By Patricia Wilson
DUBLIN, Ohio (Reuters) - Democratic White House challenger John Kerry said on Sunday he did not anticipate sending more American troops to Iraq and promised a fresh start with U.S. allies "burned" by President Bush.
Despite some clamor among Democrats for an accelerated U.S. military withdrawal, Kerry said Washington must stay the course but asserted he could do a better job of convincing foreign leaders to help with security and reconstruction in Iraq.
The Massachusetts senator, who voted for the congressional resolution authorizing Bush to use force to oust Saddam Hussein, said Bush misled Americans.
"Everybody knows that just saying that there are weapons of mass destruction didn't make it so," he said on the CBS program "Face the Nation."
"Just saying you could fight a war on the cheap didn't make it so. Ignoring the advice of generals as to how many troops we needed didn't make our troops safer who were there."
Kerry criticized Bush's Iraq policy in his speech on Thursday accepting the Democratic nomination as the president's opponent in the Nov. 2 election, but beyond holding out the prospect of greater international participation, he did not offer the exit strategy many Americans are looking for.
He rejected the suggestion that his plans were vague. "No, not at all," Kerry said.
"The problem is that this administration has lost credibility, they've pushed countries away."
"And I think that a fresh start changes the equation, particularly changes it for leaders in other countries who have great difficulty right now associating themselves with our policy and with the United States because of the way this administration has burned those bridges."
In the past, Kerry has not ruled out sending more Americans to join the 140,000 U.S. troops already in Iraq but has said he would encourage other countries, particularly Arab nations, to contribute forces.
'REAL PARTNERSHIP' WITH ALLIES
"I don't envision it," he said on Sunday when asked if he would send more U.S. soldiers. "I believe that my leadership and my plan to approach these countries -- and I'm not negotiating it publicly -- I know what I want to do. I know what I believe can be achieved."
Kerry has argued that Bush alienated traditional U.S. allies by invading Iraq without their support and without United Nations backing that they were unwilling to bail him out now. He said he would offer them real partnership that would attract practical support from NATO allies and the United Nations.
"We've lost respect, we've lost influence," he said as he made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows with his running mate North Carolina Sen. John Edwards while on a two-week, 3,500-mile post-convention trip through battleground states.
"I know that I can do a better job of providing a rationale for those countries to understand their stake in the outcome and I believe we can put together a very different kind of alliance," Kerry said.
Opinion polls suggest a majority of Americans now believe the decision to invade Iraq last year was a mistake. Kerry and Edwards, who also voted in 2002 to authorize the invasion, have refused to call their votes a mistake.
"We believed that the president needed the authority to deal with Saddam Hussein and that him being gone is a very good thing," Edwards said. "We did not know that the president would not use his authority the way he should use it."
Kerry, who hinted earlier in the campaign that foreign leaders had told him they hoped he would beat Bush, said he "didn't think there's a leader in the world ... who doesn't understand what's happened to America in the world today."