I actually turned ont he debate quite literally just as Edwards was finishing his answer to this question, and I was unable to find a transcript online. As such, I think it is important to note what Edwards actually said in response to the question:
RUSSERT: Senator Edwards, will you commit that at the end of
your first term, in 2013, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq?
EDWARDS: I cannot make that commitment. But I -- well, I can tell you what i would do as president. When I'm sworn into office, come January of 2009, if there are, in fact, as General Petraeus suggests, 100,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq, I will immediately draw down 40,000 to 50,000 troops; and over the course of the next several months, continue to bring our combat out of Iraq until all of our combat are, in fact, out of Iraq.
I think the problem is -- and it's what you just heard discussed -- is we will maintain an embassy in Baghdad. That embassy has to be protected. We will probably have humanitarian workers in Iraq. Those humanitarian workers have to be protected.
I think somewhere in the neighborhood of a brigade of troops will be necessary to accomplish that, 3,500 to 5,000 troops.
Kind of sickening,but not really surprising, that the media report on the debate quoted int he post directly below this one only mentioned the first line from Edwards. What it missed was the rather momentous even where Edwards put a number on his residual force plan. Again, unsurprisngly, they did report that Edwards then proceeded to attack Clinton for having too many troops conducting too many missions in her residual force plan.
This is progress. This is a very small residual force plan not only made clear, but couple with an direct contast with Clinton. I take back what I said below--this is a big step forward for Edwards. The rest of the exchange can be found in the extended entry.
I'll have more on this in the morning, but here is the part relevant to Edwards:
EDWARDS: I think the problem is -- and it's what you just heard discussed -- is we will maintain an embassy in Baghdad. That embassy has to be protected. We will probably have humanitarian workers in Iraq. Those humanitarian workers have to be protected. I think somewhere in the neighborhood of a brigade of troops will be necessary to accomplish that, 3,500 to 5,000 troops.
But I do say, I want to add to things you just heard. I think it is true that everyone up here wants to take a responsible course to end the war in Iraq. There are, however, differences between us, and those differences need to be made aware. Good people have differences about this issue.
For example, I heard Senator Clinton say on Sunday that she wants to continue combat missions in Iraq. To me, that's a continuation of the war. I do not think we should continue combat missions in Iraq.
And when I'm on a stage with the Republican nominee, come the fall of 2008, I'm going to make it clear that I'm for ending the war. And the debate will be between a Democrat who wants to bring the war to an end, get all American combat troops out of Iraq, and a Republican who wants to continue the war.
RUSSERT: Governor Richardson...
CLINTON: Well, Tim, could I just clarify that, you know, I said there may be a continuing counterterrorism mission, which, if it still exists, will be aimed at Al Qaida in Iraq. It may require combat, special operations forces or some other form of that. But the vast majority of our combat troops should be out.
EDWARDS: But, can I just say that my only point is -- I don't have any doubt that Senator Clinton wants to take a responsible course. There is a difference, however, in how we would go about this. And I think Democratic primary voters are entitled to know that difference.
And the difference is really very simple. I would have our combat troops out of Iraq over a period of several months, and I would not continue combat missions in Iraq. Combat missions mean that the war is continuing. I believe this war needs to be brought to an end.
RUSSERT: Would you send combat troops back in if there was genocide?
EDWARDS: I believe that America, along with the rest of the world, would have a responsibility to respond to genocide. It's not something we should do alone. In fact, if we do it alone, it could be counterproductive.
In fact, if I can go one step further beyond what you just asked, I think the president of the United States -- and I, as president -- would have a responsibility as we begin to bring our combat troops out of Iraq to prepare for two possibilities.
One is the possibility that -- the worst possibility -- which is that genocide breaks out. Shia try to systematically eliminate the Sunni. I think we need to be preparing for that with the international community now, not later. And second, the possibility if this war starts to spill outside the borders of Iraq, and that's a very difficult thing to contain because we know historically that it's difficult to contain a civil war.