Edwards on the Iraq Burden

John Edwards’ official announcement today of his candidacy for president in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans today was an obviously Kennedy-esque appeal for a greater sense of shared sacrifice.

He is not, however, of the increasingly common opinion that Americans feel detached from the sacrifices being made by the relatively few citizens bearing the burden of the war in Iraq.

“Particularly on this war, I think they do,” Edwards told me when we sat down earlier this month. “It’s been very personal because the way the war has been covered. Because so many National Guard and reserves have been called up and have served multiple tours of duty in Iraq. I think that America feels the war.”

Not surprisingly, he also argued strenuously against the reintroduction of the draft, the provocative idea for forced burden-sharing floated by Charlie Rangel.

“I was in for a meeting with military experts both retired and presently in the military,” Edwards said. “They are unanimously against the draft. They think a volunteer army is the best way to have an effective fighting force.”

Edwards did subscribe to the idea that the military as a whole needs to be enlarged.

“Even drawing down our forces in Iraq, there is still a military that has to be a capable of conducting conflict on two major fronts — right now we are sufficiently depleted to be at risk,” he said, adding. “We have roughly 650,000 combat troops in the army and marines, and I think that group probably needs to be expanded.”

Edwards, whose limited foreign policy expertise was a weakness when he ran for president in 2004, has engaged in what amounts to a multi-year cram session in preparation for this year’s campaign.

His chief foreign policy guru continues to be his longtime advisor Derek Chollet, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. Edwards also said that his views have also been shaped more recently by a reading list that includes Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security by Kurt Campbell of CSIS and Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings, and and The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again by Peter Beinart.

Not that those books will have provided him with any easy answers.

Edwards continues to call, for example, for an immediate withdrawal of as many as 50,000 troops from Iraq, a stance that seems at odds with something O’Hanlon recently told me.

“There is only way in which rapid withdrawal can be responsible,” he said, “and that is if you have already concluded that we have already lost.”

–Jason Horowitz