a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Edwards on terrorism, Pakistan …and Iraq

Posted by Thomas Nephew on September 9th, 2007

I’ve had a look now at John Edwards’ speech on terrorism from late last week — particularly the part about going into Pakistan if there was “actionable intelligence about imminent terrorist activity and the Pakistan government refuses to act.” Vishnu be praised, he didn’t even discuss nuclear weapons in that context like Barack Obama — let alone decline to rule them out, like Hillary Clinton. But frankly, Edwards’ specific scenario itself isn’t all that likely; if it’s attacks on the U.S. or Europe we’re talking about, I don’t think “actionable intelligence of an imminent attack” will be available in Karachi or Peshawar , nor will action there matter very much in the short run.

But something like this needs to be raised; Pakistan may not want the job of, say, catching OBL & Mr.Z., but some preparations need to be made in that case so that the job can be done without exchanging fire with Pakistani troops or planes.

That may be a long shot, but it’s worth bearing in mind. We’re often reminded that there’s not going to be some “surrender on the USS Missouri” moment in our current wars that proves to everyone “OK, we’re done now.” But OBL in plasticuffs might be one of the very closest analogues to that we can envision; even if it’s just one millionaire terrorist, it could finally give many Americans some room to reconsider where we are and what we want after the Bush years. Sometimes I wonder if that’s precisely why it hasn’t happened yet. Edwards:

The world stood united behind America after 9/11. But instead of leading a truly visionary campaign against global terrorism, our president led America down a garden path. He used the attacks to justify a preconceived war against a nation he now admits had no ties to Al Qaeda. He then offered belligerence and hostility to the world community, and we have been rewarded in kind.

President Bush, like the Republicans following him today and even some Democrats, was stuck in the past, and he still is. He had no grasp of the new threats we faced, so he failed to offer a vision to keep us safe in a world that had changed. Saddam Hussein was the threat he knew, so Iraq was the war he waged.

We needed new thinking and a bold vision to protect the world for our children; instead, George Bush literally gave us his father’s war—but without his father’s allies or his father’s sense of decency. What’s more and what’s worse, the so-called “war on terror” he used as his excuse for war in Iraq became his excuse for trampling our Constitution and, most perversely, for ignoring the demands of the actual struggle against terrorism. Because in George Bush’s reality, disagreement is called weak, challenge is suspect, and opposition downright unpatriotic.

There’s more; I think it’s a good speech that gives me confidence Edwards gets it about how counterproductive and, shall we say, geographically confused this administration’s “war on terror” has been.

Meanwhile, Edwards’ comment about Pakistan may remind a lot of people: “oh yeah, this guy hasn’t forgotten I still want OBL’s rear end — and that 6 years on I still haven’t got it from George Dubya “dead or alive” Bush.” With the follow-on thought, “Instead we’re stuck in g****m Iraq for reasons I’ve never been clear on, and nobody seems to really want to get us out of there.”

And that’s where Edwards diverges from Obama and Clinton, if the American people only knew it. * Edwards wants all U.S. troops all the way out of Iraq (if not necessarily the region). By contrast, last I checked both Obama and Clinton are still talking about a “residual force” of 40,000-50,000 — and they haven’t been urging the Democratic leadership to hang tough about Iraq the way Edwards has. It’s hard to improve on Edwards’ statement on Thursday about Congress possibly granting more funding for Iraq without any withdrawal timelines:

In 2006, the American people elected a Democratic Congress to change course and end this war. It’s the whole reason the American people voted for change. Yet, 10 months after the election, we still have the status quo and Congress has still failed to do the people’s will. That might be the way they do it inside the Beltway, but it’s not the American way. It’s time to stand up for the American people and against President Bush’s failed, stubborn policy. Without a firm deadline, a small withdrawal of only some of the surge troops won’t cut it—that’s not a solution, it’s an excuse. Congress must not send President Bush any funding bill without a timeline to end this war. No timeline, no funding. No excuses.

No timeline, no funding. No excuses. Nancy? Harry? — that may be your next President on the phone.

* To their credit, Bill Richardson (WaPo, 9/8, although he mischaracterizes Edwards) and Dennis Kucinich are two more Democratic presidential candidates advocating complete withdrawal from Iraq.

NOTES: “if the American people only knew” — Chris Bowers, “OpenLeft”; Edwards’ Thursday statement via Matthew Yglesias, who also links to a number of other Edwards statements on Iraq.

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