Electronically Democratic hopefuls visit campus

Seven presidential hopefuls logged on to talk Iraq.

And if there were two conclusions that could be taken from Moveon.org’s virtual town hall meeting on Tuesday night, they are: President Bush’s administration mangled the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

And: If the Democratic candidates for president had their way, American troops would come home and the war would end soon.

About 20 people squeezed into a small room in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center to listen to the meeting, which was hosted locally by the College Democrats. Through a Webcast on Moveon.org’s Web site, more than 1,000 groups scattered throughout the nation also listened in.

Seven candidates, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, participated in the Web-only broadcast. And predictably, they all had harsh words for the president and his Iraq policy.

A sampling, in the order they spoke:Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards: “We are done letting George Bush (use) the rhetoric of patriotism only to use our troops as political pawns.”

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden: “Leaving Iraq is absolutely necessary. I’m concerned about my son going to Iraq. And I’m also concerned, 10 to 15 years from now, about sending my grandchildren to Iraq.”

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson: “Our current policy is a massive failure. If I were president today, I would withdraw American troops by the end of this calendar year.”

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “We need to take a new direction in Iraq, and that direction is out.”

New York Sen. Clinton: “The situation in Iraq is deteriorating, it is not improving. And all the happy talk in the world will not fix the grim realityon the ground.”

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd: “I really think we should start redeploying our troops this evening. There is no military solution in Iraq.”

Illinois Sen. Obama: “The idea that the situation in Iraq is improving because it takes a security detail of 100 soldiers and three Black Hawk helicopters and a couple of Apache gun ships to walk through a market in the middle of Baghdad is simply not credible.”

The candidates also offered details of their withdrawal strategies.

Edwards said Congress, with its newly elected Democratic majority, should use its power to force Bush to withdraw.

“This is not time for political calculation, this is a time for political courage,” he said. “This is not a game of chicken. This is about life and death. This is about war. … The American people are overwhelmingly in favor of ending this war. If our side stands firm, and we show courage, we can finally bring our troops back home.”

Biden said he wants the troops out by 2008, suggesting that power gradually be handed to the Sunnis and Shiites while securing access to oil revenues to make sure they are split evenly between the two groups. He also believes Iraq shouldn’t just be America’s problem, urging Bush to put together a global conference.

“We have to make it the world’s problem,” he said.

Kucinich proposed that before a full withdrawal, the United States should work with the United Nations to secure a peacekeeping force in the region.

Richardson said he would attempt to bring together Iraq’s three major religious groups – Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds – and somehow convince them to run a coalition government that would cooperate and split revenues. As for security, he suggested a global, U.S.-led security conference to determine a solution as well as help from neighboring Syria and Iran, two countries he even admitted “want to see the U.S. fail.”

Clinton said she’s been trying to pass a bill that would begin gradual redeployment of the troops from Iraq within 90 days. She, too, called for an international security conference. Clinton also said that if the Iraqi government doesn’t do more to stop the insurgency, then funding from the U.S. government should be cut off to apply more pressure.

“But my goal is to end the war and bring the troops home,” Clinton said.

Like others, Dodd believes there should be a set date – March 2008 – for the redeployment of the American troops, most of whom he believes should be sent to Afghanistan. He also urged a “surge of diplomacy” to bring the United States back in favor with the rest of the world.

“I want the U.S. (to) condemn torture, not condone it, where we end wars, not start them, where we engage the world to make smarter decisions,” he said.

Obama said he’s been working since January on a plan to pressure the Sunnis and the Shiites to reach political accommodation.”We want them to know that we’re not going to be there indefinitely,” he said.

Obama said his plan calls for a phased withdrawal to begin on May 1 of this year, with the goal of removing all combat troops by March 2008.

“No amount of American soldiers are going to solve the political differences that lay at the heart of the sectarian conflict,” he said.

According to Moveon.org, several Republican candidates were invited, but none accepted.Moveon.org, a progressive political group with more than 2.3 million members, plans to hold two more similar meetings in the near future, concerning health care and global warming.