JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sen. John Kerry said Tuesday that President Bush had failed to present a true picture of Iraq to the United Nations and "does not have the credibility to lead the world," but did not give details on how he would make a better commander-in-chief.
"The president really has no credibility at this point," the Democratic presidential hopeful said in his first news conference since Aug. 9. "He has no credibility with foreign leaders who hear him come before them and talk as if everything is going well, and they see that we can't even protect the people on the ground for the election."
Roughly three hours after Bush defended the Iraq invasion to the world community, Kerry spoke to reporters in Jacksonville, Fla., where he attended a town hall meeting before heading to Orlando with his vice-presidential running mate John Edwards (search) for another meeting on health care.
"The president needs to live in the world of reality," Kerry said.
Although reporters took turns asking Kerry what his plan for Iraq entailed and how he would have done things differently, the Massachusetts senator did not give a solid answer.
"What I have always said is the world is better off without Saddam Hussein (search). The question is how you do it," Kerry said. "I have a plan to make America safer. I have a plan to be successful in Iraq but it requires urgency."
Bush had appealed to foreign leaders to join in supporting the new Iraqi interim government.
Kerry said, as he did in a speech Monday in New York, that the United States needs to change its policies in Iraq to be successful, starting with bringing in more help from other nations.
"After lecturing them, instead of leading them to understand how we are all together with a stake in the outcome of Iraq, I believe the president missed an opportunity of enormous importance for our nation and for the world," Kerry said. "He does not have the credibility to lead the world. And he did not and will not offer the leadership in order to do what we need to do to protect our troops, to be successful, and win the war on terror in an effective way."
Kerry was also repeatedly asked to explain his "no" vote on the $87 billion supplemental budget Bush requested from Congress to help fund war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan (search), as well as why he voted to give Bush authorization to go to war if he's so against it now.
Republicans have accused Kerry of being a waffler on Iraq.
"I have one position on Iraq, one position. What they [White House] should be confused about is what President Bush has done," Kerry said, referring to Bush's claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam posed an imminent threat. "The president wants to switch the topic and I'm not going to let him switch the topic."
As for agreeing to the bill that allowed Bush to declare war in Iraq, Kerry said: "The vote for authorization is interpreted by a lot of people as a vote to go to war," but it actually gave Bush presidential judgment where Iraq was concerned.
"It wasn't a vote to go today, it was a vote to go to through the process — go to the U.N. and the allies ... [but] the president made his own judgment," Kerry added. "The fact is, no one could have imagined back then they [administration] would disregard their own State Department," who wanted to take the more diplomatic route longer.
"This has been incompetently handled — mismanaged in every way," Kerry said. "This president hitched his wagon to the ideologues and we're paying for it every day."
FOX News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.