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Democratic frontrunners won't commit to troops out of Iraq in first term
Mike Aivaz and Nick Juliano
Published: Wednesday September 26, 2007

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By the time the next president takes office the war in Iraq will be stretching toward its seventh year, but none of the top Democratic contenders to retake the White House would commit to removing all US troops from Iraq in their first terms.

Hillary Clinton, the leading candidate, reiterated her refusal to commit to a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq by 2013. Her top contenders, Barack Obama and John Edwards, joined her in declining to speculate on hypothetical situations so far in the future.

"I think it's hard to project four years from now," Obama said Wednesday night during a debate at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire.

Obama pledged to "drastically reduce" the US troop presence in Iraq beginning immediately after the oath of office is delivered in January 2009, and although the Illinois senator said he hoped all troops would be gone by the time his first term ended he declined to make any promises.

Clinton said it was the "height of irresponsibility" for President Bush to leave office without ending the war, and she said her goal was to have troops gone within four years, but the New York Senator would not make any firm commitments because "we don't know what we're going to find" when the next president takes office.

Former North Carolina Sen. Edwards said he couldn't "make that commitment" to having all troops gone, although he did accent differences between himself and Clinton, accusing her plan to keep some troops in Iraq for limited combat and anti-terror missions "a continuation of the war."

The party's second tier candidates were much more willing to pledge that all US troops currently in Iraq wouldn't be staying too long if they were elected. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson assured the New Hampshire crowd that he would have all troops out of Iraq by the end of his first year, and Sen. Chris Dodd promised, "I will get that done."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich was so excited about drawing down troops that he promised they would all be home by "April 2007." When the Ohio Democrat realized that such a feat would require first developing time travel, he modified his projections.

"Make that April of 2009," Kucinich said. "I'm ready to be president today."

The longest of the long-shots, former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, lectured Clinton and the other senators on stage for not exercising enough legislative authority to bring the war to an end. He said the senate should vote "every day" on measures to cut off war funding, predicting such a move would allow a bill to pass within 20 days. The Vietnam-era lawmaker said the senate should continue to vote daily to override an expected presidential veto, which would take another 20 days.

"You say the votes aren't there, you go and get them by the scruff of their neck," said Gravel, who appeared to be haranguing Clinton, who was standing beside him.

Gravel also singled out Clinton for voting in favor of a resolution the Senate passed Wednesday that declares Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group, calling it a "fig leaf to let George Bush go to war with Iran."

"I'm ashamed of you, Hillary, for voting for it," Gravel said.

Candidates mostly demurred when asked about whether Israel would be justified in attacking Iran if they believed Tehran's nuclear ambitions created a threat to national security. The Democrats stressed the need for diplomacy with Iran and Syria, and Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) shot back when asked about Republican Rudy Giuliani's assertion he would "set back" Iran eight to 10 years if it continued to pursue nuclear weapons.

"Rudy Giuliani doesn't know what the heck he's talking about," Biden said. "He's the most uninformed person on foreign policy that's now running for president."

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The following video is from MSNBC's NEW HAMPSHIRE DEMOCRATIC DEBATE, broadcast on September 26, 2007