CONCORD, N.H. – Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards (search) on Thursday characterized most of the nations with troops in Iraq as "window dressing" and said it was wrong for President Bush to claim they are sharing much of the responsibility.
In the State of the Union address Tuesday night, Bush listed 17 of the 34 nations that have committed troops to Iraq.
"As our military leaders say, you have in Iraq swimmers and non-swimmers, that's the term they like to use," Edwards said on New Hampshire Public Radio (search). "The swimmers are us and to a much smaller extent the British and nobody else. ... Most of these countries are window-dressing. This is not serious."
Describing the president as exerting "iron-fisted control" in Iraq, Edwards said, "The president makes noise and uses rhetoric about internationalizing and bringing others in, but he's completely unwilling to give up any control."
Asked to justify his vote against the $87 billion Congress approved for the rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan, Edwards said it was his one chance to stand against Bush's handling of Iraq.
"Had I voted yes, it would've been a stamp of approval on a policy that wasn't working, and this was the one chance I had to stand up and say this is wrong," he said. "This course, which he is still on, is not the right course."
The latest polls for the New Hampshire primary show Edwards with 7 to 11 percentage points, behind leaders John Kerry, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark. All seven of the major Democratic candidates were preparing for a televised debate Thursday night.
As the Democratic rivals urged supporters of Dick Gephardt to join their campaigns now that the Missouri congressman is out of the race, Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina's only black congressman, said he would decide who to support after the New Hampshire primary.
Clyburn said he would consult his family and friends about another endorsement. His cousin, state Rep. Bill Clyburn, already works for the Edwards campaign. Gephardt's state political director, Ike Williams, a longtime Clyburn strategist, joined Edwards' campaign Wednesday.
The South Carolina primary is one of seven scheduled Feb. 3.