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ELI PARISER: Hello MoveOn.org members! This is Eli Pariser, Executive Director of MoveOn.org, welcoming you to our first ever Virtual Town Hall. I want to thank you all for listening in, and I want to thank our co-sponsors of tonight’s event: Air America,
SEIU--The Service Employees International Union, the Campaign for America’s Future.
Tonight, there are thousands of you gathered in over 800 homes nationwide to hear Presidential candidates discuss the #1 issue on MoveOn members, and most Americans’ minds: Iraq.
But first, a little bit about the Virtual Town Hall.
Town meetings have been a key part of American democracy for hundreds of years. Unlike most town halls, our Virtual Town Hall doesn’t really involve a town….or a hall. But like traditional town hall meetings, it gives the members of a community—the MoveOn community—an opportunity to participate in democracy.
To our knowledge, this is the first Virtual Town Hall meeting ever held on this scale. Thanks to everyone for participating.
Our Virtual Town Halls provide a way for presidential candidates to talk directly to MoveOn.org’s 3.2 million members. MoveOn members were incredibly active and influential in both the 2004 presidential election and the 2006 congressional elections, and we know MoveOn members care deeply about the upcoming presidential race in 2008.
We’re holding three Virtual Town Hall meetings on the issues that matter the most to MoveOn members: Healthcare. Global Warming. And, tonight, Iraq.
MoveOn Members voted on which candidates to invite, and twelve candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, were invited to participate. The seven who agreed, all Democrats, will be with us tonight in this order: John Edwards, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, and Barack Obama.
The Virtual Town Hall works like this: MoveOn members submitted more than 6,800 potential questions --and then cast more than 600,000 votes to determine the top questions to be asked of the seven presidential candidates we’ll hear from tonight.
We’ll hear those questions directly from MoveOn members, and some additional questions from me—and we’ll give candidates one minute for a closing statement. Overall, we’ll spend about ten minutes with each candidate.
And since we are MoveOn.org, there is an interactive, online component to our Virtual Town Hall. During the intermission, be sure to take our interactive poll, and please check your email tonight to let us – and the press -- know which candidate you think is most qualified to lead the country out of this war.
And now, I’m happy to introduce the first presidential candidate of the night, Senator John Edwards.
John Edwards grew up in a small North Carolina town, where he worked with his father at the local textile mill.
The first in his family to attend college, Edwards went on to earn a law degree and become an advocacy lawyer before being elected to the Senate in 1998, where he wrote key legislation on port security and protection from biological threats. In 2004, he was the Democratic nominee for Vice President.
John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, were married in 1977, and raised their children in North Carolina. Senator Edwards is the former director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.
Welcome, Senator Edwards, and thank you for joining us. Our first question to you, which we’ll pose to every candidate, is simple and it comes from MoveOn Member Anita Todras (TA-dras), a mortgage loan officer from Coconut Creek, Florida:
(audio)Anita Todras: My name is Anita Todras, in your opinion, what is the best and fastest way to get out of Iraq?
SENATOR EDWARDS: Well, thank-you. First of all let me say for the past nine months, MoveOn members have accomplished amazing things for the progressive movement. Last year you helped elect a new congress, and thanks to your relentless grassroots pressure you helped shift the national debate about ending the war in Iraq from a question of if, to a question of how soon. Thank you. As you probably know I voted for this war. I was wrong and I take responsibility for that. Every day this war drags on is worse for Iraq, worse for our troops, worse for our country. We don’t need more debate. We don’t need symbolic resolutions, we don’t need abstract goals. What we need are binding requirements, and we can’t wait until this President takes off in 2009. Here’s what I think ought to happen. Simply put, Congress should use its funding authority to force President Bush to end the war, and start immediately bringing American troops home from Iraq. I’ve been advocating for Congress to use its funding authority since I voted against the first $87 billion supplemental back in 2003. That funding authority’s still the most powerful check we have. If congress is willing to use it. I propose we begin by capping funding levels at 100,000 troops to stop Bush’s escalation and force an immediate withdrawal of 40 to 50,000 troops which would come out of the north and the south of Iraq. During that time, we should not allow Bush to deploy any replacement troops to Iraq that do not meet real readiness standards, and that have not been properly trained and equipped. Our withdrawal will help us to directly engage the Iranians and the Syrians to help stabilize Iraq. The withdrawal of all combat troops should be completed in about a year. So, that’s the outline of my plan for what out to happen.
But we should not be talking hypothetically, because we’ve already reached a critical moment, and what we do right now will make all the difference. Thanks in part to your hard work, both Houses of Congress have passed spending bills to set a time-table for withdrawal. President Bush has promised to veto that funding, calculating that he could use the bully pulpit to intimidate Congress and get them to back down. But this is not the time for political calculation, this is the time for political courage. This is not a game of Chicken. This is not about making friends or keeping Joe Lieberman happy. This is about life and death. This is about war. We are done letting George Bush manipulate the rhetoric of patriotism, only to use our troops as political pawns. If Bush veto’s funding for the troops, he is the only one standing in the way of the resources they need. Nobody else. Congress must stand firm. They must not write George Bush another blank check without a timeline for withdrawal. Period. If Bush veto’s the funding bill, Congress should send another funding bill to him with a binding plan to bring the troops home. And if he veto’s it again, they should do it again. The American people are overwhelmingly in favor of ending this war. If our side stands firm, if we show courage now, we can finally bring our troops back home, and bring this war to and end. Thank-you.
ELI PARISER: Thank you, Senator Edwards. And now, another question from MoveOn member C. Davey Utter, a retired NBC broadcaster from Venice, California
(audio)C. Davis Utter: “What are you going to do about prosecuting war profiteering in Iraq?”
SENATOR EDWARDS: Well, let me say first, I will end war profiteering in Iraq. What the Bush administration has done is they signed no-bid contracts with Halliburton and Bechtel, and complete billions of dollars of work in Iraq. Not only does war profiteering waste taxpayer dollars, it undermines the credibility of America’s reconstruction efforts in the eye of the world. We need to do everything in our power to get rid of fraud and abuse in Iraq. We need to hold powerful corporations like Halliburton accountable for no-bid contracts they’ve secured through cronyism. None of you would be surprised to hear that I believe in using the US Judicial system to hold powerful corporations like Halliburton responsible for their wrong-doing. I’ve done it for a long time. For all new Iraq contracts, we should impose a cap on profits from Iraqi reconstruction. Contracts should be permitted only for a reasonable profit on their Iraq contracts, based on the average profits on comparable competitively bid government contracts. This is a version of the excess profits tax that was imposed during the first and second world wars. As President Franklin Roosevelt explained: In a time of war the few should not gain from the sacrifices of the many. We should also bar corporations, senior executives, lobbyists, and directors, from making donations to presidential candidates, and political parties, at least a year before or after bidding on a major government contract. Finally, we ought to break the link between government procurement and private sector contracting jobs. Private sector executives seeking government contracts would not be able to take official contracting jobs for 12 months, and similarly, those with the responsibility for contracting would not be able to go to firms seeking contracts for 12 months.
ELI PARISER: Thank you Senator Edwards. I have one final question for you: The Iraq bill recently passed by the House included a version of Rep. John Murtha's proposal forcing the President to certify that troops going to Iraq meet the Pentagon's standards for sufficient training, proper equipment, and overall readiness to fight. Do you support this approach and do you think it should be in the conference committee's final version of the Iraq bill?
SENATOR EDWARDS: Yes. Representative Murtha’s bill echoed the policy that I actually announced in February of this year. I believe in it strongly. In my policy I have prohibited funding to deploy any new troops or any replacement troops to Iraq that do not meet real readiness standards, and have not been properly trained and equipped. So that American tax dollars are used to train and equip our troops, and not used to escalate this war. Requiring this President to make sure that the troops are prepared is actually the best way to stand by our troops, and is also the best way to force this President to change his policy. The members of the conference committee have to stand strong on this requirement. They should stand up to this President’s veto threat and they ought to pass this legislation and stand behind it.
ELI PARISER: Thank you, Senator Edwards. And now, please take a minute for your closing remarks.
SENATOR EDWARDS: I spoke earlier about the need for political courage and the need for political courage to trump political calculation. We know George Bush and Karl Rove will deploy the full-fury of their PR machine to blame Democrats for Bush’s choice, Bush’s choice to veto funding for the troops. There are many people in Washington that are gonna be tempted to cry uncle, and they’ll say, they’re gonna let Bush win another round in this fight, so where will Congress find the courage to stand firm? I’ll tell you where they’ll find it: they’ll find it in your letters. They’ll find it in your calls. They will find it in your voice. Forty years ago, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a sermon speaking out against the war in Vietnam. He said, “There comes a time in all of our lives where silence is a betrayal.” That has never been more true than it is today. It’s true because in the weeks and months to come, our voice has extraordinary power to really change things. And that means we have an absolute responsibility to use that power to the absolute fullest. So, that’s what I’m committing to: using every opportunity I have in this campaign to speak out for immediate action to end this war. And it is what you’re doing through your work with MoveOn and in your communities. Together I believe we’ll succeed, and it is a great honor for me to join you in that effort. Thank you all very much.
ELI PARISER: Senator Edwards, we thank you so much for being the first candidate in our first Virtual Town Hall.
ELI PARISER: Joe Biden was raised in a middle-class neighborhood in Delaware, and attended The University of Delaware and Syracuse Law School. In 1972, at age 29, he became one of the youngest people ever elected to the United States Senate. He has served 30 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is now its chairman. Biden has authored landmark legislation like the Violence Against Women Act that helped set up shelters and a national hotline for victims of domestic violence. Senator Biden married his wife, Jill, 30 years ago, and has three children.
Welcome, Senator Biden. Our first question to you is: What is your plan to end the war in Iraq?
SENATOR BIDEN: Let me being by thanking you and MoveOn for focusing on Iraq. It’s the central political question facing America. Everyone agrees that there’s no political… that there’s no military solution to Iraq, including the President. Everyone acknowledges the need for a political solution. And many of my colleagues have offered ideas, just capping troops or cutting troops, or removing troops, but none of them offered a political alternative. To be responsible, one has to be able to answer a two-word question in my view after you’ve put forward what you think should be done, and that is: Then what? After we pull our troops out, then what? After we cap troops, then what? After we cut partial funding, then what? Well, I put forward a political solution that’s been referred to as the Biden-Gelb plan. And it’s totally consistent with the Iraqi constitution. The problem in Iraq today is a self-sustaining cycle of sectarian violence. And there is no way to stop that in my view and maintain a unified Iraq, other than moving to a federal system which their constitution calls for. To maintain a unified Iraq, you have to decentralize it. You have to give the courage to the Sunnis and Shias, control over the fabric of their daily lives, control over the local police forces, rules relating to marriage and divorce and education… all the things they’re killing each other over.
Secondly, you have to have a limited central government that has concern for its borders, its army, the distribution of oil revenues, its foreign policy.
Thirdly, you have to secure access to oil revenues for the Sunnis who literally have nothing. Oil should be what binds the country together, not what splits it apart. There should be a guarantee in the constitution for proportional share of oil to get the Sunnis to get out of the business of supporting the insurgency.
Fourth, you have to increase reconstruction assistance for Iraq but you have to raise that money from the oil-rich Gulf states who are floating in a sea of oil money, and tie that reconstruction to the protection of the minority ranks.
And lastly, you have to make Iraq the world’s problems. Were I President, I would call for the permanent five of the Security Council along with Germany and the four largest Muslim nations in the world to call for an international conference on Iraq whereby they impose upon the regional powers, Iraq… I mean, excuse me: Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey… a political solution, a political solution based on a federal system of giving local control in order to maintain a unified Iraq. If we do this, we can, not even if we do this, we should consistent with this, begin to draw down American combat troops within the next three months, and have a date of getting us out of Iraq by March of ’08. That is the essence of my plan. That is the only, in my view, workable solution for any new war in Iraq preserving our interests.
ELI PARISER: Thank you, Senator Biden. And now we’re gonna go to a question from MoveOn Member Jerome Zornesky, a professor from Ridgewood, New Jersey.
Jerome Zornesky: What is your position on the permanent army bases and the huge embassy building being built in Iraq in view of the administration's constant assertion that the U.S. is not planning to stay in Iraq permanently?
SENATOR BIDEN: Professor, I’m against building permanent US Military bases in Iraq, and I’ve led this fight to make sure we don’t do that. Last year I introduced a law barring US Military bases in Iraq. In fact I introduced it three different times because although it passed the Senate each time, it got kicked out by the House. We finally got it put in the appropriations. I’m doing this same thing this year. Just two weeks ago, the same provision got through banning a permanent military bases in Iraq by the United States. I also feel very strongly that we should make it clear that we can exercise in a language I’ve introduced relating to oil, exercising control of Iraqi natural resources, including oil, is not… is not a province of the United States. We should be barred from doing that as well. And so, we have to knock down the belief that we’re there for oil, and we have to knock down the ability of anyone in this administration misguided enough to believe that our mission actually has anything to do with oil or permanent military basing in Iraq. Absent that, we’ll never be able to get it right.
ELI PARISER: Thank you, Senator Biden. Here’s your final question: The Iraq Study Group report says that, "Iraqi police cannot control crime, and they routinely engage in sectarian violence, including the unnecessary detention, torture, and targeted execution of Sunni Arab civilians." In effect, the U.S. is sponsoring and training Iraqi police who are engaged in ethnic cleansing. What should Congress do about this?
SENATOR BIDEN: We should stop training the national Iraqi police force. Two years prior to the Iraqi study group report, I wrote a similar report and debriefed the then-Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and the President of the United States on the very same thing, and my second and third trips to Iraq I visited a police station in Baghdad, and then a training center in Jordan. And I pointed out there was no vetting of recruits, no way to weed out criminals, and that in fact, sectarian thugs were making up the police force. That is why it is so critically important to give local control to the Sunni-, Shia and Kurds in their own regions within a united Iraq over their police force. The idea that a national Iraqi police force be patrolling the streets of Basra or Kurkuk, or any other part the Sunni triangle that’s not uh… is just beyond comprehension, is just not possible. That’s why the Biden-Gelb plan calls for local control over local police so that we don’t end up in a situation where these thugs continue to undermine the security of neighborhoods. There’s room for a national army, but not for a national police force.
ELI PARISER: Thank you, Senator Biden, on behalf of MoveOn.org’s 3.2 million members, for participating in the Virtual Town Hall. Now, please take one minute for your closing remarks.
SENATOR BIDEN: Again, let me thank MoveOn.org for the focus. You know, I believe that a false choice dominates the debate about Iraq in Washington. On one hand, we say continue the President’s failing course and hand off Iraq to the next President, or just leave Iraq and hope for the best. There is still a better choice, and it’s the plan I put forward with Leslie Gelb. So let me end where it began: leaving Iraq is absolutely necessary, but it’s not a plan. It doesn’t answer the critical question: then what? In my view, any responsibly candidate needs only… needs not only a plan for getting our troops out of Iraq, he or she needs a plan for what we’re gonna leave behind. So, America’s interest, to protect it, we don’t trade a dictator for chaos in a regional war. I’m concerned about my son, a national guard, going to Iraq. He has not been there yet. But I’m also concerned about 15 years later having to send my grandson or granddaughter, and I’m the only the candidate with a plan. I’m the only candidate who has actually fleshed out what would amount to a political settlement that can be agreed upon and allow us to get out of there leaving our troops home as well as our interest intact. For more information, go on my website: www.joebiden.com, and it lays it out in detail. I wanna thank, again, MoveOn.org for their questions, and thank you for hearing me out.
ELI PARISER: Thank you Senator Biden, for participating in our Virtual Town Hall meeting on Iraq.
ELI PARISER: Dennis Kucinich was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1946, the eldest of 7 children, and he graduated with a BA and an MA from Case Western University. Kucinich was elected mayor of Cleveland at age 31, and in 1996, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Dennis Kucinich has advocated the creation of a cabinet-level Department of Peace, to make non-violence an organizing principle within our society, and has been a passionate advocate for the environment and for universal health care. He was also a candidate for president in 2004. Congressman Kucinich married his wife, Elizabeth, in 2005.
Welcome to our Virtual Town Hall.
CONGRESSMAN KUCINICH: Thank you very much.
ELI PARISER: Congressman Kucinich, MoveOn member Anita Todras wants to know: What is the best and fastest way to end the war in Iraq?
CONGRESSMAN KUCINICH: The best and fastest way to end the war in Iraq is to adopt my plan which is embodied in H.R. 1234. It’s a plan to end the war in Iraq and it begins with an understanding that the insurgency in Iraq is being fueled by the United States occupation, and that once the United States declares its intentions to withdraw United States troops and close military bases, that’s the point at which we can engage the world community. We need to take a new direction in Iraq, and that direction is out.
And so, if you would look back at the history of this engagement, you’ll see that I was the one who stood up in Congress and warned not to go to Iraq. You’ll see that I did an extensive analysis back in October 2002 which proved chapter and verse that the President had no right to take this country to war, and I am stating this because if anyone who goes to the website at www.Kucinich.us, and look at that plan, at the analysis, you’ll see, that I had the vision and the foresight to be able to say don’t go to war, and gave reasons why not, and since then I’ve delivered over 160 speeches on the floor of the house and… so this plan is embodied with the comprehensive understanding… stop the funding and the occupation, withdraw the troops as you close the bases, create a parallel process which involves the United Nations, which is the only international organization to go to mobilize the (inaudible) to authorize peace-keeping troops, move those troops in, as our troops leave, that we have to prepare to also have the simultaneous return of all US contractors, and as this is happening, you’ve got the UN moving in their peace-keeping and security force.
We should be providing funding for that United Nations mission, at least 50% of the troops should come from Muslim nations, and should remain there until the Iraq government is capable of having its own security. We have to restart the failed reconstruction program with the help of the UN, and make sure that the Iraqi people can get the jobs to rebuild Iraq. We have to have a program of reconciliation between the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds… the US occupation prevents that from happening. We should not partition Iraq.
We need a program of reparations. The Iraqi people have had enormous destruction to their lives, to their property, and the United States has a moral obligation to repair that bridge. We need to have a serious reparation program that addresses the fact that perhaps as many as a million innocent civilians have been killed. I mean this is really a test of our morality as a nation to provide financial and other assistance to the people of Iraq. We have to make sure that we have returned to the people of Iraq full control of their oil assets. It was wrong for Congress to put the privatization of Iraq’s oil in the supplemental. We have to see that Iraq is able to stabilize, food and energy crisis for the people, and when Iraq is finally able to get loans from the international community, that they’re not hobbled by the structural adjustment policies of the IMF and the World Bank which would force privatization of their assets.
I’ve shown the wisdom and the judgment and the clarity right from the start about not going to war, about voting against each and every appropriation for the war, which as we know, keeps the war going, and having a plan for peace, not only having a plan for peace with Iraq, but having a plan for peace with Iran, of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I’m not just the peace candidate, but I’m the person who’s demonstrated the practical understanding of the necessity of working for peace at all times, and that’s what my plan, H.R. 1234, accomplishes.
ELI PARISER: Thank you, Congressman Kucinich. And now, a question from MoveOn Member Jana Argersinger (R-grrr-singer), who is a Journal Editor from Moscow, Idaho.
Jana Argersinger: This is Jana Argersinger. My question is this: In tandem with bringing American men and women home, out of the combat in Iraq, what diplomatic and humanitarian steps would you take to help the Iraqi people with the tremendous day-to-day difficulties they face?
CONGRESSMAN KUCINICH: Well, diplomacy must happen, must occur in the region. My plan for bringing the troops home and ending the war, H.R. 1234, encompasses both diplomatic and humanitarian initiatives. Diplomatically, in addition to that, we have to reach out to nations like Syria, and to Iran to bring a new sense of cooperation to the region. With respect to humanitarian relief, we have to have the Iraqi people rebuild their lives. With perhaps as many as a million killed, in the conflict, and with many more injured and with homes and business destroyed, it’s going to take a massive program to help rebuild the entire social network of hospitals, of schools, of places to shop, and so that is encompassed in the plan H.R. 1234 that is my plan that I’ve offered which is the plan to end the war. This is a humanitarian crisis, and I want to stress this is not just the United States’ problem. We’ve created this mess in Iraq by an illegal invasion, by an illegal, an illegal occupation, and we need to change our direction and that means not simply work to repair Iraq, but we need to end, once and for all, policies of unilateralism, preemption, first strike. We need to have this become the moment where we’ve learned our lesson, and we reject war as an instrument of policy, and I think that my presidency is the one hope that Americans will have of really taking a new direction, because I’ve shown right from the beginning that I was right about what I said in October of 2002 and even earlier about not going to Iraq. I voted against every single appropriation which when people vote say they’re for peace, and they vote for these appropriations, and there’s a contradiction there. And, I also have a plan which is embodied in H.R. 1234, it is absolutely imperative that humanitarian causes be addressed, and you do that simultaneously with diplomacy and US resources.
ELI PARISER: And now, a question from Ellie Boucher, an actress from Madison, Wisconsin.
Ellie Boucher: My name is Ellie Boucher, and my question is: What will you do to repair the severely damaged relations between the United States and the rest of the world in the wake of this conflict?
SENATOR KUCINICH: Well, the first thing we have to do is to end the conflict immediately. We need to withdraw the… the congress should not give any funds at all, this conflict should stop now. We need to reach out to the world community and that means the President of the United States is going to have to be involved in a lot of personal diplomacy, reaching to all the nations in the region, making it possible for them to know that the United States is going to take a new direction, that we’re not going to endorse any kind of policies that would put us on the threshold of attacking other nations. And we need to make sure that we participate in upholding the United Nations.
As the President of the United States, I’ll have the United States participate in the non-proliferation treaty. Our goal will be to get rid of all nuclear weapons. We’ll fully participate in the biological weapons convention, the chemical weapons convention, the small arms treaty, the land mines treaty. We will join the international criminal court, and we’ll sign the, as I mentioned, we’ll sign the Kyoto climate change treaty, and in doing that, we’ll help affirm international law and international cooperation.
Those structures of law will facilitate the exchanges between nations, and personal diplomacy will be important, too. My wife and I are both involved in the international community right now, and reaching out to people around the world. We need to have a President and his first lady, and in the case of Senator Clinton, if she happens to get elected, be in a position of embracing the world community, fearlessly and courageously, in an open-hearted way, that brings the best intentions and actions of the United States forward.
But it also means that we’re going to have to put away this approach of aggression. And I’m the only one in this race who not only opposed the war, but has consistently voted against funding the war which is the way the war keeps going, and I think because of that, I’ll have the credibility in the international community to be able to build the bridges that will result in a new type of diplomacy.
ELI PARISER: Congressman Kucinich, thank you for participating and for the strong role you’ve played in the peace movement. And now, please take one minute for your closing remarks.
CONGRESSMAN KUCINICH: Thank you, everyone who has participated. I want to stress again, when you consider you you’re going to support, you gotta consider who had the judgment and the wisdom to avoid, to say we should avoid the war in the first place. I not only voted against the war, I urged members of Congress not to support the war. I’ve given perhaps as many… over 160 speeches on the floor of the House challenging this policy. I voted against each and every appropriation, and it’s so important to remember that the… that I voted against each and every appropriation with respect to funding the war in Iraq, and it’s inconsistent for anybody to say that they’re peace candidates and keep voting to keep the war going. So I’m standing not only for peace and the beginning of this, but have the plan to get out of Iraq and have a vision of a world that is interdependent, and interconnected and a country which stands upon the principle and the imperative of human unity, and I look forward to working with MoveOn in the furtherance of that vision.
ELI PARISER: Thanks again, Congressman Kucinich.
CONGRESSMAN KUCINICH: Thank you very much.
ELI PARISER: How is everyone doing out there? We have one last candidate before we take a 10 minute break. Before we talk to him, I want to take a moment to appreciate not just the MoveOn members but the whole nationwide movement that has worked so tirelessly to stop this war. This is one of the most important issues our country has ever faced, and it’s a testament to all of your work that a forum like this is possible.
And now, last up before the break, we’re going to hear from Governor Richardson
ELI PARISER: Born in California in 1947, Governor Bill Richardson grew up in Mexico City before moving to New England, where he earned an undergraduate and a Master’s degree from Tufts University. Richardson served in Congress for 15 years, was President Clinton’s Secretary of Energy, served as Ambassador to the United Nations, and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 4 times. He was elected governor of New Mexico in 2002 and was elected to his second term last year, fighting on behalf of New Mexicans to improve education, build a high-wage economy, invest in renewable energy, and expand health care access.
Richardson has been married to his high school sweetheart, Barbara, for 33 years.
Welcome, Governor Richardson. I’ll pose to you what we’ve posed to the other candidates: What is the best and fastest way to end the war in Iraq?
GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: I wanna thank you, Eli, and all the members of MoveOn that are participating in today’s town hall, and I think this is great that you’re scrutinizing candidates and getting them to put forth their clear position. Here’s my position on Iraq and it’s not on the one hand on the other hand, benchmarks, etc… if I were President today, I would withdraw American troops by the end of this calendar year. I would have no residual force whatsoever.
What I would do coupled with that withdrawal, using the leverage of an American withdrawal of forces, would be to convene two very strong diplomatic initiatives, two diplomatic conferences. One, in a US-led effort to get the three entities, the three religious groups, the three sects, the Sunni, the Shia, the Kurds… to put them in a room and I would say, there’s gonna be a coalition government, you’re gonna divide up oil revenues, you’re gonna divide up ministries, cabinet ministries, there’s gonna be three entities in Iraq, based on the Dayton Accords. And what I would do is have an Iraqi central government. Hopefully that would be Iraq’s future political structure.
At the same time, a US-led security conference where I would invite nations that we have excluded in the past, NATO, Muslim nations like Saudi Arabia, like Turkey, like Jordan… to deal with two issues: reconstruction and Iraq’s future security. What does that mean? That means that we also invite Iran and Syria. We have to look at Iraq not in an isolated way, we have to look at the whole Middle East, the Persian Gulf, the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and you get Iran and Syria to invest in the stability of the region.
This will be tough. This will be difficult but the full force of withdrawal, the full force of American diplomacy, and the full force of bringing other entities Europe, Muslim countries, and the region for a solution. We’ll give Iraq a chance.
Right now, our current policy is a massive failure. What we have is a civil war. Sectarian violence. We have 30,000 surge of American troops at a time when we need these troops for instance, with graver threats like in Afghanistan, and what we have is a foreign policy that is has been so obsessed with Iraq that we have not focused on the real dangers affecting this country, like the threat of international terrorism, like global climate change, like the threat of nuclear proliferation, or a loose nuclear weapon. This is my plan for Iraq. It would be clear, it would be succinct, it would be strong, it would be almost immediate. I would withdraw within the next 8 months and I believe with this strong diplomacy, we give Iraq a chance to survive security-wise in the future and we protect our interests.
ELI PARISER: Thank you, Governor Richardson. Our next question for you is from MoveOn Member Dave Conlon, a Landlord from Carrollton, Virginia.
Dave Conlon: It appears that stopping the funding for the war is the only way to stop the war. Are you for or against stopping the funding and why?
GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: It’s the constitutional right of Congress to start a war and to stop a war. We have a President that is not listening, that has threatened to veto very clear legislative language that basically says this war must end, and there should be benchmarks, and there should be withdrawal timetables.
I am for a time table of withdrawal. I would be for a cut-off of appropriations. What I would do, however, is one step further: this Congress several years ago, the Republican Congress, authorized this war. I would pass a Congressional resolution, de-authorizing the war based on the War Powers Act. I served in Congress for 15 years. I believe this is the cleanest and quickest way to deal with this issue, otherwise we’re gonna be in endless debates, vetoes. I believe it’s important we proceed with cutting off funds and ending this war, but de-authorizing this war based on the War Powers Act, I believe, is the most important step.
In resolution de-authorizing the war, you have a clear timetable, I would prefer it this calendar year, but if March 2008 is what Congressional Democrats have come up with to get the most votes, so be it. But there would be benchmarks, there would be very clear timetable for withdrawal. I would not support anything beyond 2008 of March… I believe that is too long. There would not be a residual force.
What would then happen is the Bush administration would probably say, “We do not observe the War Powers Act.” The next step would then be to take this case to the US Supreme Court. I believe that is a clear, cleaner course and the thrust of the American people would be clear. The position of the American people would be clear, the Congress would be clear, and I believe it would be a 50/50 chance in the US Supreme court. I admire what Congress is doing… I think they need to be stronger, at the same time we have to look at how we can end this war as quickly as possible.
ELI PARISER: And now, one final question: Do you support efforts to keep large U.S.-based oil companies from retaining the rights to Iraqi oil fields?
GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: Well, this is a decision that would be made in that reconciliation conference that I said I would pursue. I believe this decision should be made by the Iraqi people. By the Sunni, the Shia, the Kurds… obviously, US leverage would be useful to try to obtain, but at the same time I think it’s important that we find ways to have a reconciliation process where oil revenues are divided. This is a major source of income… of economic development for Iraq, and I think it’s important to let the Iraqi people make this decision. If it’s the condition of the United States to have this kind of Iraqi control of oil fields by US companies, I would reject that. It’s what’s best for the Iraqi people, and we must let them make this decision in the context of an American withdrawal, in the context of a reconciliation conference of the three ethnic groups.
ELI PARISER: Thank you, Governor, for being with us today. You have one minute for your closing remarks.
GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: I believe that this election should be based on qualifications, on who has the best vision for this country, on who has the clearest position, and on who has the most experience. I’ve been in the arena. I believe I’m the candidate with the most national security, foreign policy experience.
I believe that I’ve been a governor, and I can govern. I can bring people together. I’ve created 80,000 new jobs in New Mexico. I’ve made New Mexico the clean energy state. We’ve cut taxes for every New Mexican, especially New Mexico’s middle class.
What this country needs is somebody that can work across party lines. That can end this war. That can restore America’s credibility internationally. That can make America become energy independent with an Apollo program towards energy independence. That can fight for global climate change. I believe I am the best candidate. I may not be a rock star, I may not have the most money, but I believe I have the best vision, and the best background to be President.
Appendix 21: Thank you, Governor Richardson.
GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: Thank you.
ELI PARISER: Welcome back to MoveOn.org’s first Virtual Town Hall. In the first segment, we heard from former Senator John Edwards, Senator Joe Biden, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and Governor Bill Richardson.
Next up, we’ll hear from Senator Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton was raised in a middle-class family in Park Ridge, Illinois. She attended Wellesley College and Yale Law School. Clinton served as First Lady from 1992 to 2000, was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York in 2000, and serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. She has one daughter, Chelsea, who was born in 1980.
Senator Clinton, it is my pleasure to welcome you to MoveOn’s Virtual Town Hall meeting on Iraq.
Our first question to you, which we’ve posed to every candidate, is very straightforward and it comes from MoveOn Member Anita Todras (TA-dras), of Coconut Creek, Florida:
Anita Todras: My name is Anita Todras, in your opinion, what is the best and fastest way to get out of Iraq?
SENATOR CLINTON: Well, first I wanna start by thanking Eli, and all of MoveOn’s members for hosting this forum and giving us a chance to discuss how we’re gonna end the war in Iraq, and bring the troops home. There are really two different ways of thinking about this: the first, is what we can do while President Bush is still in office, and the second is what I will do when I’m President. First we’ve got to face up to the reality that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating. It is not improving and all the happy talking in the world will not fix the grim reality on the ground. My plan to end the war confronts that reality head-on. I introduced legislation called “Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act.” Under it, we would begin re-deployment of our troops out of Iraq in 90 days. I have been pushing this plan for almost 2 years. The bill would fight the President’s escalation by capping the number of troops in Iraq, it would also prohibit sending more troops to escalate a failed strategy.
Second, we would protect our troops by making sure that if they were still there, or if we couldn’t convince the President to do what the American people want, they could not be sent unless they had all of the equipment and training they need because it is a disgrace that they are still going without body armor, armored vehicles, and so much more.
Third, the bill puts an end to the blank check for the Iraqi government with real benchmarks, and real consequences. If they don’t weed out the sectarian insurgents from security forces, distribute oil revenues fairly, and take greater responsibility for their own security, we will quit funding them immediately, and that would really put pressure on the Iraqis because we basically provide their security.
Fourthly, we need to convene an international conference; it is time we bring other countries together to help forge a stable future for Iraq. I have long advocated engagement with countries in the region including Iran and Syria, and I applaud speaker Pelosi and her delegation for going to the region, as I applaud the Republican delegation that did likewise. We have to start a process to deal with those countries.
Now, as you know, Congress recently passed historic legislation to both fund our troops and begin a phased re-deployment to bring them home. The President has threatened to veto it. And I have said repeatedly, the American people elected this Congress to bring our troops home, not to send more troops to pursue a failed strategy. I have challenged the President to withdraw this veto threat immediately. So, everyday in the Senate I’m working to change course in Iraq. The reality is we have to get Republicans in the Senate to support that course change, but clearly, if the President won’t end this war, when I’m President, I will. Following the proposal that I have advocated, moving immediately to begin re-deploying our troops, and putting the pressure on the Iraqis and the countries in the region because it is time, once and for all, to end our involvement in Iraq.
ELI PARISER: Thank you, Senator Clinton. Our second question for you is from MoveOn Member Bob Hackney, a father from Queen Creek, Arizona
Bob Hackney: This is Bob Hackney. You have recently said that you envision a continuing presence in Iraq to protect vital American interests. I would like to know specifically what that means: Will there be troops on the ground? Will they be in the cities or in bases? How many troops do you think it will take? What do you expect them to be doing? Exactly what vital interests are they going be there to protect, and how will they protect them? Finally, How long do you think it will be necessary for them to be there doing that? Thank-you.
SENATOR CLINTON: Well, my goal is to end the war when I’m President, and to bring our troops home, but as has been stated in the provision passed by both the Democratic House and the Democratic Senate, we do envision a vastly reduced residual force to remain for some limited period of time to train Iraqi troops, assuming they get their act together and begin to defend themselves, to provide logistical support, for counter-terrorism missions, to protect the Kurds if necessary, because they have certainly fulfilled their end of the bargain as they have tried to proceed to establish an autonomous region in the North… and that does not mean we would have a permanent force. I am absolutely clear: we do not plan a permanent occupation or permanent bases, but in line with all of the legislation that has been passed by the Democratic majority, or passed when we were in the minority, going all the way back to 2005, we have tried to be responsible in saying there may be a continuing mission to protect America’s vital interests, and to support an Iraqi government that we hope to be an ally going forward, assuming they are acting responsibly. So, the bottom line for me is that we will begin re-deploying our troops as soon as I am President, and we will do so in as expeditious a manner as possible. We will survey the situation to determine whether there are any remaining vital security interests by 2009, and if there are among the ones I’ve mentioned, and among the ones that appear in the legislation passed in both the House and the Senate, we will proceed to do so in as thoughtful and as responsible a manner as possible with as few troops as necessary with no permanent occupation, and no permanent bases.
ELI PARISER: And now, one final question Senator Clinton: You recently launched a petition urging President Bush not to veto the Iraq bill and you said we need to "begin phased deployment of the troops out of Iraq." If the Republicans try again to give Bush an Iraq supplemental bill that's a blank check to continue the war, will you oppose any bill that lacks a timeline for redeploying the troops?
SENATOR CLINTON: You know, Eli, I don’t think we should tell President Bush what we will do if he vetoes this legislation. We need to keep the pressure on him not to veto it, and then we need to do everything we can, which is why I have launched this online petition drive, to have pressure put on Republicans particularly in the Senate, because we have to do everything possible to put pressure on the President so that we can make it absolutely undeniable that we have to reverse course… and I think we should let the American people understand, and let President Bush fully understand that it is he who is rejecting the funding. We have passed funding, but we did it within the context of timelines, and if he can be held responsible for, in effect, vetoing the funding because he will not start to follow the will of the American people, and de-escalate this conflict, and bring our troops home, I think that puts tremendous pressure on Republicans who are going to be running for office again in 2008.
As Democrats, now that we’re in the majority, we are finding many different means for keeping the pressure on, and I don’t want to foreclose any options right now. I am not prepared to throw in the towel and basically concede either point, that he will veto it and then we have to choose one of the strategies that are really based on the promise of his veto. So I hope people will go to my website www.hillaryclinton.com, we have tens of thousands who have already gone to sign up on the online petition, that basically challenges the President not to veto the will of Congress, and not to veto the will of the American people. I’m not gonna give up… I’m trying to force changes, I’ve been on the other end, and I’ve seen where pressure like MoveOn started to do in the late 90’s can actually have an impact, so let’s keep the pressure on him and let everybody know that he’s the one who is vetoing funding for the American troops because he will not begin to bring them home.
ELI PARISER: Senator Clinton, On behalf of MoveOn.org’s 3.2 million members, I want to thank you for joining us today. You have one minute for your closing remarks.
SENATOR CLINTON: Well, again, I want to thank MoveOn for hosting this forum, and I also wanna thank you for being such lively participants in American democracy. You started with the very fundamental premise that in our democracy, everyone should have a voice, and that given the power of the internet, we now have millions of voices that are part of our debate. I personally welcome that, because for nearly a decade, you’ve been asking the tough questions, you’ve been demanding answers, you’ve been refusing to back down when any of us who are in political leadership are not living up to the standards that we should set for ourselves, and that you expect from us. I think you have helped to change the face of American politics for the better… both online, and in the corridors of power. So, although some of your members may be a little surprised to hear me say this, I am grateful for your work. I remember when you started, and how important it was, and I look forward to continuing our dialogue in the years ahead on the important issues facing our country and the world.
ELI PARISER: Thanks again, Senator Clinton.
SENATOR CLINTON: Thank you so much, Eli!
ELI PARISER: Next, let’s welcome Senator Chris Dodd.
Senator Chris Dodd was born in 1944 in Connecticut, the fifth of six children. Dodd graduated from Providence College and the University of Louisville School of Law. He practiced law in New London before his election to Congress in 1974, where he served three terms before being elected to the Senate in 1980. He formed the Children’s Caucus in the Senate and is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Dodd now lives in East Haddam with his wife Jackie and their two daughters.
Welcome, Senator Dodd.
SENATOR DODD: Thank you very much, glad to be with you.
ELI PARISER: Senator Dodd, What is your plan to end the war in Iraq?
SENATOR DODD: Well, I believe that we ought to begin re-deploying our troops this evening. I’m the one that believes that, as others have stated it, there’s no military solution at all to Iraq. We need to move away from this idea that there’s a military solution. I’ve felt that for the last several years. And so, I believe that we oughta start re-deploying this evening, and over the next year, we can do that very safely, provide all the support our troops would need. We need to have a finishing date. I’m a supporter of Feingold-Reid. I believe that we ought to have an end-date of March of ’08 to provide a year-long opportunity for redeployment. I’m willing to accept during this year’s time, that training could go on the Kurdish areas of Iraq, that you could provide some border security on the Syrian and possibly on the Iranian border as well, it’s some possibility. But the overwhelming bulk of our troops ought to be moved, in my view, either to Afghanistan, where we’re in deep trouble today, or we ought to be looking at a possibility of… most of these people, clearly the ones who’ve been there several years, back home.… others you might provide some ability to have them in Qatar or Kuwait.
But idea is to begin this evening with a termination date. I also believe that we ought to have a surge in politics and diplomacy, as well as making it clear that energy policy is going to be different which is one of the major incentives. I believe that people believe we have a long term interest in staying in Iraq. If we could begin talking about removing those incentives, making us more energy independent, then the rationale and judgment that others are using for an extended stay in Iraq, I think would be eliminated. So, begin redeploying immediately, have a finish date of March of ’08, talk about a surge of diplomacy, a surge in politics in the region, which we’ve not had at all, which was recommended by the Baker-Hamilton report, and then also talk about energy independence. I think those are critical areas if we’re going to be successful, but we ought to begin immediately, I would not wait any longer.
ELI PARISER: Thank you, Senator Dodd. Our second question for you is from MoveOn Member Oscar R. Michael, from Prichard, West Virginia.
Oscar R. Michael: The Bush administration is quietly pushing the Iraqi government to install a legally binding proposition that the major oil companies, for example ExxonMobil, British Petroleum and others, be granted the rights to approximately 70% of all oil and natural gas existing underground in Iraq. Where do you stand on who should own Iraqi oil, its production and refinement, and how do you think this administration's position is affecting its stay-the-course stance on the Iraq war?
SENATOR DODD: Well, first off thanks for the question. And if it’s true, and I’m not questioning whether it is true or not, but if it is true, it is a disgraceful conclusion. Clearly, Iraq’s oil belongs to the Ira qi people. And how can we be expected to convince the world we’re fighting for democracy and freedom when we’re seizing Iraqi oil rights? In response to the first question, I believe one of the major incentives for the continuation of military forces on the ground area is exactly for the reason that you’ve identified in your question, and thus I’ve added it as a reason why, or at least part of the solution I have, for us to not only get out of Iraq, re-deploying our troops immediately, but also reducing the kind of incentives that cause us to believe we have a role to play in perpetuity in Iraq. And thus energy independence within 10 years is something I’m strongly advocating. I believe it can be done and that we no longer have to depend on energy resources coming out of the Middle East. I believe that the American people would be more than delighted to participate in an idea that would allow us to achieve that kind of independence… Americans are anxious to be asked to be a part of something larger than themselves. I can’t think of anything more important to the American people right now than reducing the kind of dependency that exists as a result of our dependency that exists as a result of our dependency in that part of the world. So, I for one believe that these resources ought to remain in Iraqi hands, we ought to develop our own policies at home by pursuing the bio-fuels, the ethanol, the wind, the solar power, the conservation, the natural gas that exists in our own country in our hemisphere, and other resources for us to become energy independent, and leave those resources where they are. The Iraqis at some point when they get their act together politically, to pull their economy together for the people in that country themselves.
ELI PARISER: And now, one final question Senator Dodd: Do you support legislation requiring Congress to authorize any military action against Iran, to prevent the President from opening another front in Iran?
SENATOR DODD: Well, I believe the President should seek authority from Congress in advance of taking military action against Iran or any other state for that matter. Now, under extreme circumstances, unforeseen circumstances, emergencies, I think it would be appropriate for the President, any President, to act to repel an attack in our country or armed forces that are legally positioned around the world. But even after that it seems to me, after the emergency, any President ought to come back to the Congress and succeed in getting that authority. It’s going to be critically important for a number of reasons: one, I think, constitutionally, under war powers resolutions it requires that. But also I would state to you it’s important to have the American public be engaged in these decisions. To go up and unilaterally make those decisions without the support of the congress, acting as a representative of the American people, then you run the risk of these policies--Let’s assume even warranted, and ones that we would all support--if the American people are not invested in those decisions, then the ability to sustain those kind of support during difficult times, I think becomes dangerous for the country. So, not only is it important from a constitutional standpoint, it’s also important to sustain policies when we believe they’re in our interest to purse them.
ELI PARISER: Senator Dodd, thank you so much for being with us today. You have one minute for your final remarks.
SENATOR DODD: Well, first of all, thanks for doing this. I think it’s very, very helpful for all of us. I believe we need new structures and new architectures. It’s not only important that we talk about what needs to be done to get out of Iraq, but what do we do in the post-Iraq period, and that’s one of the reasons that I’m emphasizing the surge in diplomacy, the surge in politics. I wanna see an era of constructive bold engagement by the United States, where we rebuild the relationships with the United States seen once again, a source of good it works in the country, where we condemn torture, not condone it; where we end wars, not start them; where we engage the world to be part of smart decisions to allow all of us to live in better opportunity, better hope and prosperity for all people. So, one of the reasons why I’m so strongly opposed to the military commissions act, why I’ve introduced legislation to overturn that decision which gets rid of habeas corpus, condones torture, and moves us away from the Geneva Conventions--those are very, very dangerous moves, in my view, and we ought to be doing everything we can to reassert the role of the United States in a very positive way. Thanks again for having me on, I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with MoveOn.org.
ELI PARISER: Thank you Senator Dodd.
SENATOR DODD: Thank you all, very much.
ELI PARISER: Before we talk to our last candidate of the day, I’d like to let you all know that tonight, starting at about 11pm Eastern Time, we’ll have videos of each segment located on the MoveOn.org website, produced by our friends at PoliticsTV.com. If you’d like to hear any of your favorite parts of tonight’s Town Hall meeting on Iraq again, you can listen to it, forward it to your friends, or even blog about it by using the videos and other highlights found at www.MoveOn.org
And now, our last candidate of the day: Senator Barack Obama.
Barack Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961, and was raised by his mother in both Hawaii and Indonesia. Later, he moved to New York, where he graduated from Columbia University in 1983. After working as a community organizer in Chicago, he earned his law degree from Harvard in 1991, where he became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He worked as a civil rights lawyer in Chicago, served eight years in the Illinois State Senate, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, where he serves on the Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Senator Obama lives with his wife, Michelle, and his two daughters, on Chicago's South Side.
Welcome, Senator Obama. Our first question to you, which we’ve posed to every candidate tonight, comes one more time from Anita Todras of Coconut Grove, Florida.
Anita Todras: My name is Anita Todras, in your opinion, what is the best and fastest way to get out of Iraq?
SENATOR OBAMA: Well, I, as you know, I opposed this war from the start. In part because I believed that if we gave open-ended authority to invade Iraq in 2002, we would have an open-ended occupation of the sort that we have right now. And I have stated clearly and unequivocally that that open-ended occupation has to end.
The idea that the situation in Iraq is improving, because it takes a security detail of 100 soldiers, 3 Black Hawk helicopters, and couple of Apache gunships to walk through a market in the middle of Baghdad, it’s simply not credible, and it’s not reflective of the facts on the ground. We know that 14 people were killed by a suicide bomber today in Baghdad, we know that 152 people were killed by a suicide truck bombing. In a week, the deadliest single attack since the war began, and we understand that 40 Americans have been killed in just the first 10 days of April.
So the hard truth is, there’s no military solution to this war. Our troops have done all that they have been asked and more, but no amount of American soldiers are gonna solve the political differences that lie in the heart of the sectarian conflict. So, the news today that the Pentagon is considering extending the surge by extending the tour of 15,000 troops, the National Guard is about the call up another 13,000 soldiers before they were scheduled to deploy. All of this is just going to put more men and women in the crossfire of a civil war, so…
Since January, I have put forward a very specific plan that is designed to create the last best hope to pressure the Sunni and the Shia to reach political accommodation. That’s to let the Iraqi government know that America is not going to be there indefinitely. So, what my plan says is that on May 1st of this year, we need to begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq, with the goal of removing all combat troops by March 31st of next year. And we’ve got 54 sponsors so far on the bill. We’re gonna keep on pushing that agenda.
Now, I recognize that President Bush has indicated that he is going to veto a timetable that is attached to any supplemental, and my belief is that we’re gonna have to continue to ratchet up the pressure and re-present to him legislation that contains some constraints on his actions and has some mechanism whereby we can start getting combat troops out. The withdrawal has to begin soon. It’s time to end this war. It’s time to refocus our efforts on the wider struggle against terror, and it’s time for us to work much more aggressively diplomatically both inside Iraq and regionally if we’re gonna see the kind of stability in Iraq that all of us hope for.
ELI PARISER: Thank you, Senator Obama. Our second question for you is from MoveOn Member Alex Landry, a Reference Librarian from Alexandria, Virginia
Alex Landry: Hi, this is Alex Landry. My question is this: The Bush administration's obstinate refusal to diplomatically engage parties such as Syria and Iran has clearly done nothing but harm the United States' interests in the Middle East. How would you include these countries in the effort toward establishing a stable, responsible, and non-hostile government in Iraq?
SENATOR OBAMA: Well, I’ve been saying for a year that we have to realize that the entire Middle East has a huge stake in the outcome of Iraq, and that we have to engage neighboring countries in finding a solution. Now, I believe that includes opening dialogue both Syria and Iran. We know these countries want us to fail… I’m under no illusions there, but I also know that neither Syria nor Iran want to see a security vacuum in Iraq filled with chaos, and terrorism, and refugees and violence, since those could have a destabilizing effect on the entire region, including within their own countries.
So, even as we remain steadfast in our opposition to their support of terrorism, even as we continue to put pressure on Iran to stand down on its nuclear ambitions, it’s absolutely critical that in concert with my proposal for a phased withdrawal from Iraq of American combat troops that we talk to the Syrians and the Iranians about playing a more constructive role in Iraq, and those who say we shouldn’t be talking to them ignore our own history.
Ronald Reagan during the Cold War called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” but he consistently met with the Soviet Union because he recognized power without diplomacy is a prescription for disaster. So, I think we have to have serious conversations with them. I don’t think we should be naïve about what to anticipate from them. I think that they will continue to make mischief so long as they think that we’re gonna keep a lid on the violence in Iraq, but if we combine a phased withdrawal from Iraq, with the kind of diplomatic efforts that are necessary, with all parties in the region, then I think that we’ve got a chance for the kind of political opening that will ultimately make a real difference in Iraq.
ELI PARISER: Alright, and now our final question of the day for you, Senator Obama:
You just voted for Senate legislation that would hold President Bush accountable to bring an end to the war by laying out a timeline for troop withdrawal. The fight around this bill isn't over yet, so will you commit only to support Iraq spending legislation with a timeline to bring the troops home?
SENATOR OBAMA: I’m committed to putting as much pressure on the President and this war as possible in a responsible fashion, and I’m hopeful that the President is going to heed the advice of some of his own party, including Rudy Giuliani to reach an agreement with the Democrats. But assuming that he vetoes the bill, I’m committed to finding the 67 votes we need to override this veto. I would support putting conditions on the next version of legislation if we can’t muster 67 votes, and I’m also looking at options of giving the President a much shorter leash moving to appropriate enough money for 3 to 4 months at a time, during which we continue to build more Republican support for veto override. So my belief is that this is just the first step in a continuing process of making this administration responsible to the American people, and to the young men and women who are being sent to Iraq. I don’t think it’s acceptable for us to simply give the President more of a ‘cart blanche’ than he’s already received, and I’m gonna be working diligently with leadership in the Senate and those in the House who share my view to make sure that we have the kind of legislation that is going to begin to bring an end to what has proven to be one of our biggest foreign policy failures in recent history.
ELI PARISER: Senator Obama, I wanna thank you for joining us, spending this time with MoveOn members. You have one minute for your closing remarks.
SENATOR OBAMA: Well, Eli… you know, history, history is not going to judge the architects of this war kindly, but the books have yet to be written in our effort to bring in a responsible end to this conflict. The notion that we in Congress would have the votes to send a timeline for withdrawal to the President’s desk was unimaginable just a few months ago, but it happened primarily because there are so many people in this country mobilized by organizations like MoveOn, that kept on writing and petitioning and making your voices heard, so we need to keep that up. If this President thinks he can continue to ignore the will of the American people and the American Congress, I think he’s badly mistaken. I’ve met too many families and known too many friends who’ve been touched by this war to let it go on and on, and on and on without end. So, with your help, we’re gonna be able to bring our troops home, I believe we’re gonna refocus our efforts on the wider struggle against terror, and as importantly, I think we have an opportunity to begin the process of restoring America’s image throughout the world, so I just am looking forward to being in a partnership with all of you in making that happen.
ELI PARISER: Thank you, again, Senator Obama.
SENATOR OBAMA: Thank you guys… always a pleasure to talk to you.
On behalf of MoveOn, I want to thank all the candidates:
Senator John Edwards
Senator Joe Biden
Congressman Dennis Kucinich
Governor Bill Richardson
Senator Hillary Clinton
Senator Chris Dodd
& Senator Barack Obama
…for being with us tonight.
And I want to remind everyone to check their email tonight. We’ll be sending you a survey on tonight’s Town Hall, asking you to vote on which candidate is best able to lead the country out of the war in Iraq and we hope you fill it out right away.
We’ve done something historic tonight. Thousands of people from around the country have come together to talk to a group of presidential candidates about how to end a war. We now know more about where each of them stands. And just as importantly, they know that, in the months ahead, all of us will be watching what they say and do, supporting strong stands that can bring this war to a close. It’s our job to hold our leaders accountable. Democracy in this country works when we demand the most of our leaders—when we take time out of our lives to talk to each other about how to make things better. When we start asking questions. When we raise our voices, together.
Democracy is a process, and everyone who joined us tonight has taken part in it. We hope you’ll be with us for the next two town hall meetings, on health care and global warming—and, to all of our members, we at MoveOn can’t say it enough: thank you for all that you do.
EP: Hello MoveOn members, this is Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, welcoming you to our first-ever Virtual Town Hall. Our first presidential candidate of the evening, Senator John Edwards.
JE: First of all, let me say that for the past nine months MoveOn members have accomplished amazing things. Thanks to your relentless grassroots pressure you’ve actually helped shift the national debate about ending the war in Iraq from a question of “if” to a question of “how soon.”
As you probably know, I voted for this war. I was wrong, and I take responsibility for that.
Everyday that this war drags on is worse for Iraq, worse for our troops, worse for our country.
This is not the time for political calculation, this is the time for political courage. This is not a game of chicken, this is not about making friends, or keeping Joe Lieberman happy, this is about life and death. This is about war.
If Bush vetoes funding for the troops he is the only one standing in the way of the resources they need, nobody else.
Congress must stand firm. They must not write George Bush another blank check without a timeline for withdrawal. Period. If Bush vetoes the funding bill, Congress should send another funding bill to him with a binding plan to bring the troops home.
If we show courage now, we can finally bring our troops home and bring this war to an end. So where will Congress find the courage to stand firm? I’ll tell you where they’ll find it, they’ll find it in your letters, they’ll find it in your calls, they will find it in your voice.
EP: Senator Edwards, we thank you so much. Next up we’ll hear from Senator Joe Biden.
JB: To be responsible, one has to be able to answer a two-word question in my view, after you put forward what you think should be done. And that is, “Then what?” After we pull our troops out, then what? After we cap troops, then what? After we cut partial funding, then what?
The problem in Iraq today is a self-sustaining cycle of sectarian violence.
To maintain a unified Iraq, you have to decentralize it. You have to give the Kurds, Sunnis and Shias control over the fabric of their daily lives.
Secondly, you have to have a limited central government.
Thirdly, you have to secure access to oil revenues for the Sunnis who literally have nothing.
Fourth, you have to increase reconstruction assistance for Iraq, but you have to raise that money from the oil-rich Gulf states who are floating in a sea of oil money.
And lastly, you have to make Iraq the world’s problem.
We should begin to draw down American combat troops within the next three months, and have a date of getting us out of Iraq by March of ’08. That is the essence of my plan. That is the only, in my view, workable solution for ending the war in Iraq and preserving our interest.
Leaving Iraq is absolutely necessary, but it’s not a plan, it doesn’t answer the critical question, “then what?”
EP: Thank you Senator Biden for participating in our Virtual Town Hall meeting on Iraq. Our next candidate is Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
DK: Thank you. I had the vision and the foresight to be able to say, “Don’t go to war.” And gave reasons why not. And since then, you know, I’ve delivered over 160 speeches on the floor of the House.
Stop the funding, end the occupation, withdraw the troops, as you close the bases, create a parallel process which involves the United Nations, move those troops in as our troops leave.
We need to reach out to the world community, and that means the president of the United States is going to have to be involved in a lot of personal diplomacy. Reaching out to all the nations in the region, making it possible for them to know that the United States is going to take a new direction, that we’re not going to endorse any kind of policies that would put us on the threshold of attacking other nations.
When you consider who you’re going to support, you’ve got to consider who had the judgment and the wisdom to say, “We should avoid the war in the first place.” I not only voted against the war, but I urged members of Congress not to support the war, I, you know, I voted against each and every appropriation. And it’s so important to remember. So I’m standing not only for peace from the beginning of this, but have the plan to get out of Iraq, and have a vision of the world that is interdependent and interconnected, and a country which stands upon the principle and the imperative of human unity.
EP: Thanks again, Congressman Kucinich. And now, we’re going to hear from Governor Bill Richardson.
BR: I want to thank you, Eli, and all the members of MoveOn that are participating in today’s town hall. If I were president today, I would withdraw American troops by the end of this calendar year. I would have no residual force whatsoever.
We have to look at Iraq not in an isolated way. We have to look at the whole Middle East, the Persian Gulf, the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and you get Iran and Syria to invest in the stability of the region. This will be tough. This will be difficult, but the full force of American withdrawal, the full force of American diplomacy, and the full force of bringing other entities, Europe, Muslim countries in the region for a solution will give Iraq a chance.
It’s the constitutional right of Congress to start a war and to stop a war.
I am for a timetable of withdrawal. I would be for a cut-off of appropriations. What I would do however is one step further. This Congress, several years ago, the Republican Congress, authorized this war. I would pass a congressional resolution de-authorizing the war based on the War Powers Act.
I believe I am the best candidate. I may not be a rock star. I may not have the most money. But I believe I have the best vision, the best background to be president.
EP: Thank you Governor Richardson. Next up, we’ll hear from Senator Hillary Clinton.
HC: Now first we’ve got to face up to the reality that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating. It is not improving, and all the happy talk in the world will not fix the grim reality on the ground. My plan to end the war confronts that reality head on. I introduced legislation called the Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act. Under it, we would begin redeployment of our troops out of Iraq in 90 days.
I have long advocated engagement with countries in the region, including Iran and Syrian. And I applaud Speaker Pelosi and her delegation for going to the region, as I applaud the Republican delegations that did likewise. We have to start a process to deal with those countries. Now as you know, Congress recently passed historic legislation to both fund our troops and begin a phased redeployment to bring them home. The president has threatened to veto it. And I have said repeatedly that the American people elected this Congress to bring our troops home, not to send more troops to purse a failed strategy. I have challenged the president to withdraw this veto threat immediately. So everyday in the Senate I’m working to change course in Iraq.
I am absolutely clear, we do not plan a permanent occupation, or permanent bases. But in line with all of the legislation that has been passed, we have tried to be responsible in saying, there may be some continuing missions to protect America’s vital interests and to support an Iraqi government that we hope to be an ally going forward, assuming they are acting responsibly.
Some of your members may be a little surprised to hear me say this, but I am grateful for your work. I remember when you started, and how important it was, and I look forward to continuing our dialogue in the years ahead on the important issues facing our country and the world.
EP: Thanks again Senator Clinton.
HC: Thank you so much Eli.
EP: Next, let’s welcome Senator Chris Dodd.
CD: Well I believe we that ought to begin redeploying our troops this evening. I’m the one that believes, as others have stated, that there’s no military solution at all in Iraq. I’ve felt that for the last several years. So I believe that we ought to start redeploying this evening, and over the next year we can do that very safely, provide all the support our troops would need.
So begin redeploying immediately. Have things finished in March of ’08. Talk about a surge in diplomacy, a surge in politics in the region which is not had at all, which is recommended by the Baker-Hamilton report and then also talk about energy independence. I think those are critical areas if we are going to be successful. But we ought to begin immediately, I would not wait any longer.
I believe the president should seek authority from Congress in advance to take military action against Iran or any other state for that matter. Now under extreme circumstances, unforeseen circumstances, emergencies, I think it would be appropriate for the president, any president, to act to repel, but even after that, it seems to me, after the emergency, the president ought to come back to congress, and succeed in getting that authority.
I believe we need new structures and new architectures. It’s not only important that we talk about what needs to be done to get out of Iraq, but what do we do in the post-Iraq period. I want to see an area of constructive, bold engagement by the United States, where we rebuild the relationships, where the United States is seen once again as a source of good works as a country. Where we condemn torture, not condone it. Where we end wars, not start them. Where we engage the world in part of a smart decision to allow all of us to live in a better opportunity, a better hope, and prosperity for all people.
EP: Thanks so much for joining us Senator Dodd. And now, our last candidate of the day, Senator Barack Obama.
BO: As you know, I opposed this war from the start. In part because I believed that if we gave open-ended authority to invade Iraq in 2002 that we would have an open-ended occupation of the sort that we have right now.
The idea that the situation in Iraq is improving, because it take a security detail of a hundred soldiers, three Black Hawk helicopters and a couple of apache gunships to walk through a market in the middle of Baghdad is simply not credible.
Since January I have put forward a very specific plan that is designed to create the last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and the Shia to reach political accommodation.
Well I’ve been saying for a year that we have to realize that the entire Middle East has a huge stake in the outcome of Iraq. And that we have to engage neighboring countries in finding a solution. I believe that includes opening dialogue with both Syria and Iran. We know these countries want us to fail, I’m under no illusions there, but I also know that neither Syria nor Iran want to see a security vacuum in Iraq filled with chaos, and terrorism, and refugees and violence.
Those who say we shouldn’t be talking to them ignore our own history. Ronald Reagan, during the Cold War, called the Soviet Union the “evil empire” but he consistently met with the Soviet Union because he recognized that power without diplomacy is a prescription for disaster.
I am committed to putting as much pressure on the president to end this war as possible, in a responsible fashion.
Assuming he vetoes the bill—I’m committed to finding the 67 votes we need to override this veto. I would support putting conditions on the next version of the legislation if we can’t muster 67 votes.
If this president thinks he can continue to ignore the will of the American people, and the American Congress, I think he’s badly mistaken. With your help, I believe we’re going to be able to bring our troops home, I believe we are going to refocus our efforts on the wider struggle against terror, and, as importantly, I think we have an opportunity to begin the process of restoring America’s image throughout the world.
EP: Thank you again, Senator Obama. Democracy is a process. And everyone who joined us tonight has taken part in it. We hope you’ll be with us for the next two town hall meetings on health care and global warming, and, to all of our members, we at MoveOn really can’t say it enough. Thank you for all that you do. Good night.