Sen. John Edwards charged Monday that President Bush had badly mishandled the war in Iraq and practically abandoned Afghanistan as part of a foreign policy that has alienated many U.S. allies and increased the threat from terrorists.
In his first major speech on foreign policy and national security since becoming the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Edwards accused Bush of a "failure of leadership" and said that only a new administration headed by Sen. John F. Kerry could repair the damage to those countries and improve the U.S. image abroad.
"Because of this administration's failures, Iraq is a mess today. . . . And we need new leadership to fix it," Edwards told a receptive home-state crowd of about 1,000 at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
"We have seen what this administration's approach does to our standing in the world," Edwards said in a speech that coincided with the opening of the Republican National Convention in New York. "It isolates us. It costs us respect from our allies. It means we must face these new challenges alone." Edwards noted that Bush acknowledged in an interview this week that he had miscalculated the postwar insurgency in Iraq. "He believes that he may have won the war too quickly," Edward said, prompting chuckles from the audience.
He also complained that the Bush administration had failed to heed the warnings of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks. He said the administration is "standing on the sidelines" while North Korea and Iran advance their nuclear programs.
The North Carolina Democrat said he and Kerry would create a "nuclear whistleblower initiative" that would offer protection to scientists who expose illegal weapons programs. He said a Kerry administration would lobby for more NATO assistance in Afghanistan, where he said the Taliban and drug lords were beginning to reassert control in the war-devastated country.
He also called for a national intelligence director and additional resources to help the United States protect its ports, airports and borders and provide better equipment for local communities to respond to terrorist attacks. Edwards said that three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, "New York still has too many unmet needs."
He cited inadequate equipment for communications, unpreparedness for biological or chemical attacks and lax security at the region's ports.
Edwards, who usually engages audiences with a friendly smile and folksy speaking style, adopted a more serious tone. Republicans have often challenged the one-term senator's credentials on national security and foreign policy. "When it comes to our place in the world, we have been led right down a hole. . . . And the only way out of this hole is with a new president and a new approach," he said.
Edwards added, "It matters who stands at the helm of our nation. . . . The hard truth is that the world does not look up to our president this way anymore."
Edwards was introduced by a rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark.
Clark acknowledged about 60 veterans seated on the stage and asked veterans in the audience to stand. One of those who rose was Martha Clayton, 81, of Wilmington, who served in the Navy during World War II. Afterward, she said Edwards's speech was "very well done. He's a dynamic person."
Vietnam veteran Herman Rozycki also said he thought Bush was misguided in invading Iraq and should have remained focused on Afghanistan.
"I was so devastated by 9/11, I tried to reenlist," said Rozycki, 61, of Wilmington, who said he wanted to go to Afghanistan to help bring al Qaeda to justice. "But not Iraq, because there was really no imminent danger" of weapons of mass destruction there, he said. "If they would have let the United Nations stay there for another six months or more, they wouldn't have found anything -- which is what's been proven."
Rozycki said he voted for Bush in 2000 but changed his registration to Democrat about a month ago. On Monday he wore a Veterans for Kerry button on his shirt.