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John Edwards spoke to a packed room at Hart’s Turkey Farm today.

Question: If elected, what will your policy be towards Pakistan? In my view the most dangerous international situation confronting our country.

Answer: It certainly is at this time a very, very dangerous situation. Lets start with the problem and then I’ll tell you what I’ll do.

The problem is you have an unstable leader, Musharraf who has promised all these democratic and economic reforms that he has not followed through on. You have a very radical element within Pakistan, and they have a nuclear weapon. And they are in constant conflict, particularly with India, over the issue of Kashmir. That’s the background for what’s happening, and then again, of course, you’ve got Musharraf declaring the equivalent of marshal law, suspending the government and suspending the constitution.

So, what should America do? The danger of course is, if he gets disposed, some dangerous radical group takes over the government and then they have a nuclear weapon which they can choose to use or turn over to a terrorist organization. So there’s a great risk associated with this.

Let me say one thing before I got into specifics about Pakistan because I think it relates to why I think they’re so dangerous. Pakistan has a nuclear weapon. A.Q. Khan, who developed the nuclear weapon for Pakistan, has spread this technology around the world. And I think the notion that over the long term, over the next 50-75 years, America can successfully stop the spread of nuclear weapons in an ad hoc way –IE: Iran’s about to get a nuclear weapon so everyone’s focuses on what we’re going to do with Iran; we’re worried about North Korea is doing; we see what’s happening in Pakistan–that idea, that will not, that, you can’t sustain that. Sooner or later this stuff is going to get out. It’s too easy to spread. So the question is what should America do for the LONG TERM and I’ll tell you what I’ll do with Pakistan.

For the long term, and I think the answer to this–and what I would do as President– is to lead a long term initiative to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Pakistan is the living, breathing example of what we’re talking about.

Now, what should we be trying to accomplish in Pakistan? There should be several things we’re trying to accomplish. One is, the northwest part of Pakistan–which is Al-Qaeda’s been operating and where many speculate bin Laden’s may be–that part of the country needs to be under control. Second, they need to hold the elections that have been promised to be held in January. Third, we need to be supporting the democratic reformers–those within the Pakistani government–who are actually trying to sustain some level of democratic reform. And, we need to make sure their nuclear weapons are safe, that they’re not going to get into the hands of someone that shouldn’t be in the hands of. I think those are the basics of which we’re trying to accomplish there, all of which are aimed at creating some level of stability.

There are a number of things we can do. We’ve given about 10 billion dollars in aid to Pakistan. We’ve asked for very little in return. In fact, a lot of that aid has gone to empowering Musharraf as opposed to helping the Pakistani people. We need to use the aid and reform the way we’re providing aid. That’s number one. That’s our leverage.

Second, we have very little expertise within our State Department–within the American government–on Pakistan. The history of Pakistan, the Pakistani people, what they’re sensitive about, what they care about, and we need real experts within our government. Sounds basic and fundamental, but it’s frightening to see how little we know. And how little expertise we have within the American government on the issue of Pakistan.

Third, instead of just dealing with this issue alone, we should be doing it–like a lot of things–multilaterally, which means we need to bring other countries in who have as much of an interest as we do, and [inaudible].

Last, we need an intense diplomatic effort so that we, and our other friends around the world, are working diplomatically, both with the Pakistani government and with the friends of Pakistan, to ratchet up pressure on Musharraf to do the right thing.

So I think it’s all those things in combination that are not so simple–it’s a pretty sophisticated way of dealing with it over the long term but that’s what I think we ought to be doing.

At the end of the day, the way to keep these situations under control is we ought to be leading the world in the long term initiative to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Question: Achieving a peaceful and stable Iraq requires more than the withdrawal of US troops. Please tell us what thoughts you have regarding the role of the US in reconstruction, political development, and regional diplomacy.

Answer: The key to stability in Iraq–and I think this is the one thing everyone agrees on, we just differ on how to get there– is there has to be some political compromise between the Sunni and the Shi’a. Without that political compromise there can’t be civility. Because it the underlying foundation for all the violence.

The question becomes–and this is where we diverge–how do you maximize pressure on the Sunni and Shi’a leadership to try to reach some political compromise?

Bush’s argument, which I think is ridiculous, is that we keep pouring American money and troops and sooner or later things will get better. That really–that will not work. It’s not worked for years and it’s not going to work now.

What I would do is I would make it first clear that we are leaving by pulling 40-50,000 combat troops out immediately, and then I would continue a steady withdrawal over about 9 or 10 months so that all combat troops were out by then. That would be accompanied by an intense effort to bring the Sunni and Shi’a to the table and pushing them to reach a political compromise. Because they see the handwriting on the wall. America is not going to continue to prop them up.

I do think–I would get the combat troops out and end combat missions entirely. I do think we have a longer moral obligation to help them rebuilding their infrastructure [questioner said “considering we destroyed it”]. Correct, that’s exactly right. For that reason we should do that.

Now, I think the other piece of this is crucial and this is part of your question [looking at the questioner] is what do we do with the other countries in the region? What do we do with particularly Iran and Syria who have been largely ignored in this effort to stabilize Iraq? Well, the Iranians have a clear interest in a stable Iraq. I mean, if you think about this through the eyes of the Iranians, they don’t want a million refugees coming across the border, and they also don’t want to see a broader Middle East conflict between Shi’a and Sunni because Shi’a are about 10-15% of the Muslim world. About 85-90% are Sunni. So if you’re a Shi’a dominated country, which Iran is, a broader Middle East conflict is very dangerous for them. So, they have an interest in a stable Iraq, and the Syrians are different but they also have an interest in a stable Iraq –they’re also concerned about refugees, economic stability, etc–so I would intensify the diplomatic effort, not just with Iran and Syria but with Turkey and all the countries in that region. Because all of them have an interest in a stable Iraq.

And I would get all combat troops out of Iraq and end combat missions but I don’t think we should abandon the region. I think that we should keep a naval presence in the Persian Gulf, I think that we probably need some quick reaction forces in Kuwait–because of any thing that can happen in that part of the world–and maybe it’s safe [?] for us to increase our presence in Afghanistan because things have gone badly there. The Taliban has reemerged, the heroin trade is way up and particularly in the south the Taliban’s strength has reemerged.

So I think those are the things I would do over the long term.

You know there’s this issue in northern Iraq where the Turks are right now, and that’s an issue where we need intense diplomacy with the Turkish government to prevent that situation from exploding.

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John Edwards spoke at Plymouth State University today. His stump speech included:

…[W]e’re going to talk about two things: The War in Iraq and what’s happening with Iran right now…I think you, as New Hampshire Primary voters, deserve something from Presidential candidates. Every Presidential candidate says they’re going to end the War, but you deserve more than that. You deserve to know know specifically what they intend to do to end the war because, if they cannot give you specifics, they have not thought out what they’re going to do to end this war.

I think there should be basic questions every candidate should be required to answer. First, do they have a specific plan? How many troops are they going to withdraw? How quickly will they draw down, how quickly will the war come to an end? Second (and I’ll answer all these questions for you for myself), how many combat troops are they going to have in Iraq at the end of their first year in office?

Let me answer those two first. I will draw 40-50,000 troops out immediately and I will have all combat troops out in Iraq in nine months.

Third, are they going to continue combat missions in Iraq? Because–for me, I will not, just to be clear.– I will not continue combat missions. To me, continuing combat missions in Iraq is continuing the War! And then last last, are they going to keep permanent bases in Iraq, to station combat troops in Iraq? I will not.”

…This occupation has to be brought to an end for America’s sake and the sake of the rest of the world.

…I want to talk about Iran for just a second. Because y’all have watched Bush and Cheney rattle their sabers on Iran, for those of who watched the lead up to Iran, it’s a frightening thing to watch because we’ve heard this song before…the Neocons are at the same game again. The same game!

…We have to stop Bush and Cheney. We cannot let them continue on this march to war with Iran.

Question: I agree with what you’ve said: we never should’ve gone in, the whole concept of preemptive war makes me want to vomit. But we did go there and we have destroyed the infrastructure of this country. There are hundreds of thousands of civilians dying because of our destabilizing. What do we owe [the Iraqi] children who have had their education and futures taken away, and their clean water and food? What happens to them when we leave?

Answer: I think that’s a very fair question. I would say several things in response to that. One is no one believes, even Bush doesn’t believe, there’s a military solution in Iraq. And there’s not. Not unless, and until, the Sunni and Shī‘a leadership reach some political reconciliation there will continue to be significant violence in Iraq.

…I think we have some ongoing responsibility to help them with rebuilding their infrastructure, which is what you specifically asked about. I’ll go a step beyond that. I think that we shift the responsibility to them to reach a political compromise, which I think is what this proposal does, taking 40-50,000 troops out of Iraq says “we’re leaving. We’re not just talking about it, we’re actually leaving” and continuing it while we put pressure on them to reach a political compromise, I think maximizes the chances for that compromise to be reached.

I do think we need to engage the other countries–particularly the Syrians and Iranians–as we’re leaving and no longer occupying Iraq, they have an intense self-interest in a stable Iraq. For example, in Iran you don’t want to see a million refugees coming across your western border. And you also don’t want to see a broader Middle Eastern conflict between Sunni and Shī‘a because you’re very much _____[inaudible] in a mostly Shī‘a country.

I do think over the longer term, there’s the responsibility for the President to do something that Bush has never done which is to think about the possibility of bad things happen. And, anybody who says to you “this is my plant from Iraq–which I think you deserve from every presidential candidate–and I’m telling you it will be successful, they are not telling the truth because we are in a bad situation and the choices are not attractive. There’s no way to predict with certainty what’s going to happen.

What we have to do is exercise our best judgment and maximize the chances for success. We’ve had four plus years now of Bush lying and misleading about what happening in Iraq. The American people should know the truth about how hard it is and how unpredictable it is.

Two things we have to prepare for are the possibility starts to spread outside the boarders of Iraq. Secondly, the worst I guess, is genocide; the Shī‘a will try to systematically eliminate the Sunni. I think that both cases we have to be prepared–with the international community. Very different from than what we’ve seen in unilateral ____ [inaudible] with Bush–with the international community for those possibilities.

Question 2: Will you negotiate with Iran without pre-conditions?

Answer: It depends on what level of negotiation you’re asking about. I think America should engage directly with Iranians, [inaudible] Iraq and on the nuclear question. I think in both cases with should engage and negotiate with them directly.

I would not, as President, personally meet with Ahmadinejad unless, and until, there was serious evidence that it would be productive because he’s used America as a weapon in his PR campaign around the world. We have to be smart, I’m talking now about the highest level, about what the President does with Ahmandinejad.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t engage them. We should engage them. We should negotiate with them directly, there is no question. Not just on Iraq, but on the nuclear question. For example, on the nuclear question, I think there’s a very clear path for America. If we work –and by the way, this quick declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which Bush did and the Senate led the way for, was done without consulting in anyway our friends in Europe. It was stupid, profoundly stupid because the Europeans are the ones with economic leverage with Iran. The Europeans are the ones we need to work with to try and stop this. And once again, Bush and Cheney acted unilaterally, ignored our friends in Europe…– but here’s what I think America should do. We should engage our friends in Europe who have economic leverage, the European banking system and we should put a proposal on the table for the Iranian people in a very open way because this is one of the most pro-American population in the Muslim world. They rallied for America after September 11th on the streets of Tehran.

So what I think America should be doing–America and our friends in Europe–is say “give up your nuclear ambitions and what we’ll do is help you with your economy (they’re economy is in shambles). If you don’t give up your nuclear ambitions, there will be economic consequences. There has to both. They have to see the downside and the upside to giving up their nuclear ambitions. Just to be clear, there’s a great dispute– including with former leaders– going on inside of Iran right now about this ____ [inaudible] and Ahmandinejad is the most bellicose and vocal about it to the rest of the world. This is like the rest of the world saying “America is like Bush.” America is not like Bush…

…My point is, if we make a reasonable proposal, very publicly with our friends in Europe, to the Iranian people, I think there’s a real potential for success if we recognize the political instability that Ahmadinejad is faced with in his own country.

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