By Bill Boyarsky
Let Dennis debate. Mike, too. In a television debate that had room for the YouTube guy from Michigan holding an assault-style rifle he called “my baby,” there was certainly space for long-shot candidates Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel.
The questions from YouTube on the CNN/YouTube debate Monday night gave us a lively, enlightening dialogue freed from the rules and pomposity of the usual televised candidate confrontation. It also provided the clearest view into the Democratic Party’s division over the Iraq war, uncluttered by the fudging and spins of much of last week’s Senate all-night session on Iraq.
The debate showed that Sen. John Edwards was wrong several days ago when he suggested to his Senate colleague Hillary Clinton that “we should try to have a more serious and smaller group.” She was wrong when she replied, as picked up by television microphones, “our guys ought to talk.” The YouTubers’ questions, from bathrooms, bedrooms and backyards, changed the nature of debates for the better.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson clearly reflected the view of Democrats who want to get out of Iraq ASAP, a view that was submerged in the Senate debate by the equivocations of the majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada. “I’m trying to provoke a debate here, because there’s a difference between the senators and me on when we get our troops out,” Richardson said Monday night. “I’ve been very clear: six months, but no residual forces.” He went on to say, “Sen. Clinton has a plan that I understand is maybe 50,000 residual forces. Our troops have become targets. ... The diplomatic work cannot begin to heal Iraq, to protect our interests, without troops out. Our troops have become targets. ...”
Kucinich agreed. “Let’s get those troops home, and let’s take a stand and do it now. Send a message to Congress now.”
Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Joe Biden reflected the phased-withdrawal view of most Senate Democrats.
Biden said: “There is not a single military man in this audience who will tell this senator he can get those troops out in six months if the order goes today.
“Let’s start telling the truth. No. 1, you take all the troops out. You better have helicopters ready to take those 3,000 civilians inside the Green Zone where I have been seven times and shot at. You better make sure you have protection for them, or let them die, No. 1.
“So we can’t leave them there. And it’s going to take a minimum 5,000 troops to 10,000 just to protect our civilians. ...”
Clinton said: “Joe is right. You know, I have done extensive work on this. And the best estimate is that we can probably move a brigade a month, if we really accelerate it, maybe a brigade and a half or two a month. That is a lot of months. ...
“And so, with all due respect to some of my friends here—yes, we want to begin moving the troops out, but we want to do so safely, and orderly and carefully.”
Obama said, “At this point, I think we can be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in. ... We have to begin a phased withdrawal, have our combat troops out by March 31st of next year, and initiate the kind of diplomatic surge that is necessary in these surrounding regions to make sure that everybody is carrying their weight.”
It couldn’t be clearer than that. Get out in six months or stick around for a while. The Senate talked all night, but YouTube sharpened the differences between Democrats in two hours.
Click here to watch the full debate.
AP Photo / Charles Dharapak
Ready for their cyber close-up: From left, former Sen. Mike Gravel, Sen. Christopher Dodd, former Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama, Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Joseph Biden and Rep. Dennis Kucinich strike confident poses at Monday’s CNN/YouTube presidential debate.