EDWARDS ON IRAQ….Here’s an excerpt from Wednesday’s Democratic debate. It came after John Edwards said firmly that he would pull all combat troops out of Iraq and wouldn’t continue combat missions there. “I believe this war needs to be brought to an end,” he said. Then this:

MR. RUSSERT: Would you send combat troops back in if there was genocide?

MR. 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, Shi’a try to systematically eliminate the Sunni. I think we need to be preparing for that with the international community now, not wait. And second, the possibility that 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.

An emailer wrote to suggest that Edwards is saying, yes, he’d send troops back in. I take the opposite view. The odds of getting the “international community” to send troops into Iraq to break up a Shia-Sunni war is exactly zero, and Edwards knows it perfectly well. By saying “It’s not something we should do alone,” he’s effectively closing off the prospect of sending U.S. troops back into Iraq under any circumstances, but without quite saying so directly.

Comments? Which interpretation sounds most plausible to you?

UPDATE: cmdicely thinks that what Edwards is really saying is that we need to change the current reality:

Edwards is clearly saying here that the US needs, absolutely, to begin laying the groundwork now so that if genocide were to occur in Iraq, the current political reality that would make the international community unlikely to be willing and able to respond effectively would no longer hold, so that effective, productive international intervention to end any such genocide, which would have a US role, would be practical.

He is also saying that if that is not done, then it seems certain that the US would not be able to productively intervene if there were a genocide.

This doesn’t match either your interpretation that Edwards views it as a static reality that there is no possibility of an international effort if needed, nor does it match your anonymous correspondent’s interpretation that Edwards is committing unequivocally to send troops back in.

My take: I agree that Edwards said this, but I’m not sure it answers the question. I’d say the odds of the international community sending combat troops to Iraq is virtually zero no matter what Edwards or any other president does. It’s just not gonna happen. For all practical purposes, then, Edwards is saying he wouldn’t send troops back in under any circumstances that are even reasonably conceivable.

Also in comments, Catch22 says, “I think the most honest answer is that it would depend on a lot of things.” That sounds about right.

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