PrintPrint EmailEmail ShareShare CiteCite


Real Security in a Post-9/11 World: Remarks by Senator John Kerry

Speaker: John F. Kerry, Member, U.S. Senate (D-MA)
Presider: Paul E. Steiger, Managing editor, the Wall Street Journal
December 8, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations New York, NY


Council on Foreign Relations
New York, NY

MODERATOR:  (Fed in progress) — Council on Foreign Relations meeting.  And I’d also like to welcome the people who are at 20-or-so remote locations all across the U.S., and also including London and Hong Kong.  In Hong Kong you’re up very late.  So we’ll try to make it interesting.  (Laughter.) 

A couple of housekeeping things.  Unlike many things at the council, this session is on the record.  There are press in the room.  And like all meetings here, please check your cell phones, pagers and other weapons of mass destruction and turn them off.  (Laughter.)

We are very, very fortunate to have as our speaker today Senator Kerry.  I will give you a very fast headline summary of the background:  Yale, Vietnam service, opposition to war, lawyer, prosecutor, lieutenant governor, senator, Democratic candidate for president who was beaten by a late field goal.  (Laughter.)  And he will be speaking on “Real Security in a Post-9/11 World.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Senator Kerry.  (Applause.)

SENATOR JOHN KERRY:  Thank you, Paul, very, very much.  Obviously, I should have had Adam Vinatieri kicking for me!  (Chuckles; laughter.)

It’s a great, great privilege for me to be able to be here with you. Thank you, all of you, for taking time to come and share some thoughts today.  And I look forward to the question and answer period when we can revise and extend remarks a little bit, as they say.

For 50 years, this council, of which I am member, has helped shape our national security policy.  And frankly, your voice and your influence are needed now more than ever. 

So much of what we used to for granted in national security policy has now been called into question.  We used to know that despite our differences in philosophy and in perspective, our two great parties could cooperate to craft international policies in our national interest. 

We used to understand that the vast and unique role of the United States in world affairs required a far-sighted and multi-faceted approach to protecting our people and our interests. 

We used to value as a national treasure the international alliances and institutions that enhanced our strength, amplified our voice, and reflected our traditions and our ideals in maintaining a free and secure world.

We used to measure America’s strength and security by our moral authority, our economic leadership, and our diplomatic skills, as well as by the power of our military.

And we used to say politics stopped at the water’s edge. 

We used to call on our people to share in the sacrifices demanded by freedom, and our leaders used to raise hopes and inspire trust, not raise fears and demand blind faith.

All of that has changed in a remarkably brief period of time.  And in recalling what we’ve lost, I’m not looking back to the Greatest Generation of World War II, or to the leaders who shaped our Cold War policies and wore down the threat of totalitarian communism.  I’m not talking about 30 or 40 or 50 years ago — I’m talking about what we had just four short years ago.

After September 11th, the American people, elected officials from both parties, and much of the whole world, offered the president of the United States their loyal support when he announced our intention to wage a global war on terror.  Not since the bombing of Pearl Harbor has a president enjoyed a greater reservoir of moral and political capital, or more material and diplomatic resources, at the beginning of a war.

Four years later, our resources have been diminished and our goodwill has been squandered.  And as the 9/11 commission’s final report has just told us, Washington is failing to take the basic steps necessary to make us safe.  It is an inexplicable abdication of responsibility.

So where do we go from here?  Well, I wish we could have a real debate — a real council of war that brings senators and congressmen of both parties together to forge a winning strategy for America.  That’s what I think we should do.  But since the current administration confuses examination of failed policies with an admission of weakness, and debate with division, that’s not possible today.  So those of us who want our country to win the war on terror must take advantage of opportunities like these to show the road not taken, and the right path to success.

For all their rhetoric about democracy, human rights, the hateful ideology of our adversaries, and international coalitions against terrorism, the president and his advisers have shown time and again that they really do conceive the war on terror as almost exclusively as a military operation.  That’s why they’ve been so willing to bend every relationship and international institution, and bend, in fact, our own values and respect for norms of behavior that America has long championed.

Make no mistake, we are united in our commitment to track down and kill the evil men who would harm us.  But that alone will not win the real war on terror.  The real war on terror is an even bigger challenge.  It is a war that has drawn us smack into the middle of an internal struggle in the Islamic world.  It is fundamentally a war within Islam for the heart and soul of Islam, stretching from Morocco east to Indonesia.  It leads, ultimately, to a struggle for the transformation of the Greater Middle East into a region that is no longer isolated from the global economy, no longer dependent on despotism for stability, no longer fearful of freedom, and no longer content to feed restive and rising populations, alarming rising rate of populations among young people, to feed them a diet of illusions, excuses, and dead-end government jobs.

As the 2004 Arab Human Development Report tells us, “By 21st century standards,  Arab countries have not met the Arab people’s aspirations for development, security and liberation.  Indeed, there is a near-complete consensus that there is a serious failing in the Arab world, located specifically in the political sphere.”

I would add in addition, in regions where the mosque remains the only respected alternative to the autocratic state structures, there is no credible secular alternative anywhere in between.  So we are caught in a cauldron of religious struggle where today there is no center of moral authority that forcefully condemns those who murder in the name of Islam. 

In the long run — and we are in this for the long run — the war on terror cannot be won without the successful transformation of the Greater Middle East, and especially its Arab core.  And our strategy must do what it takes to increase the internal demand for change in that region.  That means that we are in a war of ideas and ideologies — but ultimately a war that must be fought and won within the Islamic world.  That means we have a huge stake in finding partners in the Arab world who are willing not only to support the transformation of the Middle East, but to reestablish the broad and unchallenged moral authority needed to isolate and defeat terrorists.  And ultimately, that means we must liberate ourselves from (sic\and) the Middle East itself from the tyranny of dependence on petroleum, which has frustrated every impulse towards modernization in the region, while giving its regimes the resources to avoid choices and hold on to power.

We have to understand that the hostility to America and to our values that feeds the jihadist threat is the product of many decades of repressed debate within the Middle East.  We’ve become the convenient excuse for the failures of rulers, and a convenient target for the frustrations of the ruled.  And frankly, we’ve made that possible by signaling Arab regimes that we don’t much care what they do so long as they keep pumping the oil and keep the price low.  That attitude has to end, not only end, it must be reversed. 

Energy independence is not a pie-in-the-sky concept.  It’s not just a dream.  It’s a domestic priority for our country, obviously, but is much more.  It is essential to our national security, because our reliance on their oil limits our ability to move them towards the needed reforms and actually props up decaying and sometimes corrupt regimes, including those that support terrorist groups. 

Any long-term strategy for winning the war on terror therefore must include a much more determined effort to reduce our dependence on petroleum.  So many opportunities, stunning opportunities, stare us in the face.  But none, not even in this recent energy bill, have been seized with the urgency that our security demands. 

These efforts also have to be international in nature, linked to the rapid emergence of new technologies, in order to ensure that economies like China and India don’t just replace us as the enabler of Middle East autocrats.

So this is the long-range mission in the war on terror.  One, make sure the right side wins the war of ideas within the Islamic world; two, build up diversified economies and civil society and bring the region into the global economy; and, three, end the empire of oil.  These three challenges make it abundantly clear that this is not a war the United States should or can fight alone.  And that’s the basic insight the president and his administration have yet to fully grasp and translate into policies that Americans can fully understand and embrace.  Nothing makes that clearer, my friends, than their policy in Iraq, where our mismanaged occupation has inadvertently created a new front in the war on terror.

In the critical days after Saddam’s regime collapsed, we got just about everything wrong.  And you know the list; I’m not going to go through it how — failing to seal the borders, prevent sabotage (of) critical infrastructure, creating a formal occupation, privatizing the reconstruction, disbanding the entire Iraqi security structure — on and on and on.  No one in the administration has been fired for these mistakes; indeed, Medals of Freedom were given for them.  But our courageous troops, and the Iraqi people are paying a high price every single day, and so is our national security.

Even the president likes to say we cannot succeed in Iraq until the struggle for its future becomes an Iraqi struggle, not an American struggle.  Well, all of us accept that whatever happens in Iraq will shape the outcome of the war on terror.  But we have to accept that reality even as the administration ignores the dynamic on the ground expressed by our own top military commander in Iraq.  As General Casey told Congress, quote, “our large military presence feeds the notion of occupation” and “extends the amount of time that it will take for Iraqi security forces to become self-reliant.”  

That is why we need to focus all of our energies on making 2006 the year in which we turn over that struggle to our partners within Iraq, and do everything possible to give the next Iraqi government the local, regional, and global legitimacy it needs to survive and thrive.

Now, I’ve set out a series of steps that I think we ought to take to eliminate the perception of a permanent military occupation, to achieve the political solution that our generals say we desperately need in order to weaken the insurgency, to isolate the foreign jihadists, and ultimately to bring Iraq stability.  But just as importantly, we have to apply the painful lessons learned in Iraq to the broader and continuing war on terror.  The right rhetoric is not enough.  Statements of resolve are not enough.  We need skill as well as resolve, and a strategy as well as an attitude.

To begin with, we cannot have effective public diplomacy as a weapon in the war on terror in the absence of basic, sound policies.  To be successful in this battle of ideas, we must first undermine the jihadist propaganda about the United States.  We have to pay greater attention to how our words and our deeds are understood and interpreted in the Middle East, because our good intentions are doubted by the very people the terrorists seek to turn against us.

For this reason alone we have to get Iraq right — to undermine the myth, all too real in many Middle Eastern minds, that the United States really seeks to steal Iraq’s oil, insult its religion, and seize its land for military bases.  And success there, success there won’t mean automatic victory in the larger struggle.  But make no mistake, failure there would only further radicalize the region and the Islamic world.

So we must also work to address the perception, unjustified as many may think it is, that we have done too little to achieve real progress in the Middle East peace process.  The establishment of a democratic Palestine at peace with Israel is in all our interests.  It is essential for Israel’s long-term security and regional stability.  It will deny Islamic extremists a recruiting tool, and repressive regimes an excuse not to address problems at home.  And while Secretary Rice has taken a more hands-on approach, the long-standing violence and distrust between the parties demands sustained and committed and present leadership from the president.

We must also start treating our moral authority as a precious national asset in the war on terror.  We play into the hands of our enemies, and we lose credibility when the vice president of the United States lobbies for the right to torture, even after the Abu Ghraib disaster, when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has to publicly remind the secretary of Defense that our troops have an obligation to stop torture when they see it, or see others doing it, and when we continue to hold detainees indefinitely in a legal no-man’s land.

We must counter the teaching, obviously, of hatred in madrases by pressing regimes more consistently and effectively to teach tolerance in schools throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, but also to broaden the educational opportunities.  We have to work with moderate Muslims, especially clerics, to permanently discredit the belief that the murder of innocents can be justified in the name of God, race or nation.  The people of the Middle East need to learn that — they need to learn who we are from direct experience with Americans, not from watching a failed Madison Avenue campaign or from hearing Karen Hughes tell chauffeur-driven women with bodyguards they would be better off getting a driver’s license.  And democratic values and openness should be championed not simply as western values but as the universal values that they are — the uniting values that they are.

Democratization also cannot be a crusade.  If it is seen as the result of an army marching through Muslim lands, it absolutely will fail.  But more importantly, that’s not the way democracy works.  Democracy spreads with patient but firm determination, led by individuals of courage who dream of a better day for their country.  Viktor Yushchenko had that dream in the Ukraine.  Hamid Karzai had that dream in Afghanistan.  Lech Walesa had that dream in Poland.  We need to create the conditions where this dream can become a reality in the Arab world.  And if we’re serious about spreading democracy and fighting a real war on terror, then, quite simply, our resources must match our rhetoric.

We must do everything possible to promote economic, social and political transformation in the Middle East, especially among Sunni Arabs.  Nations like Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain are not only moving towards political freedom and pluralism, but they’re also trying to build real economies built on the talents of their own people rather than trying to simply pump prosperity out of the ground.  Every move in that direction in this critical region should not only be praised, but it ought to be rewarded tangibly as a role model.  And there’s no way to overemphasize the importance of ensuring that the Greater Middle East does not continue its long trajectory towards a region where an exploding young population collides with dysfunctional isolated economies, producing instability and, ultimately, more and more terrorism.  Majority populations under the age of 18 without jobs or futures are a certain recipe for disaster.

So we must work with urgency with our allies in Europe and Asia to strengthen our commitment, to enhance our efforts to integrate the Middle East into the global economy.  This is the only way to stop economic regression, spur investment beyond the oil industry, and spark trade, investment and growth in the region.  And it’s the only way to turn young minds and energy away from terror.

In the end, these many steps will open a region that for too long has been closed to opportunity, progress, modernized governments and societies that can better meet the needs of their citizens and respond to grievances and provide a more hopeful alternative to the dark ideology of terror.  Now, that — all of what I’ve just listed — that would be real public diplomacy, a real battle of ideas, and a vast improvement on the ineffective initiatives of the last four years.

But the fact is we must also demand more of Americans.  We must mobilize our universities and our intellectual capital to understand and address the challenges that we face.  We need a real investment in language studies and area studies so that our intelligence, our use of force, our diplomacy are better informed and more effective.  There is a great patriotic pool of Arab- and Islamic-Americans who should be called to serve in this effort, just as Americans of East European descent served during the Cold War.  Doing all these things and doing them right is how we can wage and win the long-term war on terror.  This is the preeminent challenge to the security of this nation and the world in the twenty-first century, and we have to change our policies right now.

Now, of course, there will be times, like in Afghanistan, when direct military engagement will be necessary.  And that requires reshaping our military for those missions ahead:  a larger infantry and more special forces; more personnel trained and equipped to perform post-conflict reconstruction missions; a Guard and a Reserve force that meets the nation’s needs overseas and at home.  But let me tell you, because this is a long-range war, we have to do now a better job, even, of destroying terrorist cells and preventing terrorist attacks here at home.

The fact is that al Qaeda has morphed into a global hydra of hidden terrorists who often share nothing more than a common hatred.  To disrupt and destroy their networks before they can attack, we really can do much more to improve and overhaul our intelligence and law enforcement capabilities by the acceleration, for instance, of the creation of a true domestic counterterrorism capability within the FBI, and greatly increasing our overseas clandestine intelligence capacities.  And to be truly effective in the global conflict, we need to leverage greater assistance, even, from foreign intelligence agencies, expand the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, and increase exchange programs and liaison relationships. 

And we must treat securing dangerous materials around the world with the urgency that that threat demands.  We can all agree that our top national security priority is to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists.  How often do you hear politicians pay lip service to that?  Yet the 9/11 commission years later gives the administration nearly a failing grade on every single task that’s important.  That is just plain unacceptable in this country.

One of the worst myths the president has propagated is that we’ve somehow bottled up the world’s terrorists in Iraq, and by fighting them there, we no longer need fear that they can strike us here.  Well, the 9/11 commission’s report on the administration’s effort to implement its much-praised recommendations has made it clear that’s not so.  And they gave our government failing grades on homeland security. 

And the fiasco of the federal Katrina response showed graphically that you have to do more than just create a new department to deal with grave emergencies competently.  It is time to finally get serious, roll up our sleeves, sit down at the table, don’t leave till the job’s done; serious with money and attention and put it on the most urgent Homeland Security threats, including the extreme vulnerability of our ports in America, the most likely point of entry for terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

And finally, we must adapt international institutions to meet today’s threats.  Of course we have to end corruption and inefficiency at the United Nations.  We understand that.  But we must not lose sight of its continuing importance to our own security.  We should be leading the negotiations of a meaningful Convention Against Terrorism so that the world in one voice united finally condemns terrorism and the groups that use it.  In other words, at home, in the Middle East and around the world, we have to convince a whole bunch more people that the war on terror is in fact a common fight against a threat to our collective security, not just America’s fight against terrorists.  And that is an approach, as you here at the Council of Foreign Relations know well, that restores a distinctly American tradition.

Some say that President Bush’s preference for unilateral action reflects American exceptionalism.  But I say what has always made America exceptional in the history of the great powers is that we have not sought conquest or empire when those temptations were within our reach.  Our confidence in our own greatness led us to build an international order of mutual respect and cooperation.  That’s why America emerged from the 20th century as the unquestioned leader in the world’s march towards freedom as the authors of a global consensus linking our self-interest as a nation for the common interests of all nations.  That is the real tradition of American exceptionalism that the president needs to understand and embrace. 

Within living memory, we had another president who prided himself on simple virtues and unshakable resolve.  Harry Truman was an uncomplicated man, yet he was also a man who believed that he should be held personally accountable for every decision, every judgment, every day, not just on election days.  And at the end of one great war against totalitarianism and at the beginning of another, Harry Truman presided over the greatest era of bipartisan, multilateral foreign policy our country or the world has ever seen, and it brought us great fruit.  It’s time for the president to put a little more Harry Truman in his foreign policy.  And if he won’t, then those of us who admire Harry Truman will keep up the fight here at home in order to win the fight against terrorism around the world.  And we’ll be joined by other Americans, and I hope by leaders in organizations like this who understand this is a fight we dare not lose.  More than that, it is a fight we must win.

Thank you for the privilege of being here.  (Applause.)

Do want me to stand or — 

MODERATOR:  You’re clearly more agile than I am getting up here, which leads me to my first question, but first just a couple of reminders.  We’ll have a brief exchange up here, but this is really about your questions for the senator, and I’ll get to them as quickly as possible.  There’ll be microphones around the room for them.

But why don’t we get the one thing out of the way.  Sort of listening to you, I couldn’t help thinking that there might be another run for the presidency in you — (laughter) — like in 2008? 

KERRY:  What year are we now?  (Laughter.)

It is so far too early to even go near that.  I’m doing what I ought to be doing as a United States senator, with 21 years experience on the Foreign Relations Committee and as a former nominee of my party, and that’s trying to lead, as I did over these last years and over my lifetime, to move the country in the right direction. 

I will share with you that never in the 21 years that I’ve been in this Congress — and if Robert Byrd or Ted Kennedy were here — I cite them as, what, 50 years in the Senate, 43 years — they’d tell you that never in their years have we seen as dysfunctional an institution as the Congress is today.  Almost every great issue facing our nation is not being genuinely discussed, whether it’s what’s happening to Ford and General Motors and the threat of our economy, American competitiveness, research, development — I mean, run down the list — health care, businesses being crushed by the cost of health care.  What’s the plan?  You know, I’m not suggesting government has all the solutions, and I didn’t in the course of my campaign.  But the way you find the common ground and get the best ingredients is to bring people together.  And that’s what I said about those councils of war.  We’re at war, and we’re not behaving like it.  And so whether it’s the budget deficit or, you know, the longer-term interests of global warming and so forth, this is a tough moment for our country, and I’m trying to take it beyond the politics and beyond 2008 and just talk about things that all of you and all of us ought to be really wrestling with as a nation because China and India and a lot of others aren’t sitting around waiting, and we need to get our act together.  It’s that simple, and that’s why I’m speaking out.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Let’s wrestle with Iraq a little bit.  I think you mentioned that U.S. troops are an incentive to the insurgents, and you said 2006 is the year we should get the troops out.  On what timetable?

KERRY:  On a timetable that is set by a series of benchmarks of accomplishments.  And you do what’s necessary to achieve those benchmarks.  Let me give you an example.  I said in a speech I gave at Georgetown a few weeks ago that we ought to pull 20,000 troops out after the elections on December 15th.  Why?  That wasn’t arbitrarily chosen, and it’s not arbitrarily set.  We put an additional 20,000 troops in — approximately — for the purposes of providing extra safety for the referendum and for the elections.  I support that, and I support — and the election, I think, is going to be a momentous event, a very important event.  It’ll be another momentum event.  We’ve had several momentum events in Iraq.  When the statue fell, it was a momentum event.  When Kofi Annan offered the world’s help, they refused it.  Afterwards, you had a government that was chosen in election, but it took them three months, four months before they came together — momentum lost.  We can’t afford to lose momentum after December 15th, and I think part of the creation of momentum and the transfer of the sort of heeding of our generals is to announce publicly — and Secretary Rumsfeld actually did on TV last week, but it was sort of a major, bold statement — “We’re pulling out 20,000 troops.  We’re cutting back to where we were.”  

The next major event is going to be the constitution itself, which has to be ratified by April, and that is going to be the central issue of determining the future of Iraq, in my judgment.  It’s going to be determined politically, not militarily.  And unless we do what’s necessary — and it hasn’t been done yet — and, you know, I had a long conversation with King Abdullah when he was here, and other leaders here, you can feel the sort of frustrations of the lack of significant effort within the Sunni world to bring people to the table sufficiently, including the Shi’a and the Kurds, so that you get the elements of compromise necessary to resolve what the constitution did not resolve.

Now, Ambassador Khalilzad, in my judgment, is doing a terrific job.  I respect him.  I think he’s been very good at trying to make up for lost ground over two and a half years.  Whether it’s behind the 8-ball so much that he can’t is yet to be determined.  But the benchmarks beyond that have to be set — the president began to address yesterday — not sufficiently, in my judgment — is how you get the reconstruction, how you provide the jobs, what kind of projects are you going to set; how rapidly can you transfer authority for Anbar province, Nineveh province, or, you know, run through the different provinces.  You only have four provinces where there’s major conflict.  You have 12 provinces that are pretty quiet.  And it ought to be possible to reduce the American presence and pull them back into a more rear garrison status, which is what I would have done a long time ago; push the Iraqis out into the more average, day-to-day kinds of operations. 

Now, I’ve said in my speech that we’re going to have keep American special forces capacity there for some time to come, and we’re going to have to chase intelligence that’s hard intelligence for some time to come, to chase a Zarqawi or somebody.  But the only chance of diminishing the sense of occupation, reducing the targeting and beginning to establish confidence among Iraqis is to begin to transfer that authority. 

And again I say, folks, we’re not asking them to fight World War II.  We’re not asking them to engage the Warsaw Pact or something, not even asking them to fight against armed forces in any kind of uniform.  The two killers in Iraq are IEDs and suicide bombers, and 160,000 American combat troops aren’t going to stop that. 

Unless you defuse the elements of the insurgency itself, which is motivated by several different ingredients, you don’t have the ability to be able to reestablish the sovereignty and the independence necessary in those troops.

So you set a series of benchmarks, Paul, beginning with the election — that’s benchmark one — moving on to benchmarks you set about specific areas of responsibility for security.  You pull back.  You’re there to back them up.  They start standing up more.  And then you turn over whole provinces, and you begin to reduce down the numbers of troops as you stand them up.  And that’s precisely how you begin to change the entire dynamics of the region.

Final comment:

The jihadists are the least present.  The president finally admitted that.  For two and a half years, we’ve been fighting in America about the war on terror, the central front, jihadists, but finally the administration acknowledged what we’ve all been saying for a long period of time.  The jihadists are the lowest percentage of insurgents. 

And if you talk to Shi’a and talk to Kurds and talk to Sunni — and those of us who have gone over there have — they don’t want those folks there.  You get those folks standing up for themselves, and Zarqawi and company are not going to last long in Iraq. 

So the real way you deal with this is to accelerate that stand-up.  And I don’t think we’ve done it sufficiently, but we can — those benchmarks.

MODERATOR:  So just to try to quantify it, 160,000 now; this time next year, if you were in charge —

KERRY:  I believe you could get at least 100,000 out over that period of time, bring it down to somewhere in the vicinity of 30(,000) to 40,000, and then, you know, you’re going to have to see where you are.  But the — that would be my goal.  And I would not do it on a fixed automatic table; it has to be results-coordinated.  And that’s the way I would do it.

MODERATOR:  And you don’t buy the argument of some who say that, look, Americans are the focus of the jihadists and the insurgents; let’s just get them all out, out of the — after the election?

KERRY:  I think if the United — I mean, when you say after the election, you look at — look at Congressman Murtha’s proposal that has drawn such heated fire from the right and elsewhere.  He has talked about approximately a six-month period.  But he’s also talked about sort of a results-connected process.  He sees it in six months.  I don’t.  I think it’s going to take longer, and I see it as more connected to the series of events that I’ve talked about.

But in the end, if you just up and left in a matter of a month or two months, and there isn’t a sufficient base underneath you, you will, as I said in my prepared comments, encourage the radicalization of the region, have an enormous negative impact on those who are seeking this transformation in the Middle East that I talked about, and, I think, endanger our interests as well as other people’s interests in the region.

But I think you have to find the best way to get out of a terrible mess that has been exacerbated by almost every single decision they have made.  Think how extraordinary it is that almost three years afterwards, we’re just getting around to this business of doing what we’re doing now.  It’s stunning, folks.  And we still have the same secretary of Defense who was the architect of this.

What’s happened to accountability in America?  I mean, you know, this would not have stood in prior generations, I believe.  And it says something about all of us that it’s allowed to stand today.

MODERATOR:  Can I ask you about one country that you didn’t address explicitly in your remarks?  And that is Iran, which is a big player, particularly if you envision U.S. troops reduced in size.  They’re a nuclear issue.  They’re also a potential infiltration issue.  How do you deal with Iran?

KERRY:  Well, you notice the administration is now trying to deal, in a sort of backhanded way, through our partners in Europe, which is something that should have begun a long time ago in a front-handed way, not backhanded.

Iran — if you maintain the kind of presence in the region that I would envision our maintaining, you can negate Iran’s ability to create the kind of mischief some people are talking about.

I’ve met with leaders in the region.  They all — I mean, if you talk to Abdullah of Saudi Arabia or you talk to President Mubarak or others, they will all share the concern about the Shi’a Crescent.  And I understand that concern.

But I believe that our ability to have a significant troop presence in Kuwait, for instance, where we have enormous basing ability, or even in other parts of the area, would significantly act as a deterrent to their potential for that mischief.  And we have to make that clear.

In other ways we have to engage more significantly on the issue, and I’m very hopeful that the Russian initiative and other things that we can take up on that — it’s a question of overall diplomacy. 

But you have to get the — I said in my remarks, again, you have to get the other pieces of this mosaic right at the same time. 

For instance, what we’re doing with respect to torture, what we’re doing with respect to whether or not we’re announcing a permanent presence in Iraq — all of these things play to the perceptions which our enemies feed off of.  And as all of you know full well, you have to be thoughtful about how you’re countering those and what images are important.

So I think with respect to Iran, to the degree that we begin to play a different hand with Iraq, as well as with Saudi Arabia and the other issues, we will begin to open up different opportunities that today don’t appear to be available to us.  That’s how it always works.  And if we engage in a legitimate form of back channel and other forms of diplomacy, I think, I’m very optimistic.  I personally am very optimistic about the possibilities.

MODERATOR:  Before I turn it open to the floor, I’d like to ask you one question about your invoking of energy independence.  And I mean, I covered energy economics during the 1970s in Washington, and that was a call then.  But one is going up against a commodity, oil, that can be lifted and sold at a very low price.  There’s a very efficient infrastructure to deliver it.  How does one get to energy independence?  And we can’t do the, you know, two-hour discussion of full energy policy.

KERRY:  (Off mike.)  Yeah.

MODERATOR:  But does it require a big boost to the gasoline tax?  What does it require?

KERRY:  No, it requires economic incentive.  It requires support for R&D. 

For instance, in 1980, when the Reagan administration came in, right after the Carter years, where they had committed to try to begin to move us in that direction, we created the Energy Institute out in Colorado.  And tenured professors left their positions and went out there with the hopes of a future of technology development and so forth — technology transfer and investments in the private sector.  You and others all reflected those incentives and moved that way.

Well, we were the world’s leader in 1980 in photovoltaics and alternatives and renewables. 

The Reagan administration came in and pulled the guts out of all of those incentives.  The heart of the institute sort of was cut out, and we lost those tenured professors, we lost our lead.  Germany and Japan supplanted us.

The result was that when the Soviet Union folded and the East Bloc countries said, “We got to clean up the Danube, and we’ve got to clean up the devastation of the nuclear plants and so forth,” where did they go for the technology?  They went to Japan.  They went to Germany.  And we lost jobs and the lead, and we still haven’t made up for it. 

Great research is being done in different parts of America, and we’re on the threshold of breakthroughs that would be very, very significant to our economy, as well as to our health, as well as to our security.  And I believe it’s the government’s job not to tell everybody what to do, not to have a command and control economy, but rather to create incentives that invite people to come and do these things.  And I believe if we put those in place, we begin to make up the differential on biomass fuels, for instance. 

And you could have a car in America that gets 500 miles per gallon today, very quickly — a combination of hybrid and biofuel.  And we would begin to change what’s happening in the automobile industry.  It’s almost absurd that the Ford Motor Company has to lease from Toyota the technology to be able to do hybrids.  I drive one of those Ford cars. 

So we’ve got to excite that, folks.  That’s leadership. 

I offered a $1 billion assistance to the auto industry, as a matter of incentive, to help them in the transition to retool, as well as a major tax credit incentive to consumers to go out and buy these vehicles.  Boom!  You’ll change what’s happening.

Now we’re going to pump oil — I’m not anti-oil.  We’re going to pump it for 40 or 50 years in the future.  We have the largest oil field unexplored in the world, in the deep-water Gulf Coast.  Ninety-five percent of the Alaska oil shelf is still open for exploration.  The biggest lease in American history was issued by the Clinton administration as it left power.  What are we doing talking about ANWR?  I mean, this is a phony debate.  And what we ought to be doing in the energy bill, which we don’t do, is excite this alternative for our economy into long-term future of the country.

Just one quick word.  I know it’s a long answer, I apologize, but I want to press this in.  The other great absence — I read I think it was David Brooks’s column in The Times today, he mentions how conservatives secretly admit global warming is a problem.  What?  They secretly know it’s a problem but they’re not going to say anything about it?  What kind of irresponsibility is that?

I’ve been the ranking member of the committee that deals with that for years.  And I’ll  tell you, I met with the NOAA scientists and the NASA scientists recently, and they tell me that at the current rate of melt, it is a certainty, if things stay as they are — now, something could change, maybe, unforeseen, but if they stay as they are, the Arctic ice sheet is gone within 30 years.  Not if, maybe; it is gone.  And if the Arctic ice sheet is gone, we’re going to change what happens in terms of ocean current, krill, the plankton, et cetera, not to mention what’s happening to the Greenland ice sheet.

The Arctic ice sheet’s floating; the Greenland since sheet’s on rock. If the Greenland ice sheet melts, and it’s beginning to, then you have devastating, catastrophic consequences — for this city, for Boston, for Florida and the rest of our country.

That’s where we are, folks.

Now, we’re never going to reduce what’s in the air for the next 70 years, because it’s there.  But we’re not even talking about trying to get down to adequate levels and so forth. 

Well, I see economic opportunity in it, I don’t see devastation.  I see great opportunity for us as a country and for the world.  And if we began to move towards those kinds of energy policies, we’ll have the “threefer” of having better health in America for our population, less asthma for our kids and so forth; having better economic picture for the long-term future; and better national security picture, as I mentioned in my speech.  That’s a pretty good trade-off.  Where’s the leadership?

MODERATOR:  Let’s go to the floor.  Microphones.  Just a couple of quick reminders. Questions, not speeches.  And state your name and your affiliation.

QUESTIONER:  Ralph Buchers (ph), New York University.  Senator, you spoke extensively about the Middle East and about energy, and that is obviously a priority.  But in the long term it may be the rise of China is one of the most significant developments in world affairs.  How would you deal with the challenge of China today?

KERRY:  Well, I believe China is an opportunity.  Again, you know, I’m privileged to be the ranking member of that committee.  I’ve been chairman of it.  I can remember going to Shanghai around 1989, ‘90, and you could still see across the bond (ph) — Prudong was rice fields, paddies.  It’s a city bigger than New York today.  Anybody who’s traveled to  China understands the stunning transformation that’s taking place and even how life there is changing as a consequence.

I don’t view China the way some people want to view it.  I don’t think they’re hegemonistic, I don’t think that they’re — they want to be respected and they want to be taken seriously, and they’re a world power.  And they’re going to be (a/the ?) preeminent economy of this century as we go forward, and we’re going to have to therefore do a lot of things differently in order to respond to that reality.

Needless to say, there are things we want to see them change on.  Human rights.  We abhor the political structure, but it is changing also.  I mean, anybody who read about the last series of elections there, you’ve got to be just stunned by the competition even within the one party, with different people out there with different programs and criticisms of the government and so forth.

So I view China as an opportunity.  I view it as a vital partner in our resolution of these problems that I talked about.  And we need to be much more engaged.  I remember being in China watching the prime minister — two or three prime ministers of countries arrive the same time I was there, all going to engage in commerce.  And when I was in Hong Kong, our foreign commercial service representative said to me, “You know, Senator, we’re losing billions of dollars of business over here because we don’t have enough people and we don’t have enough place engaged in building the relationships and doing what’s necessary to get that commerce.

And in the Far East, as we all know, relationships are very, very important.  They’re important in business and they’re very important in the conduct of foreign affairs.  We don’t take enough time.  Secretaries of State flying over or the assistant secretaries for a brief visit doesn’t do the job, folks.  We have to be much more deeply engaged, building those relationships, have some kind of consistency and longevity even in the building of those relationships and we’ll be much stronger as a country.

MODERATOR:  Toward the back, anyone?  Over there.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you, Senator Kerry.  Blake Spahn, educator, Capital Partners.  I have a number of friends that led Special Forces teams in Iraq, and they all said the same thing when they returned.  They faced a real quandary between security and security of their men and winning the hearts and minds.  If you have any specific action items for our force on the ground to actually help them win the hearts and minds, that would be great.

KERRY:  Well, as I said, look, I know from my own memories of Vietnam, that is difficult.  I mean, that is a tough task.  When you’re in a village and it’s enemy territory and a bullet can come from any quarter and kill you, and you see people moving furtively and you’re trying to deal with it, it’s very, very complicated.  That’s the position that, unfortunately, our guys have been put in.

I think they’re doing an unbelievably competent job, let me make it clear.  The young men and women I’ve met over there are as well-trained, as competent, as deeply believing in the mission as I’ve ever seen, and I give them every ounce of support that they deserve and gratitude for what they’re doing.  But we’ve got to provide a better framework for them.  The complaints I heard from a lot of troops is, you know, there are no jobs for people.  There are no services.  They go out, or even when they go into a village and they risk their lives and they go into houses and they clear them, and they have taken, perhaps, some insurgents out, they leave.  And after a certain period of time, the insurgents come back.  Now, finally the administration’s trying to respond to that by actually getting some Iraqis to go in and stand up and be there in our place.

My own personal feeling is that it is only Special Forces who need to be engaging right now in these most risky types of missions that put you into that kind of patrol situation, and a lot of the rest of our troops could really pull back more because the mission they’re being sent on, in my judgment, is not so vital.  It’s more of a patrolling mission, the presence mission.  And they’re being hit by IEDs or suicide bombers, and it seems to me we could pull them back as more of a back-up support structure to the Iraqis who go out and perform that particular function.  I think that’s one of the ways we could greatly reduce the stress and tension on them in a rapid way.

The biggest single other thing are the two things I mentioned earlier — the political resolution and the reconstruction.  Now, a lot of countries offered to help with reconstruction.  As you know, we gave them the stiff-arm.  Even today, there’s $13 billion committed, but only $3 billion has been put up.  Why?  What’s going on, folks?

So again, you know, that would aid our people enormously, to begin to get that money flowing so that the sewage is being picked up.  They call it SWET over there.  It’s the sewage, the water, the electricity and the trash.  And the SWET deal, it would make as much difference as anything else if we paid attention to it.

QUESTIONER:  Jeff Laurenti at the Century Foundation.  Senator, public opinion polling in dozens of countries around the world has shown a startling collapse of support and sympathy for the United States in the past five years.  I mean, in Europe, the United States is rated equal with North Korea as the most dangerous country in the world for global peace and security.  In the Muslim world, we range from a high 22 percent favorability in Morocco to 7 percent in Jordan.  And at home, Americans are now showing a sharp uptick in those who believe that the United States should keep its nose out of other countries’ internal business.

Now, what do you see as the future for reestablishing American leadership?  I mean, the Europeans have now lost the habits of deference they had learned through the Cold War and are taking the lead on their own.  How do we reestablish American leadership, and to what end?  And how do we maintain the public consensus at home, honoring the public’s wish against interventionism but for internationalism?

KERRY:  Well, I don’t want to be retro, but I thought the fastest way to do it was to have a new president.  (Laughter, scattered applause.)  But we are where we are.

So there are only — Congress can’t — I mean, I regret that unfortunately — in Congress we can pressure, we can push the way we are.  But this administration’s got to change its policies, and that isn’t going to do it in its entirety.  It really is now, in my judgment, not going to happen unless there were just a total makeover, until we do have a new president of whatever party, until there is a transformation and the new hope and the new breath of life that comes with that takes hold.  I just think that’s the reality.

But the president can do an enormous amount to undo some of what’s been done and to move us in a better direction.  It begins with the simplest sound policies that I’ve spoke about.  Ladies and gentlemen, how do we go — look at what Condi Rice is running into in Europe right now.  How do you go out to the world and convince them that we mean what we say and get them to invest in democracy when the vice president of the United States is advocating for torture, when we have secret prisons, when we have legal limbos for prisoners?  I mean, it’s very difficult when your own actions defeat your fundamental purposes.

Look, we don’t like the way Al-Jazeera covers the news, but how do you tell everybody in Iraq we’re on the up and up when Al-Jazeera’s not allowed to come in and do anything?  I don’t like Al-Jazeera, the way it covers the news, obviously.  I’ve watched them when I’m over there, and I — you know, it’s propagandish and so forth.

But all those kinds of things are a problem for us.  And Iraq has done so much to wound us in the region.  The fact is that we are not safer because of Iraq, as the president tries to tell people.  The region is in greater turmoil, other people are at greater risk, our — after Baghdad, you used to be able to walk around and the media see the aftermath of the war without flack jackets, without green zones. It was pretty safe.  Can’t do that today.

So unless they just dramatically sort of wake up to this reality, it’s going to be very, very hard for change.  And I’m sorry about that.  I feel that burden every single day because I think we are losing global ground for business, for jobs, for contracts, for — you know, a lot of people don’t want to do business with certain people, and America is a black eye around the world in that regard.  That hurts our economy and so forth.

So the bottom line is profound change policy-wise and ultimate change in three years, and hopefully, whatever happens in terms of the presidency, we’re moving in a very, very new direction to restore the kind of adherence to the values that served us so well through the last century and particularly through the Cold War.

MODERATOR:  We have time for one more.  The lady there.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  I’m Mosha Mikan (sp), an attorney in New York.  You speak very eloquently of engagement with the Muslim world and the words matter.  Do you regret not meeting directly Muslim-American groups in your last — your campaign rather than backhandedly to representatives and with maybe supporters?

And a quick comment.  As a member of that large reserve of talented or maybe not so talented Muslims who want to serve the U.S. and having returned recently from Southeast Asia on a U.S.-State Department tour and — with Asia Foundation on religion in society, I, and the vast majority of people from Bankok to Jakarta reject your idea of a war of ideas in the Islamic world.  And not only is it —

MODERATOR:  Question?

QUESTIONER:  My — well, the first question and this is a quick comment is that — (laughter) — I reject that idea because we have our own war of ideas between red and blue states, and we’ve done a darn good job of losing that war.

KERRY:  Well, let me — first of all, with — I respect your question, and I understand where you’re coming from on it.  But I did meet with Muslims all across America.  I remember hosting, I remember personally hosting a conference with mullahs and imams, clerics in Boston after 9/11, publicly inviting television to come to make certain that we put the word out throughout the country that we didn’t view the Muslim community, as a whole, responsible for what was an aberration act.  And I met in Michigan and elsewhere with many people of Muslim faith.  So I reject your — the fundamental premise.

Now, with respect to the war of ideas, I go back to what I just said.  I said in my speech that this is essentially a struggle within Islam.  And there is a tension within Islam, and the tension is, you know, who is going to stand up for all of the religion and condemn in a way that ends this notion that it is okay to go out and kill people and suicide bomb yourself when there is nothing in the Koran whatsoever that embraces that as part of the faith?  Now, you have a bunch of people at war who would like to re-establish a caliphate as it was a thousand years ago, who would like to be the rulers of Saudi Arabia, the greater Islamic entity, and that is a known fact.  And that is a struggle within Islam.  Who speaks for it, who represents it, who will stand up and assert the bold authority of it?

And you know, I’ll tell ya, I hear that from leaders of Islam.  King Abdullah has led what is called the imam message.  It is specifically an engagement in this war of ideas.  And he has been remarkably courageous, and I salute him for his courage because it is at risk to undertake that in the current climate.

Now, our hope is, obviously, that the overreach is going to embolden people within the Muslim world to stand up as he has and as other clerics and other religious leaders have.  But there is no central authority.  There’s no Vatican as there is in the Catholic faith.  There’s no central, moral standard there who speaks out and says, “unacceptable.”  And so it is left for this struggle to work out as we go forward.

And as I said to you — and I think I am respecting you and the faith — I said this has to be largely fought within Islam itself.  We will not be the ones.  So we’re not coming in and saying, “adopt our ideas.”  We’re respecting the full measure of the religion, but it’s got to be the religion as it is truly understood and practiced and spoken for by those who are now starting to stand up.

How is that you can excuse bombing people at a funeral, you know, the day — the first day of Ramadan?  What is it in the Koran that embraces that?  What is it that embraces killing Muslims at a wedding?  What is it — I mean, you just — you run down the list, and it doesn’t seem to me, and I think a lot of people are deeply concerned about how that is going to resolve itself as we go forward.  And all of these incidents, incidentally, go find every location where there has been — whether it’s the bombing in Madrid or the bombings in Bali or elsewhere — these are all a reflection.  They’re all coming out of this radical Islamic extremism, not some other thing with some other goal.

And so I reiterate and I stand by what I said.  This has got to be resolved within Islam.

Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.







More on This Topic