Remarks of Sen. John Kerry
(As Prepared for Delivery)
Friday, September 24, 2004
It's an honor to be here today at Temple University, one of America's leading public research universities, in the city where America was born. Like the great Philadelphian Ben Franklin, you have a proud tradition of seeking answers to the defining questions of our time. I hope to follow in that tradition this morning.
My fellow Americans, the most urgent national security challenge we face is the war against those who attacked our country on September 11th, the war against Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. As president, I will fight a tougher, smarter, more effective war on terror. My priority will be to find and capture or kill the terrorists before they get us — and I will never take my eye off the ball.
When we look at the images of children brutalized by remorseless terrorists in Russia, we know that this is not just a political or military struggle — it goes to the very heart of what we value most — our families. It strikes at the bond between a mother and child. As president, I will make it my sacred duty to be able to say to every mother and father in this country, I am doing everything in my power to keep your children safe.
We owe the American people a real debate about the choices President Bush has made ... and the choices I will make ... to fight and win the war against terrorism.
President Bush was right to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban. I supported that decision. So did our country and our allies. So did the world.
But since then, again and again, the president has made the wrong choices in the war on terror ... around the world and here at home.
Instead of using U.S. forces to capture Usama bin Laden ... the president outsourced the job to Afghan warlords, who let bin Laden slip away. That was the wrong choice.
Instead of finishing the job in Afghanistan ... the president rushed to a new war in Iraq. That was the wrong choice.
Instead of listening to the uniformed military, his own State Department, Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, and outside experts about how to win the peace in Iraq ... the president hitched his wagon to the ideologues who told him our troops would be welcomed as liberators. That was the wrong choice.
Instead of responding to the greatest intelligence failure in our history with a rapid overhaul of our intelligence system ... the president dragged his feet and actually resisted reform. After opposing the 9/11 Commission, after trying to block its extension, after finally agreeing to testify, but only with Vice President Cheney at his side, he still refuses to fully implement the Commission's recommendations. Those were the wrong choices.
Instead of proposing a Department of Homeland Security ... the president actually opposed it — and then exploited it for political purposes. That was the wrong choice.
Instead of expanding programs to keep weapons of mass destruction in Russia out of terrorist hands ... the president first tried to cut the programs ... and even after 9/11 did too little to strengthen them. That was the wrong choice.
Instead of facing the urgent nuclear dangers in North Korea and Iran ... he allowed these dangers to mount on his presidential watch. That was the wrong choice.
Instead of speaking forcefully to the Saudis and others about terrorist financing ... the president has said little and done less. That was the wrong choice.
Instead of providing our police, firefighters, and ambulance drivers with the equipment they need ... instead of protecting ports, trains, subway lines and highways ... instead of defending nuclear plants and chemical factories ... this president under-funded homeland security. That was the wrong choice.
Instead of bringing the world together against the terrorists ... the president alienated the countries whose help we need to defeat them. That was the wrong choice.
Yet, in the face of all the misjudgments, all the miscalculations, and all the mistakes, the president still says he wouldn't do anything different. I would. I will make very different choices in the war on terrorism. I know what has gone wrong ... and what needs to be done.
I begin with this belief: The war on terror is as monumental a struggle as the Cold War. Its outcome will determine whether we and our children live in freedom or in fear. It is not, as some people think, a clash of civilizations. Radical Islamic fundamentalism is not the true face of Islam. This is a clash between civilization and the enemies of civilization; between humanity's best hopes and most primitive fears. The danger we face today will become even greater if the terrorists acquire what we know they are seeking — weapons of mass destruction, which they would use to commit mass murder. We are confronting an enemy and an ideology that must be destroyed. We are in a war that must be won.
Americans know this. We understand the stakes. On September 11th there were no Democrats, no Republicans. We were only Americans. We all stood together. We all supported the president. We all prayed for victory, because we love our country and despise everything our enemies stand for.
But three years after 9/11, we see our enemies striking — in Spain, in Turkey, in Indonesia, in Kenya, and now every day — in the most despicable and gruesome ways in Iraq, which was not a terrorist haven before the invasion. In fact, there were more terrorist attacks in the world last year than the year before. And we see an administration in confusion; we hear the president, the commander in chief, proclaiming one day that this war can't be won and then saying something different the next day. And we hear the Secretary of Defense himself wondering whether the radicals are recruiting, training, and deploying more terrorists than we're capturing or killing.
Then, yesterday, when asked about conditions in Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld told Congress, and I quote: "Let's pretend, hypothetically, that you get to election time in January and let's pretend that it's roughly like it is, or a little worse, which it could be, because you've got to expect it to continue ....So be it, nothing is perfect in life." If there was any doubt that the leaders of the Bush Administration are living in a fantasy world of spin, I think Secretary Rumsfeld put that doubt to rest.
We need to end this confusion. We need national leaders who will face reality — not only in Iraq but in the war on terror. And we need a president who has no doubt that the war on terror can and must be won.
The invasion of Iraq was a profound diversion from the battle against our greatest enemy — Al Qaeda — which killed more than three thousand people on 9/11 and which still plots our destruction today. And there's just no question about it: the president's misjudgment, miscalculation and mismanagement of the war in Iraq all make the war on terror harder to win. Iraq is now what it was not before the war — a haven for terrorists. George Bush made Saddam Hussein the priority. I would have made Usama bin Laden the priority. As president, I will finish the job in Iraq and refocus our energies on the real war on terror.
I will wage this war relentlessly with a single-minded determination: to capture or kill the terrorists, crush their movement and free the world from fear. To destroy our enemy, we have to know our enemy. We have to understand that we are facing a radical fundamentalist movement with global reach and a very specific plan. They are not just out to kill us for the sake of killing us. They want to provoke a conflict that will radicalize the people of the Muslim world, turning them against the United States and the West. And they hope to transform that anger into a force that will topple the region's governments and pave the way for a new empire, an oppressive, fundamentalist superstate stretching across a vast area from Europe to Africa, from the Middle East to Central Asia.
The American people have a right to hear the answer to a fundamental question: How are we going to win this war? What is our strategy for eliminating the terrorists, discrediting their cause, and smashing their forces so that America can actually be safer?
Every week too many American families grieve for loved ones killed in Iraq by terrorist forces that weren't even there before the invasion. The jihadist movement that hates us is gaining adherents around the world. An estimated 18,000 Al Qaeda trained militants are operating in 60 countries around the world in a dangerous and more elusive network of extremist groups. Al Qaeda shouldn't be hitting us anywhere. They should be losing, everywhere. We should be winning, everywhere.
That will take time. It will not be easy. But it can be done. And I have a comprehensive strategy for victory over terrorism.
First, I will build a stronger, smarter military and intelligence capability to capture or kill our enemies.
As president, I will expand our Army by 40,000 troops so that we have more soldiers to find and fight the enemy. I will double our Army Special Forces capacity. And we will accelerate the development and deployment of new technologies to track down and bring down terrorists.
I will strengthen our intelligence system to detect and stop the terrorists before they can strike. By the morning of September 12th, everyone in America knew that our intelligence wasn't as good as it needed to be. But three years later, believe it or not, we read that the CIA unit charged with finding bin Laden has fewer experienced case officers today than it had before 9/11.
When I am president, that will change. I will act immediately to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations. I will create a National Intelligence Director with all the budget and personnel authority the Commission says is needed to keep us safe. I will double our overseas clandestine service, train the linguists and Arab experts we need, and make sure the operation — hunting down bin Laden and Al Qaeda — has all the resources it needs.
I will make Afghanistan a priority again, because it is still the front line in the war on terror.
As president, I will not subcontract the fight to warlords who are out for nothing but power and personal gain. I will help the government of Afghanistan expand its authority beyond Kabul to the rest of the country. I will lead our allies to share the burden, so that NATO finally provides more troops. I will show the world that America finishes what it begins.
Second, I will move decisively to deny the terrorists the deadly weapons they seek.
Those weapons were not in Iraq. But tons and kilotons of poorly secured chemical and nuclear weapons are spread throughout the former Soviet Union. Twelve years ago, we began a bipartisan program to help these nations secure and destroy those weapons. It is incredible — and unacceptable — that in the three years after 9/11, President Bush hasn't stepped up our effort to lock down the loose nuclear weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. More such materials were secured in the two years before 9/11 than in the two years after.
When I'm president, denying our most dangerous enemies the world's most dangerous weapons will become the central priority for America.
I will secure all nuclear weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union within four years. At President Bush's pace, it will take 13 years.
I will seek a verifiable global ban on the production of materials for nuclear weapons.
Nowhere is the nuclear danger more urgent than in Iran and North Korea.
This week, Iran announced its intention to process enough raw uranium to create five nuclear weapons.
I will make it clear to Iran that we will lead an international effort to impose tough sanctions if they do not permanently suspend their uranium enrichment program and provide verifiable assurances that they are not developing nuclear weapons.
Yesterday, there were reports that North Korea are preparing to fire an intermediate-range ballistic missile that may be able to carry a nuclear warhead. I will work with our allies to get the six party talks with North Korea back on track — and I will talk directly with the North Koreans — to get a verifiable agreement that will eliminate their nuclear weapons program completely and irreversibly. We have to get serious about diplomacy with North Korea now. Only then will we have the support of our allies for action if diplomacy fails.
Third, as president, I will wage a war on terrorist finances every bit as total as the war we wage on the terrorists themselves. We will trace terrorist funds to their sources and freeze the assets of anyone — any person, bank, business or foreign official — who is financing terrorism. I know how to do this. As senator, I exposed and helped dismantle an international bank that was one of the early financiers of terrorism. We did it by following the money. We can and must do the same to choke off the dollars that are funding Al Qaeda and its allies. On this, I will grant no one a "free pass."
As president, I will do what President Bush has not: I will hold the Saudis accountable. Since 9/11, there have been no public prosecutions in Saudi Arabia, and few elsewhere, of terrorist financers. I will work with our allies, with the World Bank and international financial institutions to shut down the financial pipeline that keeps terrorism alive. And I will pursue a plan to make this nation energy independent of Mideast oil. I want an America that relies on our own innovation and ingenuity, not the Saudi Royal Family.
Fourth, as president, I will make homeland security a real priority by offering a real plan, and backing it with real resources.
The first task is to prevent terrorists and their tools of destruction from entering our country.
We know that Al Qaeda members and other terrorists could cross into America from Mexico and Canada. We are now told that America's borders have grown even more porous since September 11. And 9/11 Commission staff report that our border inspectors don't even have the "training" and "basic intelligence" information to keep out terrorists.
At our seaports we're physically inspecting only 5 percent of the cargo coming into America. The Bush Administration is spending more in Iraq in four days than they've spent protecting our ports for all of the last three years.
At our airports, there has been some progress, but there is far more to do. According to news accounts, the terrorist aviation list only includes those who are a danger to aviation. This is ridiculous. It should include every suspected terrorist who is a danger to anything, anywhere in our country.
Terrorists used explosives to bring down two planes in Russia. Yet here in America, the system for detecting explosives carried by passengers fails to pass our own government's tests. And here's something that makes no sense at all: your luggage is x-rayed when it's put on the plane, but the cargo on the hold underneath seldom is.
This has to change. In a Kerry-Edwards Administration, we'll give inspectors at our borders access to the terrorist watch lists. At our ports, we will provide a 600 percent increase in support for the most promising cargo inspection programs. In our airports, we'll install the equipment to check passengers for explosives to screen cargo just like we screen baggage. And across the country, we will make sure our police, firefighters, and ambulance drivers have the latest radios, hazmat suits, decontamination facilities, and emergency operation centers they need to respond effectively in a crisis.
This is all common sense; but none of it is a priority for the Bush administration. Here's what's on their agenda. Costly new nuclear weapons we don't need that risk fueling a new arms race. And committing to a missile defense system that could eventually cost $100 billion doesn't yet work and won't stop likely threats to our security.
Near here, in the Philadelphia region, there are eight chemical plants where a terrorist attack could endanger a million people. But this president allowed the chemical industry to derail commonsense measures for chemical plant security. As president, I will protect them.
At a time when police officers are more critical than ever to our homeland security, this president gutted the program to put 100,000 new police on our streets. I will restore that funding and make sure the money reaches our first responders.
This president has failed to provide even a nickel in his budget to safeguard our railroads and subways — leaving millions of people every day more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. We will invest more than $2 billion in new funding to protect our transit systems, so that what happened in Madrid doesn't happen here.
Fifth, as we go after the terrorists and secure our homeland, I will focus on the long-term frontline of this war. To defeat the terrorists' aims, we must deny them recruits and safe havens.
For Al Qaeda, this war is a struggle for the heart and soul of the Muslim world. We will win this war only if the terrorists lose that struggle. We will win when ordinary people from Nigeria to Egypt to Pakistan to Indonesia know they have more to live for than to die for. We will win when they once again see America as the champion, not the enemy, of their legitimate yearning to live in just and peaceful societies. We will win when we stop isolating ourselves and start isolating our enemies. The world knows the difference between empty promises and genuine commitment.
So we will win when we show that America uses its economic power for the common good, doing our share to defeat the abject poverty, hunger, and disease that destroy lives and create failed states in every part of the world. The world's poorest countries, suffering under crushing debt burdens, need particular attention. As president, I will lead the international community to cancel the debt of the most vulnerable nations in return for them living up to goals of social and economic progress.
We will win when we work with our allies, to enable children in poor countries to get a quality basic education. More than 50 percent of the population in the Arab and Muslim world is under the age of 25. The future is a race between schools that spark learning and schools that teach hate. We have to preempt the haters. We have to win the war of ideas. New generations must believe there is more to life than salvation through martyrdom.
Sixth, we will promote the development of free and democratic societies throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Millions of people there share our values of human rights, and our hopes for a better life for the next generation. They are facing their own struggle at home against the forces of fanaticism and militancy. They are our natural allies. Their lost trust in our intentions must be restored. We must reach out to them and yes we must always promote democracy. I will be clear with repressive governments in the region that we expect to see them change — not just for our sake but for their own survival.
As president, I will lead a massive national effort to improve our outreach to the Muslim world. We will train a new generation of American scholars, diplomats, and military officers, who know this region just as we built our knowledge of the Soviet Empire during the Cold War. I will convene a summit with our European partners and leaders from the Muslim world to strengthen mutual understanding, economic growth and the fight against terror.
Let it be clear that the issue here is advancing democracy in Arab nations, not yielding to pressure to undermine Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel — the survival and security of Israel — are non-negotiable. The only solution is a Jewish state of Israel living side by side in security and peace with a democratic Palestinian state.
Finally, we will be stronger if we do not go it alone. As president, I will rebuild and lead strong alliances. This is not only critical to our military operations; it is essential to every other measure we must take, from tracking down terrorists, where we need the intelligence cooperation of other nations, to homeland security, where we need their help to stop terrorists and their weapons before they ever reach our shores.
We will not succeed in destroying freedom's adversaries if we are divided from freedom's friends. The terrorists certainly understand that. They are making a special effort to set off bombs in Turkey, Morocco and Indonesia. They want to keep other countries from standing with us in the war on terror. They know what the Bush administration has been so reluctant to admit — that we are weaker when we fight almost alone. We are safer and stronger, in our capacity to capture and kill terrorists when we fight with allies by our side.
But the Bush administration would have you believe that when it comes to our allies, it won't make a difference who is president. They say the Europeans won't help us, no matter what. We're not going to get more cooperation in the war on terror, no matter what. Ordinary people around the world will resent us, no matter what. But I have news for President Bush: just because you can't do something, doesn't mean it can't be done. It can be. It is not George Bush's style that keeps our allies from helping, it's his judgment. And they know he will not change. But I know that, as always, our allies will follow an America that leads with sound judgment. I will provide that.
The first President Bush waged the first Gulf War with a real coalition that fought with us on the battlefield and paid virtually the entire cost of that war. President Clinton built a real coalition in Kosovo, and now virtually every soldier on patrol there comes from a foreign country. During the Cold War, every American president understood what is still true today: The strength of our country is vital but so is the character of our country. It is better to be an America that rallies others to our cause than an America that has to go it alone.
I know we can win the war on terror. We can defeat, capture and kill those who commit terror. I have just outlined a strategy for victory.
I know this struggle will be waged in many ways and many places. I know that it will be a long and difficult struggle. I know we have to be resolute in confronting the evil that exists in the world. But in the end, one of our greatest strengths, one of our greatest safeguards, is that America can be the ideal that inspires others everywhere. If we again become that beacon of hope, we will discover in ourselves the most powerful and useful weapons in the war against the terrorists. Because if we are true to ourselves, terrorists cannot defeat the values and vision that have made America great.
No American mother should have to lie awake at night worrying whether her children will be safe at school the next day. No one should fear visiting our nation's capitol or our greatest cities because they might be attacked.
Our hope — our determination — is nothing less than this: to live our lives confident that we are safe at home and secure in our world. And that is the great victory I will fight for as your president.
Thank you, God bless you and God bless America.