By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK, May 23 (Reuters) - The U.S.-led war on terrorism is "a bumper sticker, not a plan" that has weakened Washington’s global standing, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said on Wednesday as he unveiled his defense policy plans.
In an address to the Council on Foreign Relations, Edwards urged the U.S. Congress to use its funding power to force an immediate pullout of up to 50,000 U.S. combat troops from Iraq, then a full withdrawal within a year.
Edwards, who was the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate in 2004, said as president he would close the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, restore the ability of detainees to take legal action against unlawful imprisonment and ban torture.
"The war on terror is a slogan designed only for politics, not a strategy to make America safe. It’s a bumper sticker, not a plan," Edwards said. "It has damaged our alliances and weakened our standing in the world."
"By framing this as a ‘war,’ we have walked straight into the trap that the terrorists have set -- that we are engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations and a war against Islam," said the former senator from North Carolina.
In an interview with CNN, Edwards said President George W. Bush and his administration were responsible for Osama bin Laden still being at large.
"The reason there are terrorists actively engaged in what’s happening in Iraq right now is because of the mess George Bush and his administration have created there," he added.
Bush’s homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, dismissed Edwards’ comments as "irresponsible, ... offensive and outrageous."
"Al Qaeda was active overseas, in places like Afghanistan and around the region, before September 11. Have they taken advantage of the chaos in Iraq? Sure they have taken advantage of it. And what we are worried about today is the threat to the homeland," Townsend told CNN.
Congress was set to approve on Thursday funds that Bush sought to continue the Iraq war. The decision would mark the Democrats’ failure to impose a timetable for a troop pullout.
In his New York address, Edwards said once the United States has withdrawn from Iraq, it must keep sufficient forces in the region to prevent a genocide, deter a regional spillover of the civil war and stop Iraq from becoming a safe haven for al Qaeda.
He said the United States would most likely need to retain a military presence in Kuwait, in the Gulf and in Baghdad to protect the U.S. Embassy.
"Finally, we need a diplomatic offensive to engage the rest of the world in Iraq’s future -- including Middle Eastern nations and our allies in Europe," Edwards told a meeting of the New York-based think tank. The council has invited all the presidential candidates to speak, and Edwards was the first in the series. (Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham in Washington)