LOS ANGELES, Feb. 27 -- Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) issued a broad condemnation of President Bush's foreign policy Friday, denouncing his management of military action in Iraq and the nation's fight against terrorism and accusing him of alienating allies and stoking anti-American sentiment around the world.
Kerry, the front-running candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, told an overflow crowd of several hundred students and faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles that Bush "has no comprehensive strategy for victory in the war on terror -- only an ad hoc strategy to keep our enemies at bay."
Kerry's campaign billed his 30-minute address here as a formal attempt by the candidate to present his foreign policy agenda if he wins the White House in November. But it also served a political purpose: to give Democrats on the eve of Super Tuesday contests next week in 10 states, including California, a preview of how he would challenge Bush aggressively on national security in the general election campaign.
"Day in and day out, George Bush reminds us that he is a war president and that he wants to make national security the central issue of this election," Kerry said. "Well, I am ready to have this debate. I welcome it."
Throughout his speech, Kerry painted a bleak picture of Bush's foreign policies and his approach to terrorism. He vowed that if elected he will revamp the nation's intelligence agencies, begin diplomatic initiatives to win the hearts of Islamic youth tempted to embrace radicalism, add 40,000 active-duty Army troops, and increase domestic funding for police officers and firefighters.
In Iraq, Kerry said, U.S. troops are "bogged down in a deadly guerrilla war with no exit in sight," and in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion the country has become "a major magnet and center for terror."
At one point during the speech, he also accused Bush of neglecting the safety of U.S. troops in Iraq, saying, "Families across America have had to collect funds from their neighbors to buy body armor that is state of the art for their loved ones in uniform because George Bush failed to provide it."
In Afghanistan, Kerry said, the Taliban is resurgent because Bush "has all but turned away" from the country.
He also faulted Bush's handling of the Middle East peace process, calling it "paralyzed," and accused him of weakening the U.S. military by overextending troops and failing to create adequate homeland defenses against terrorism. "We still have a homeland security strategy that falls far short of the vulnerabilities we have and the threats we face," Kerry said.
Bush campaign officials scoffed at Kerry's charges and accused him of taking stands in the Senate that have undermined the president's military action in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global fight against terrorism.
"It was a speech without an ounce of substance and that absolutely contradicts John Kerry's record," said Terry Holt, Bush's campaign spokesman.
Holt cited Kerry's decision last year not to support Bush's $87 billion request for military and other spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, and called his claim that troops lack body armor exaggerated and hypocritical because money for the armor was included in the budget request the senator opposed.
Holt also said that Bush has greatly increased spending on homeland security. "This country is now on offense in the war on terrorism," he said.
The Bush campaign organized a conference call with reporters for two GOP senators to respond to the Democratic front-runner. Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), who at one point mistakenly referred to the Massachusetts senator as "President Kerry," and Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.) argued that Kerry's record belies his tough anti-terrorism rhetoric.