HANOVER -- Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards told a New Hampshire audience on Wednesday that he doesn't believe President Bush is a "good man trying to do the best he can" when it comes to Iraq.
Americans listening to Bush explain his plan to send more troops to Iraq a few weeks ago needed to hear "honest, openness, a sense of decency and a belief that our president is being not only honest with us but is struggling with a difficult problem and doing the best he can -- that he's a good man trying to do the best he can," Edwards told about 500 students and others at Dartmouth College.
"I think we got none of that," he said. "I think we got a sales job -- a lot of statistics."
Honesty and integrity are the most important characteristics the next president must have, Edwards said. Americans must be able to believe the president is telling the truth and "believe that your president wants desperately to do the right thing."
Edwards, a former North Carolina senator and the Democratic Party's 2004 vice presidential nominee, told reporters before his speech that he has learned more since leaving office than he did during his one term as senator. Calling himself the "candidate of transformational change," Edwards said one of his top priorities would be re-establishing America's ability to lead in the world.
"There's a lot of discussion out there about the erosion of America's image in the world. This is much more serious than that. That makes it sound superficial like it's some kind of personality contest. That's not what this is," he said.
If the United States doesn't show leadership as Iran and North Korea try to develop nuclear weapons, he said, the world community won't act.
"It is the power of the world community that can confront these dangerous challenges," he said. "So if we don't lead, there is no stabilizing force on the planet."
Edwards repeated his call for starting a phased withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and putting more effort into training Iraqis to protect themselves. He has urged Congress to do more to stop the president's plan to send over 20,500 more and has suggested cutting off funding for the increase.
"We have got to quit enabling the bad behavior going on over there, but there's something else we ought to do: We have to stop enabling George Bush," he said. "It's not enough to pass nonbinding resolutions against the escalation, it's not enough to give speeches against the escalation."
Edwards said he believes Bush is counting on the new Democratic majority in Congress to go along with his plan in the long run.
"They'll object, they'll give speeches, they'll pass nonbinding resolutions, they'll talk about how bad he is and how bad the escalation is and then at the end, they'll go along. It's time to stop going along."
Responding to a reporter's question, Edwards said he wasn't daunted by the size of the field, the accelerated pace of the campaign and the celebrity status of some of his rivals.
"I think if you look around this room, you'll see it's relatively easy for me to be heard," he said, referring to the cluster of about a dozen camera crews surrounding him. "The voters of New Hampshire and America know who I am."