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Edwards: America Needs a Plan to Forestall Iraq Genocide

Interviewee: John Edwards
Interviewer: Michael Moran
May 25, 2007

Former Sen. John Edwards, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, delivered a speech on defense policy to the Council on Foreign Relations on May 23. Afterward, he sat down with Michael Moran, executive editor of CFR.org, to talk about foreign policy. Edwards defended his plan for a two-tiered withdrawal from Iraq within a year, insisted diplomacy could still forestall a nuclear-armed Iran, and conceded that cuts to American farm subsidies would need to be part of any rethinking of aid to the developing world.

Thank you very much for coming to the Council. You’ve laid out a fairly detailed timetable for how you’d like to see the drawdown take place in Iraq and the eventual withdrawal. There’s some skepticism about the ability of the United States to affect things in Iraq once we do withdraw, and the possibility of a genocide is something you’ve made reference to. So, how does that change your figuring on what theUnited States would have to do if you did get out and then this happened? 

First of all, the long-term stability and chance for success in Iraq is dependent on the Iraqi leadership itself. My view is that until and when we shift the responsibility for Iraq to the Sunni and Shia leadership, it's unlikely based on history that they're going to reach any political reconciliation. And so we need to do that in a smart, orderly way by telling them we’re doing it, withdrawing troops over a period of ten to twelve months. We ought to engage in every effort we can to help bring them together, to encourage political compromise, and we ought to engage the Iranians, the Syrians, and other countries in the region into helping stabilize Iraq. The Iranians clearly have an interest in a stable Iraq. They don’t want refugees coming across their border, they don’t want the economic instability, and they don’t want a broader Middle East conflict between Shia and Sunni. The Syrians have a similar interest, although they’re Sunni, not Shia.

And then, the president has a responsibility beyond that. We have interest in the region, that’s obvious, we need to maintain a presence there, in Kuwait, in Afghanistan, maybe in Jordan, depending on what we can agree to there, and we definitely need to maintain a naval presence in the Persian Gulf. And the president has got to prepare for the two things that you raise. One is the possibility that the civil war becomes all-out, so that it can be contained, and the second is the possibility of genocide. My view is that this is something that’s crucial for America to plan for. In the case of the civil war, there are strategies for dealing with it, to contain it—buffer zones, moving away from population centers. And in the case of genocide, this is something we clearly need to be doing with the international community, not America doing this alone. We have to prepare for that. I’m not going to say now this far in advance exactly what the mechanism should be, but America has to have a plan for that.

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