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Inside Politics

Kerry says Bush has lost credibility

Democrat continues to slam president on Iraq war

Sen. John Kerry called the war in Iraq "an enormous diversion from the war on terror."
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Sen. John Kerry continues his tougher tone.

CNN's Kelly Wallace, in her "Promises, Promises" series: Iraq.

CNN's Tom Foreman on the importance of debates in the election.
Saddam Hussein
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry

JACKSONVILLE, Florida (CNN) -- President Bush has lost credibility with world leaders over the war in Iraq and has handled the war there "incompetently" since the March 2003 invasion, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Tuesday.

The Massachusetts senator said Bush broke his promises to Americans and Congress when he ordered U.S. troops into battle.

Kerry's remarks came one day after his most aggressive and detailed speech on Iraq to date. Monday, he told an audience at New York University that President Bush created "a crisis of historic proportions" and he warned of the possibility of "a war with no end in sight." (Full story)

In Florida, where he is on a two-day trip to the hurricane-ravaged state, Kerry held his first news conference in six weeks.

"I believe I can do a better job of telling the truth to the American people and of providing real choices that protect America and make us safer," Kerry said.

Kerry said the president lost credibility when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan offered the help of the United Nations in Iraq months ago and Bush went "the other way" then "desperately sort of wandered back."

"I believe we need new leadership, new credibility. I think this president has lost credibility with the international community."

Kerry defended himself against continuous Republican accusations that he has shifted his position on Iraq, saying he has had only "one position" on the issue.

Tuesday, Bush said Kerry "has taken so many different positions on Iraq that his statements are hardly credible at all."

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt accused Kerry of "pulling the rug out from under the troops he sent into harm's way" by refusing to comment on Annan's recent statement that the invasion of Iraq violated international law.

"John Kerry's shifting positions, his contradictions, his pessimism and his hopeless rhetoric send the wrong message to our troops, to our allies, to our enemies and to the world," Schmidt said.

Kerry defended his 2002 vote to give Bush the authority to use military force, saying it gave the president diplomatic leverage in dealing with Iraq. He contended that once Bush had that authorization, he made a series of decisions "that broke his promises both to the American people and to the Congress."

"No one could have imagined back then that they would discard their own State Department's 11 volumes of plans for what to do; that they would not guard the borders; that they would not guard the ammunition dumps; that they would disband the army; that they would not keep a civil service structure in place; that they would not provide the electricity and provide the jobs and the services.

"This has been incompetently handled, mismanaged every step of the way," Kerry said.

About 140,000 U.S. troops make up the large majority of a multinational force providing security for Iraq's interim government. Those troops have been battling a persistent insurgency for nearly 18 months after overthrowing former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Almost 700 American troops have been killed in action since Bush declared an end to major combat in May 2003.

Kerry said he has outlined "a fundamentally different approach" to the war, including encouraging U.S. allies to take on a greater role in reconstructing Iraq, expanding U.S. efforts to train Iraqi security forces and rebuilding the country's infrastructure. He also outlined a plan Monday to bring troops home within four years.

"We need not to stay the course, but [to] change the course so we can be successful. And the urgency grows with every single day," he said.

Republicans also blasted Kerry for his Monday speech, in which he said the United States "traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

"The world is better off with Saddam Hussein sitting in a prison cell," Bush said. "And that stands in stark contrast to the statement my opponent made yesterday when he said that the world was better off with Saddam in power. I strongly disagree."

Kerry said Tuesday it was "obvious" that the world is better off with Saddam in captivity. But he added, "That doesn't mean you should take your eye off the ball -- which was Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda -- and rush to war just to get rid of him."

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