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Edwards calls for 100,000-troop cap in Iraq

Peter Hecht
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

BERKELEY, Calif. - Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Sunday called for Congress to set an immediate 100,000-troop funding cap to force President Bush to begin drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq.

"Putting more American men and women into this meat-grinder is a tragic mistake. We cannot do that," Edwards said to raucous cheers from 1,000 people who filled a YWCA auditorium and sidewalks across the street from UC Berkeley. "With the United States Congress now controlled by my party, we need to stop this president ... and bring our troops home."

Edwards, who has drawn contrasts with Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton by repeatedly saying his vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq was a "mistake," later told reporters that he wouldn't cut any funding for troops currently on the ground.

But he said a mandatory, 100,000-troop cap in Iraq could force the president "to have to bring home 40,000 to 50,000 troops immediately."

He also said Congress should effectively renounce the Iraq war resolution it passed by approving another version sharply limiting the president's power.

"Congress should make clear that this president has exceeded his authority that he was given in the 2002 resolution," Edwards said. "He was not authorized to monitor and try to control a civil war, which is going on there."

In his speech, Edwards drew eruptions of applause when he called on America to not only curtail its role in Iraq but also to adopt a foreign policy "committed to humanity."

He said whoever is elected president should spend much of his or her first three months traveling the world to repair what he described as America's damaged image and wilted influence. He drew particular cheers when he said, "We desperately need an honest, good and decent human being" in the White House.

"Today we live in a world where America is seen as a bully, where America is seen as a country that is only interested in its short-term interests," Edwards said. "That has to change ... We have to make it clear that we understand our responsibility not just to America but that we understand our responsibility to humanity."

Running as a populist in America by promoting health care, worker rights, civil rights and reducing poverty, Edwards suggested that similar themes should be part of U.S. policy in promoting better relations in the world.

"While we are spending billions and billions of dollars in this war in Iraq, for way less than that we could make schools available to every child in Africa and ... every child in the Muslim world," Edwards said.

"Instead of children being educated in madrasas" or schools preaching hatred of the West, he said, "they could have access to a real public school."

He also pointedly criticized the U.S. for not seeking remedies to end ongoing ethnic genocide in the Darfur region of western Sudan, saying it sends a troubling message "when the most powerful nation on the planet declared that a genocide is occurring and then stood back and watched it happen."

Edwards' appearance in Berkeley came two days after he met with citrus field laborers and United Farm Workers officials in the San Joaquin Valley.

Edwards, who is due to speak at UCLA Monday as part of a four-campus college speaking tour, held the Berkeley event across the street from the campus to express support for janitors in an ongoing wage dispute with the University of California.

His appearance Sunday also came in the wake of controversial comments by conservative author and personality Ann Coulter, who criticized Edwards by using an anti-gay slur. He said such "vile language" must be condemned.

"It's not about me and it's not about her," Edwards told reporters. "This is about what kind of country we live in and whether we embrace diversity ... and treat everybody with dignity."

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