The High Standard of Single Talk

By Jennifer Parker

Nov 5, 2007 12:05pm

Former Sen. John Edwards, D-NC, launched a web ad so aggressive towards Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, upon first viewing I thought it was put together by the Republican National Committee. (WATCH IT HERE).

And today Edwards will continue making his case against the former First Lady in such a fashion, saying in Iowa City, per remarks released by his campaign, that "Senator Clinton is voting like a hawk in Washington, while talking like a dove in Iowa and New Hampshire. We have seen this movie before. And it doesn’t end well — in fact, as we all know too well, in Iraq, it hasn’t ended at all."

I agree that Clinton’s debate performance exposed her to several charges of not presenting a clear opinion — what Edwards calls "double-speaking."

But has Edwards exposed himself to that charge as well?

I don’t know that his answers about the driver’s license issue on ‘This Week’ were the easiest to understand. Watch HERE and fast-forward to about 7 minutes into George’s piece.

And I’m not certain where he is on the issue of whether or not there should be residual forces in Iraq.

In February Edwards told CNN that "the people who are there for logistical support, to help train the Iraqis, we will need to keep some presence there for a period of time." And he reiterated this in an interview with the Quad City Times which April noted that Edwards was "clear on his call for a quick reduction — but not elimination — of troops in Iraq, not as abdication or surrender, but for what he believes will be a more successful peace initiative."

But then in April his campaign gave a statement to the liberal website MyDD.com that "When we say complete withdrawal we mean it. No more war. No combat troops in the country. Period. But we’re also being honest. If John Edwards is president, we’re not going to leave the American Embassy in Iraq as the only undefended embassy in the world, for example. There will be Marine guards there, just like there are at our embassies in London, Riyadh, and Tokyo. And just the same, if American civilians are providing humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people, we’re going to protect them. How in good conscience could we refuse to protect them and then allow humanitarian workers to be at risk for their lives or the work not to happen at all? Finally, it’s also Senator Edwards’ position that we will have troops in the region to prevent the sectarian violence in Iraq from spilling over into other countries, for counter-terrorism, or to prevent a genocide. But in the region means in the region – for example, existing bases like Kuwait, naval presence in the Persian Gulf, and so forth. I hope this helps explain Senator Edwards’ position. Thanks for standing up for what we all believe in."

In September at Pace University Edwards said "As president, I will redeploy troops into Quick Reaction Forces outside of Iraq, to perform targeted missions against Al Qaeda cells and to prevent a genocide or regional spillover of a civil war." But at the MSNBC debate that month he said "I heard Senator Clinton say on Sunday that she wants to continue combat missions in Iraq. To me, that’s a continuation of the war. I do not think we should continue combat missions in Iraq."

Then last month he said, "the problem with what I hear, with Senator Clinton saying, and I’ve heard others say, is when you talk about maintaining troops, combat troops inside Iraq, based there, and they’re focused on anti- terrorism activity within Iraq, that’s very similar to what President Bush says. It’s very hard to understand where that ends, where the limits are."

I believe what Edwards is saying is that he would favor US troops in Iraq to train Iraqis, for logistical support, to guard the US Embassy and to protect American civilians providing humanitarian relief.

He is willing to have US troops conducting combat missions in Iraq against Al Qaeda — but they would not be stationed within Iraq.

So is his chief difference with Clinton that she would be willing to station US troops conducting combat missions against Al Qaeda WITHIN Iraq and he would not? 

Or is this all about the definition of what a "combat" mission is? If it’s counterterrorist against Al Qaeda does it not count as combat?

Because the way Edwards portrays their differences it sounds like a chasm — not these smaller distinctions.

Edwards campaign spokesman Eric Schultz says where these counter-terrorism US troops are HQed constitutes a huge difference. These troops are targeted by Iraq insurgents, are symbols of the American "occupation" of the country, inevitably get drawn into other missions, among other distinctions.

"Senator Clinton keeps combat troops in Iraq," he says. "That means she continues the war. John Edwards will end the war. Being just a little bit better than the Republicans is not a good enough reason to be President of the United States."

Right, but by Edwards’ own words other US troops would be stationed in Iraq — just not conducting combat missions. Would the Iraqi people and the Iraqi insurgents make these distinctions?

– jpt

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