Edwards Pushes Congress on Iraq

As President Bush urged Congress to pass war funding and members of the U.S. House of Representatives debated a new resolution opposing the President's plan to send more troops to Iraq, one of the top contenders for the White House in 2008 called on Congress to do more.

Former Senator John Edwards said the members of Congress he once served beside ought to cap funding for US troops in Iraq, require the withdrawal of all combat troops over the next 12-18 months and demand that the President seek a new congressional authorization for the war.

"At this point the escalation is underway so blocking it is not enough," Edwards told reporters on a conference call.

"We need more than nonbinding resolution," he continued. "We need to end this war and Congress has the power to do it."

Edwards no longer has that power. He resigned his own seat in the U.S. Senate after running as the Vice Presidential Democratic nominee in 2004. He said Wednesday he has not yet asked any sitting member of Congress to propose his ideas in the form of actual legislation.

But by laying down a new marker, Edwards is clearly trying to gain political ground in the 2008 race. His vocal opposition to the war -- unencumbered by the political constraints of a sitting Senator -- has proven widely popular in early primary states like Iowa.

"I actually believe this proposal is one that would have a support of the majority of the American people," Edwards said. "I think there is a political will in the country to move to this course as opposed to what were doing now."

Edwards' proposal would cap funding for U.S. troops at the level of funding for 100,000 troops. That, he said, would lead to an immediate drawdown of between forty and fifty thousand troops. He would leave no permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq.

"In order to get the Iraqi people to take responsibility for their country, we must show them that we are serious about leaving, and the best way to do that is to actually start leaving," Edwards said in a written statement sent out during the conference call.

The Senator also called on Congress to "prohibit funding to deploy any new troops to Iraq that do not meet real readiness standards and that have not been properly trained and equipped."

Edwards said he believes the 2002 legislation passed by Congress did not give President Bush the authority to "use U.S. troops to police a civil war." So, he argued, a new authorization from Congress is required.

"I think the first step is to make it clear that the Congress believes that George Bush is now exceeding his authorization so that in order to continue this war he has to come back to Congress to seek additional authorization."

Legally, the 2002 resolution did authorize a use of force but it made no reference to 'civil war' in Iraq.

Edwards' statements are also meant to put pressure on his rivals in the presidential race who do serve in the Senate, such as Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama.

Edwards said as long as George Bush is still President, the Congress has an obligation to use its power "to both stop the escalation of the war and to remove combat troops."

But Edwards did not go as far as some anti-war politicians have. He did not call for an immediate withdrawal of all troops.

"From my perspective we do need to be ending this war and we do need to be leaving Iraq and doing the other things I talked about. I believe we need to be doing it in an orderly way and we need be redeployed in a smart, orderly way," he said.

"I think the problem with an immediate and total defunding and as a result a total and immediate withdrawal is that I think it creates a greater possibility of destabilization."