TRANSCRIPT: The Democratic Debate

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Biden, I think everyone agrees, everyone is afraid of the things you just outlined right there.

But this is a fundamental difference with respect, Senator Edwards.

Governor Richardson says that every troop except for protection of the embassy can be out by December, and if they're not, then the conflict is going to continue.

BIDEN: They cannot be out by December...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Wait...

BIDEN: Look, we've had 20,000 Western troops in a place where there's more sectarian violence -- from Vlad the Impaler to Milosevic -- than in 5,000 years of history in Iraq.

BIDEN: And what did we do? We separated the parties. There's not one single troop has been killed, not one, in the last 10 years. There is peace. There is a circumstance where the genocide is ended. They're becoming part of Europe.

Every troop must be out over time if there is not a political agreement.

RICHARDSON: Joe, answer my question.

BIDEN: But if there is a political -- yes.

RICHARDSON: Why do you leave residual troops behind? Maybe if it's six months or eight months...

BIDEN: I leave residual troops behind because you're going to have a minimum of 4,000 civilians there. The military will tell my friend here it takes...

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: ... it takes -- no, no, I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that. You need combat troops, and you need them to protect...

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: ... the 5,000 troops that are there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Obama, where do you come down on this question? How many troops are going to have to stay for how long?

OBAMA: I think Joe is right on the issue of how long this is going to take. This is not going to be a simple operation. I think Senator Clinton laid out some of the challenges that were out there. I agree with John Edwards that all of us on this stage I think would begin to bring this war to an end.

I think we also can all agree that it's going to be messy, that there are no good options.

OBAMA: There are only bad options and worse options, and we're going to have to exercise judgment in terms of how we execute this. But the thing I wish had happened was that all the people on this stage had asked these questions before they authorized us getting in.

And I make that point...

(APPLAUSE)

... because earlier on we were talking about the issue of experience. Nobody had more experience than Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and many of the people on this stage that authorized this war.

(APPLAUSE)

And it indicates how we get into trouble when we engage in the sort of conventional thinking that has become the habit in Washington. Now, that judgment is going to have to be exercised moving forward, and I actually think that Joe's point about partition might be the right one.

The only area I disagree with -- with Joe on that -- is that it is important for the Iraqis to arrive at the conclusion that partition makes sense, as opposed to it being imposed by the United States government.

OBAMA: Because I think if that happens, if the perception is that we are carving up the country as opposed to the parties arriving at a decision, then that could antagonize some of the factions and actually make the problem worse.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Obama, you've invoked the idea of conventional thinking a few times here, yet when I listen to what you're saying about what you would do in Iraq, now it sounds very similar to what Senator Clinton would do.

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