The information presented below reflects the 2008 election season and is not representative of changes in titles, roles, or policy views expressed since then.
John Edwards was a top-tier candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination four years after serving as Sen. John Kerry’s running mate in an unsuccessful bid for the White House. Edwards’ polls and fundraising lagged behind frontrunner Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL), but he had a large base among liberals and anti-war voters. He dropped his bid for the nomination in January 2008. In May 2008, he endorsed Obama.
Before his vice presidential candidacy and career in the Senate representing North Carolina, Edwards spent many years as a successful trial lawyer. He made a fortune arguing lawsuits against insurance companies and other major players in the medical industry. Through this experience, Edwards carved the image of himself as a champion of the working man. He has continued to portray himself in this light throughout his presidential campaign, vying with Obama and Clinton for union endorsements, and challenging fellow Democrats to swear off funding from corporate lobbyists. Edwards also served as director of the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Edwards focused his domestic campaign on poverty and environmental issues. On foreign affairs, he emphasized ending the war in Iraq and restoring “U.S. moral leadership in the world.”
U.S. Policy toward Africa
Like Clinton, Edwards stresses the need for increased accessibility of education for children in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. “Instead of spending $500 billion in Iraq, suppose America led an effort to make primary school education available to 100 million children in the world who have no education, including in Africa,” Edwards said in a 2007 Democratic debate. In a September 2007 Foreign Affairs article, Edwards said that as president, he would significantly increase funding for clean-water programs to prevent the spread of disease, and he would create a cabinet-level position charged with the facilitation of global development policy.
Edwards says the United States should provide logistical and intelligence support to assist peacekeepers in Darfur. He says NATO should assist the peacekeeping process by establishing a no-fly zone and providing support for the African Union forces already in Darfur. He has also called for U.S. sanctions on twenty-nine companies owned or controlled by Sudan, and for NATO sanctions on the Sudanese government. He also says the United States should pressure China to help end the conflict.
In May 2007, Edwards was informed that he held thousands of dollars in financial investments in companies that work in Sudan. He pledged at the time to sell off (AP) those holdings.
U.S. Policy toward India
Edwards has said a “strong U.S.-Indian relationship will be one of my highest priorities” as president. He told the Indian American Center for Political Awareness that the United States and India should “enhance our efforts to cooperate in law enforcement, intelligence sharing, and nonproliferation.” He also said he would support India’s efforts to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
In late 2005, Edwards said he was "generally supportive" of the proposed U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement.
Military Tribunals and Guantanamo Bay
Edwards called the operations at Guantanamo Bay one of the “worst abuses and biggest mistakes of [Bush’s] administration” in a May 2007 speech before the Council on Foreign Relations. In that speech, Edwards said if elected, he would “close Guantanamo Bay, restore habeas corpus, and ban torture.”
Though critical of Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, Edwards proposed legislation in 2003 to create a “Homeland Intelligence Agency.” The bill, which became known as the Foreign Intelligence Collection Improvement Act of 2003, was never voted on. Whether Edwards still would support the establishment of a domestic intelligence agency is unknown.
Edwards said in a May 2007 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations that the Bush administration has used the war on terror to justify “illegal spying on the American people.” A campaign policy paper on domestic defense says, “As president, Edwards will fix the Patriot Act" and “respect the FISA court process that requires quick and classified review by a special court of search warrants issued under the National Security Act.”
During his presidential campaign, Edwards called for increasing the number of U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan, though he did not specifically indicate how many additional troops he would send. Edwards also said he would work with U.S. "principal allies" and NATO members “to ensure the commitment of adequate forces and rules of engagement robust enough to ensure their ability to defeat the Taliban and ensure continuing progress of the democratic government in Afghanistan.”
Edwards criticized the war on terror, which he calls a “bumper sticker.” Edwards argued that the war on terror is a political slogan meant to “justify everything [Bush] does: the ongoing war in Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, spying on Americans, torture.”
In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Edwards said: “The worst thing about the Global War on Terror approach is that it has backfired—our military has been strained to the breaking point and the threat from terrorism has grown.” Instead, Edwards says, the United States should forge a new strategy focused on “strong and creative diplomacy,” poverty reduction efforts, improved intelligence methods, and a new defense policy with a clarified “post-Bush, post-9/11, post-Iraq” mission.
Still, Edwards did not always object to the term or doctrine. On the 2004 campaign trail, Edwards often referred to it and criticized (CNN) efforts in Iraq as turning “the focus away from the war on terror.”
Democracy Promotion in the Arab World
During the 2004 presidential campaign, Edwards released a “Strategy for Freedom,” a comprehensive plan for democracy promotion that included the creation of new international institutions, including an “Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East," which among other things would assist in monitoring elections and crisis management. Edwards also proposed the establishment of a new “Democracy Caucus” in the United Nations. The Bush administration has worked to form such a caucus. Edwards said that he would make U.S. financial assistance contingent on democratic development. Edwards’ plan also includes the creation of a State Department “Freedom List” of political prisoners.
Edwards has released an extensive energy plan, which includes the creation of a $13 billion-a-year “New Energy Economic Fund.” This fund, his campaign says, would be funded through the sale of emissions permits and by “ending taxpayer giveaways for big oil companies.” In turn, the fund would finance new energy technologies and “provide transition assistance to workers in carbon-intensive industries.” The plan also requires U.S. power companies to use renewable sources for 25 percent of their energy output by 2025, and allocates $1 billion for U.S. automakers to “apply the latest technology,” including biofuels, hybrid and electric cars, and hydrogen fuel cells. Edwards says that he would also raise fuel economy standards to forty miles per gallon on all cars and trucks by 2016. He also says "development of corn-based ethanol production (Grist) and use now lays the foundation for the use of cellulosic ethanol in the future."
At a debate in Las Vegas on January 15, 2008, Edwards noted his opposition to more nuclear power plants, saying they are “dangerous, they’re great terrorist targets and they’re extraordinarily expensive.” He also called for a “moratorium” on building new coal-fired plants.
Edwards’ statements on the conflict have been generally supportive of Israel. In a speech in Herzliya, Israel, Edwards said that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon showed “courage” in evacuating (BosGlobe) the settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005. Edwards also said in that speech that Israel should “upgrade” its role in NATO, and possibly even become a member, and he sharply criticized the late Yasir Arafat in a vice presidential debate in the 2004 election. Yet pro-Israel lobbyists have criticized Edwards for choosing former Rep. David Bonior (New York Sun) as an adviser to his campaign. Writer Matthew Yglesias describes Bonior as “quite possibly the Israel lobby's least-liked legislator in recent history.”
North Korea Policy
As a 2004 presidential candidate, Edwards advocated dealing with North Korea “firmly and directly.” He supported pressuring Pyongyang into full disarmament in exchange for aid incentives, including food and energy.
Edwards supports bilateral direct talks with North Korea, as he stated in an Asia Society speech in October 2006, held weeks after the nuclear test. In a September 2007 Foreign Affairs article, Edwards said North Korea's willingness to shut down the Yongbyon reactor is "a sign that the carrots-and-sticks approach can work," and that the United States should continue to engage North Korea through the six-party framework.
Edwards has expressed support for the economic embargo on Cuba. In August 2007, Edwards, like Obama, said he would support an end to travel restrictions (AP) on Cuban families. Still, he said, he would not change remittance caps for now.
During the 2004 presidential campaign, Edwards said he supported sanctions that "target Fidel Castro's regime but help the innocent Cuban people, allowing trade for food and medical supplies that help ease the horrible burdens they suffer."
U.S. Policy toward China
“There is no more important relationship that America has than our relationship with China," Edwards said in a 2006 speech before the Asia Society in New York after returning from a trip to China. Edwards appears to believe that the United States must accept that China is becoming a major world power, and that its relationship with the United States does not necessarily have to be tense. In Edwards’ analysis, Chinese leaders “want the world to be a stable, relatively tranquil place” so that they can focus on further expanding their economy.
As a senator in 2000, Edwards voted for the U.S.-China Trade Relations Act, which normalized trade relations with China.
Still, in December 2007, Edwards said "big corporate America is driving American policy with respect to China." In light of recent recalls over lead concerns, Edwards said he would not buy Chinese toys for his own children.
Edwards was described in the Washington Post in 2004 as having “staked out a centrist and occasionally hawkish policy” on national security issues. During the 2004 campaign, Edwards expressed support for the development of a missile defense program, but, he said, funding for such a system should be reduced. Since the last campaign, however, Edwards has revamped his stance on defense policy, becoming increasingly critical of U.S.military operations abroad.
In a May 2007 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on military policy, Edwards criticized the Bush administration's preemptive war doctrine, saying that if elected, he would “only use offensive force after all other options including diplomacy have been exhausted.”
Unlike many of his fellow candidates, Edwards declined to recommend any specific increase in force levels because he said calling for a precise number of additional troops would be arbitrary.
Edwards also proposes a 10,000-strong “Marshall Corps” of professional civilians who would be deployed to stabilize nations after international interventions, and a reexamination of the use of private military contractors in security roles abroad.
Edwards voted for the National Missile Defense Act of 1999. During the campaign before the 2004 presidential election, however, CNN reported that Edwards “says [national missile defense] should not be first priority in WMD proliferation.”
Edward voted in favor of the 2002 resolution authorizing the war in Iraq, but has since apologized for that decision (AP). He also voted against the 2003 bill granting $87 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his CFR speech, he said: "The U.S. must retain sufficient forces in the region to prevent a genocide, deter a regional spillover of the civil war, and prevent an Al Qaeda safe haven. We will most likely need to retain Quick Reaction Forces in Kuwait and in the Persian Gulf. We will also need some presence in Baghdad, inside the Green Zone, to protect the American Embassy and other personnel."
As a senator in 2002, Edwards voted in favor of the invasion of Iraq, a move he later said he regretted making (WashPost).
He says that as president, he would end the war in Iraq. Edwards’ plan for Iraq includes capping funding for anything more than a hundred thousand troops as a move against Bush’s surge. He said in a MoveOn.org virtual town hall meeting that he would also “force an immediate withdrawal of forty thousand to fifty thousand troops, which should come out of the north and the south of Iraq.”
Edwards says he would not leave any permanent military bases in Iraq upon withdrawing the U.S. troops. However, he said in a September 2007 Foreign Affairs article, the United States will need to retain "quick-reaction forces in Kuwait and a significant naval presence in the Persian Gulf" as well as "some security capabilities" in Baghdad's Green Zone to guard the U.S. Embassy. In January 2007, Edwards said if he is elected, he will withdraw U.S. troops (NYT) who are training the Iraqi army and police within 10 months.
Edwards says that he would also convene “direct talks” with Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria. He would also call a “multiparty peace conference” to end sectarian violence in Iraq. Edwards also criticized "war profiteering" in Iraq, and has said he would hold corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel accountable “for their wrongdoing.”
Edwards has been increasingly critical of free trade policies, arguing that they have diminished protections for labor and the environment. In October 2007, Edwards spoke against the FTA with Peru, which he says is simply an attempt to expand NAFTA. Upon that FTA's November 2007 passage in the House, Edwards said he was "disappointed," and criticized Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL) for supporting the legislation. He also pledged to oppose efforts to create similar trade deals with Colombia and Panama.
Edwards has also criticized the Bush administration’s push for a trade agreement with South Korea. Edwards said in a February 2007 statement that “Bush should shut down all trade negotiations with South Korea until they prove their willingness to open their market to American automobiles and other U.S. products and agree to trade fairly.” As a senator, Edwards voted against the implementation of the FTA with Chile in 2003, and against the Africa Free Trade bill in 1999. But he voted in favor of the U.S.-China Relations Act in 2000. Edwards is critical of NAFTA, but he was not in Senate at the time of its passage in 1993. Forbes magazine, in an index examining candidate positions on critical campaign issues, ranks Edwards at the most liberal end of the Democratic spectrum on trade issues.
Edwards’ plan for homeland security focuses on tightening border security, improving emergency response plans, and better protecting potential terrorist targets. Edwards’ homeland security strategy includes increased cargo screening at airports and seaports, added border patrol officers, and an “improved” emergency warning communications system.
Edwards advocates increased research into security strategies for likely terrorist targets like skyscrapers and arenas. In improving emergency response nationwide, Edwards says that he would “strengthen the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Fire Fighters Act,” which allocates FEMA funding to bolster the number of frontline firefighters. Edwards voted in favor of the Patriot Act in 2001. During a debate in the 2004 presidential campaign, Edwards said that he and running mate Senator John Kerry (D-MA) were “committed to immediately implementing all of the reforms suggested by the 9/11 Commission."
Edwards says that he would support the creation of a “nonaggression pact” (ABC) with Iran, if Iran would agree to give up its nuclear plans. To accomplish this, Edwards backs opening direct negotiations with Iran. At the same time, he has not ruled out military force as an option for U.S. policymakers.
Edwards’ campaign was the first to announce that it is completely carbon neutral (Portsmouth Herald), with a portion of the campaign budget used to purchase carbon offsets that support alternative energy production and combat the impact of climate change. The League of Conservation Voters has called Edwards' plan to combat climate change, which would impose a cap that would reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050, “the most comprehensive global warming plan of any presidential candidate to date.” He discusses that plan in this CNN interview, saying “We can reduce dependence on electricity by 25 percent by the year 2025. We can actually create incentives—tax incentives and subsidies so that people use higher levels of conservation, use more energy efficient technologies in their homes and in their offices.”
Edwards also plans to implement a "Green Collar Jobs" initiative that would train 150,000 workers a year for jobs in "the new energy economy."
The former senator of North Carolina, a state which has experienced a major jump in immigration in the past fifteen years, is in favor of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. At a public event in North Carolina in September 2006, Edwards told the audience that solving the illegal immigration problem “is not rocket science,” and went on to argue that walling off the border is not the solution. Rather, he believes that there should be a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants that includes learning English and paying fines. Edwards co-sponsored the Save Summer Act of 2004, which would have increased the legal limit on H-2B visas for seasonal nonagricultural laborers by forty thousand.
On the 2004 Presidential National Political Awareness Test, Edwards wrote, “I support reforms that would allow the UN to be better prepared to support—and where appropriate, lead—peacekeeping efforts. While the U.S. should support and cooperate with UN peacekeeping, U.S. soldiers should always be under American command.” At a 2005 speech in New Delhi, Edwards said institutions like the United Nations must adapt to remain relevant. “We must all work together to reform the United Nations, and that includes finding a place for India on the Security Council.” At the time, he also said: “I would put the Iraqi Civilian Authority under the control of the United Nations today.” UN representatives, however, have expressed no interest in such a role since the bombing of the UN's Iraq headquarters killed chief UN envoy to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello in 2003.
U.S. Policy toward Russia
Edwards co-chaired the Council on Foreign Relations’ Russia Task Force in 2006, which urged U.S. cooperation with Russia, but said the United States must pressure Russia to maintain democracy. The report from the Task Force recommended Russian accession into the World Trade Organization, which, it said, would “promote further liberalization of the Russian economy and should signify full Russian acceptance of a rules-based international trading system.” Edwards has been critical of Putin for his anti-democratic tendencies, but says Russia should remain a member of the G-8. In an April 2007 Democratic debate, Edwards expressed concern about Russia’s political direction. “They've moved from being a democracy under Yeltsin to being a complete autocracy under Putin,” he said.
U.S. Policy toward Pakistan
Edwards called Bhutto’s death a “contemptible, cowardly act.” In a phone call with Musharraf shortly after the assassination, Edwards said he urged the Pakistani leader to "continue on the path to democratization" and to allow for international investigators to look into her death. In November 2007, Edwards said the United States should use economic and military aid to Pakistan as leverage to “push Musharraf toward open free elections; toward more democratic reform, to more transparency in the way both the government operates and the economy operates” (NYT).
He also called on Musharraf to bring “democratic reformers into the government,” and to extend “the reach of the legitimate government to the tribal regions, not backing down to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” He said Musharraf should "support judicial review and the separation of powers."
Edwards told the Council for a Livable World that the United States should “aspire to a nuclear-free world” and said the reduction of nuclear stockpiles will be one of his “top priorities as president.”
Edwards, with Sen. Clinton and other lawmakers, cosponsored the Nuclear Security Act of 2003, which never reached a vote.
In 1999, Edwards voted in favor of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which failed in the Senate. If elected, Edwards says he will “refocus attention” on the passage of that treaty.
This debate between Democratic presidential candidates was held in South Carolina on January 21, 2008. It was moderated by CNN.
This debate between Democratic presidential candidates was held in Las Vegas on January 15, 2008.
This debate between Democratic presidential candidates was held on January 5, 2008 at St. Anslem College in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was co-hosted by ABC News, Facebook, and WMUR.
This debate between Democratic presidential candidates was held in Iowa on December 13, 2007. It was the last debate before the Iowa caucuses.
NPR hosted this debate between Democratic candidates on December 4, 2007. It was held at the Iowa State Historical Museum, co-sponsored by Iowa Public Radio, and moderated by Steve Inskeep, Michele Norris and Robert Siegel.
This Democratic debate was held in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 15, 2007. It was moderated by Wolf Blitzer, Campbell Brown, Suzanne Malveaux and John Roberts, all of CNN.
This Democratic debate was held on October 30, 2007 in Philadelphia. It was moderated by Tim Russert and Brian Williams of NBC.
This debate between democratic candidates was held at Dartmouth College on August 26, 2007. It was moderated by Tim Russert and televised on MSNBC.
John Edwards gave this speech at Pace University in New York on September 7, 2007.
In the wake of the Iraq debacle, we must restore America's reputation for moral leadership and reengage with the world. We must move beyond the empty slogan 'war on terror' and create a genuine national security policy that is built on hope, not fear. Only then can America once again become a beacon to the world.
This debate between democratic candidates was held in Chicago on August 7, 2007 and sponsored by the AFL-CIO.
Senator John Edwards' August 6, 2007 remarks on trade policy.
This debate between Democratic candidates was held at Howard University in Washington, D.C. on June 28, 2007 and was moderated by Tavis Smiley of PBS.
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards speaks with CFR.org Executive Editor Michael Moran about Iraq and other pressing foreign policy issues.