Edwards: Free College for Everyone Is Achievable
Sen. John Edwards answers questions in our presidential mashup.
The following is an unedited transcript and may contain typos or omissions. Click here for more on the presidential mashup.
Rose: Sen. Edwards, first on Iraq, give me your assessment of what Gen. Petraeus said and your opinion of whether he is accurate about the situation on the ground and what this administration is prepared to do next.
Edwards: My view about it is that both the administration and Gen. Petraeus are not focused on what is the only important question, which is, has there been political progress in Iraq? Because unless and until there's some political compromise between Sunni and Shia, there could not be stability in Iraq and the violence will continue. And instead of focusing on one small part of Iraq, Anbar province for example, where the Sunni tribal leadership has actually decided to work with America against al-Qaida, what we should be looking at is, has there been a political progress? Because without political progress, what's the purpose of us being here? I mean, what is the purpose of all the lives being lost? What's the purpose of now $500 billion and counting? And my view about this whole subject is the Congress has a mandate from the American people, and that mandate is not to provide funding to this president unless there's a timetable for withdrawal in the bill. And it's very important for the Congress to stand their ground. No timetable, no funding. That's exactly what the Congress should do. Because I do not believe George Bush will ever change course unless or until he's forced to change course. I mean, he's stubborn. He thinks he's incapable of making a mistake. And I think the Congress has a responsibility. The American people expect them to meet their responsibility. And right now, I think the—the troops in Iraq are stuck between a president who has no plan from my perspective for success. He just wants more of the same. You know? He wants more troops. He wants more time. He wants more money. He wants more war. But there's absolutely no indication that the Sunni and Shia are any closer today than they have been in reaching a political solution. So I think the Congress needs to make him change course. If he vetoes a funding bill with the timetable for withdrawal, I think that they should submit another bill with a timetable for withdrawal and they should continue to do that until he's forced to change course in Iraq.
Rose: Do you think your fellow candidates for the presidency who in the Senate are afraid to do that because they worry about being charged with not providing funds for men and women who are at risk?
Edwards: My view about this is—I can't read their minds. My view about this is this is way beyond politics now. With all the lives that have been lost and the billions of dollars that have been spent, this is literally about life and death now. The American people are behind them. I mean, they're behind the Congress standing its ground against the president. I think it's a historic moment, it's a crucial moment for the Congress. The Congress needs to have the strength to do what's right, to do what's right for our troops and begin to bring them home, and to do what's right for the American people and force Bush to end this war.
Rose: If you become president and there's still 130,000 troops there, how fast would you get them home?
Edwards: Quickly. It's hard to know exactly what the environment would be come January of 2009, Charlie. What I would do if I were president today is I'd take 40,000 to 50,000 out immediately and continue to pull troops out over the next nine months or so until all of our combat troops were out of Iraq.
Rose: What should be our mission today? To get a political reconciliation?
Edwards: Yes. That's the only mission. The mission, the goal is for there to be some sort of political compromise reached between Maliki and the Shia-led government and the Sunni leadership as fragmented as it is. Because—until that happens, there can't be stability there. I mean, that's the whole purpose for everything we've been doing. That's the whole purpose theoretically for the surge, which I think was an abysmal failure. But it's also the reason for us being on the ground right now. We're policing a civil war waiting for the Sunni and the Shia to reach some agreement. I have to say I find it so offensive that we have American men and women putting their lives on the line and some losing their lives while the Iraqi parliament goes on vacation for three or four weeks. This is not acceptable. These people need to feel the pressure in their—to take responsibility for their own country.
Rose: Let me ask you one last question about Iraq, because it's part of the political debate in some quarters. Moveon.org's advertisement, do you think it was the appropriate thing to do?
Edwards: I don't know if I've seen it, Charlie. Tell me what it is.
Rose: Basically they used Petraeus in a play off of betrayal. General Betrayal.
Edwards: I'm sorry. I just haven't seen it. So it's hard for me to comment on it. I do think that what I've heard from Gen. Petraeus is not focused on the fundamental question as I've just talked about. And I think, unless and until there's some political progress, which I have seen none of, the Congress needs to force Bush to change course.
Rose: Do you believe he's simply reflecting what the president wants?
Edwards: You mean, Gen. Petraeus?