to talk about tonight, so let's start right now.
Senator Obama, I'd like to start with you. General Petraeus in
his testimony before Congress, later echoed by President Bush, gave
every indication that in January of 2009 when the next president takes
office, there will be 100,000 troops in Iraq. You're the president.
What do you do? You said you would end the war. How do you do it in
January of 2009?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, first of all, Tim, let me say thank you to
Dartmouth for hosting this event.
And let me also say that had my judgment prevailed back in 2002,
we wouldn't be in this predicament. I was opposed to this war from
the start, have been opposed to this war consistently. But I have
also said that there are no good options now; there are bad options
and worse options.
I hope and will work diligently in the Senate to bring an end to
this war before I take office. And I think that it is very important
at this stage, understanding how badly the president's strategy has
failed, that we not vote for funding without some timetable for this
If there are still large troop presences in when I take office,
then the first thing I will do is call together the Joint Chiefs of
Staff and initiate a phased redeployment. We've got to be as careful
getting out as we were careless getting in. But military personnel
indicate we can get one brigade to two brigades out per month.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, Democrats all across the country
believed in 2006, when the Democrats were elected to the majority in
the House and Senate, that that was a signal to end the war, and the
war would end.
You have said that will not pledge to have all troops out by the
end of your first term, 2013. Why not?
SEN. 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're going to be inheriting. You know, we do
not know, walking into the White House in January 2009, what we're
going to find. What is the state of planning for withdrawal?
That's why last spring I began pressing the Pentagon to be very
clear about whether or not they were planning to bring our troops out.
And what I found was that they weren't doing the kind of planning that
is necessary, and we've been pushing them very hard to do so.
You know, with respect to the question, though, about the
Democrats taking control of the Congress, I think the Democrats have
pushed extremely hard to change this president's course in Iraq.
Today I joined with many of my colleagues in voting for Senator
Biden's plan, slightly different than he'd been presenting it, but
still the basic structure was to move toward what is a de facto
partition if the Iraqi people and government so choose.
The Democrats keep voting for what we believe would be a better
MR. 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?
MR. EDWARDS: I cannot make that commitment. I -- well, I can
tell you what I would do as president. If I -- 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 (thousand) 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've 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.