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Kerry Calls for U.N. Control of Iraq

Author: Bernard Gwertzman, Visiting Fellow
December 3, 2003
Council on Foreign Relations


Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said December 3 that the United States should turn over political and economic rebuilding in Iraq to the United Nations.

In a sharp attack on the Bush administration’s foreign policy, Kerry told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that “the Bush administration should swallow its pride and reverse course” in Iraq. “But the evidence is strong,” he added, “that it lacks the wisdom or will to do so.”

“Simply put,” the junior senator from Massachusetts said, “the Bush administration has pursued the most arrogant, inept, reckless, and ideological foreign policy in modern history.” He said that the “coalition is now in tatters and the global war on terrorism has been set back.”

After assailing the Bush record, Kerry said that those seeking the Democratic presidential nomination “owe the American people more than just anger or criticism of the Bush foreign policy or even piecemeal solutions.” He said that no issue in the 2004 election will be “more central and fundamental than national security.” Kerry noted at the outset that he was running behind in the polls, but said in answer to a question that he was a “strong closer” and was confident he could defeat the other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination.

In the speech, Kerry devoted considerable attention to Saudi Arabia for having allowed financing of terrorist groups and said that in his first 100 days in office, he would launch a “name and shame” campaign against individuals, banks, and foreign governments that are financing terror. He indicated he was not satisfied with the Saudi assertions that they have cracked down on funding and support of terrorist activities.

“Those who fail to respond will be shut out of American financial markets,” he said.

Although Kerry voted for the congressional resolution approving the use of force against Iraq, he said that the Bush administration “compromised American credibility and leadership” by dismissing international concerns over Iraq and running “roughshod” over the interests of other nations.

“I believed a year ago and I believe now that we had to hold Saddam Hussein accountable and that the United States needed to lead in that effort,” he said in explaining his vote. “But this administration did it in the worst possible way— without the United Nations, without our allies, without a legitimate plan to win the peace.”

Soon after taking office, he said, he would “go to the United Nations and travel to our traditional allies to affirm that the United States has rejoined the community of nations.” He said he would convene an early summit of allies “to discuss a common anti-terrorism agenda, including a collective security framework, and a long-term strategy to build bridges to the Islamic world.”

On Iraq, Kerry said that “a powerful case can be made that the international community has a common interest in assuring that Iraq does not become a permanent quagmire— or a rogue state reborn, with Saddam Hussein or his successor basking in his palace, thumbing his nose at the world and sponsoring a new haven for terrorists.”

“The administration, bent on its go-it-alone approach, has done little to make the case or to give the United Nations and our allies the necessary incentives to join in,” he said.

“Our best option for success is to go back to the United Nations and leave no doubt that we are prepared to put the United Nations in charge of the reconstruction and governance-building processes,” he added. “I believe the prospects for success on the ground will be far greater if Ambassador [L. Paul] Bremer [III] and the Coalition Provisional Authority are replaced by a U.N. special representative for Iraq.”

Kerry said he feared that the Bush administration, in the run-up to the 2004 election, was considering “what is tantamount to a cut-and-run strategy in Iraq.” The administration’s “sudden embrace of accelerated Iraqification and American troop withdrawal without adequate stability is an invitation to failure,” he said, even though he himself had previously called for an early transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis.

“The hard work of rebuilding Iraq must not be dictated by the schedule of the next American election,” he said. He added that “it would be a disaster and a disgraceful betrayal of principle to speed up the process simply to lay the groundwork for a politically expedient withdrawal of American troops. This could risk the hijacking of Iraq by terrorist groups” and remnants of the Baath Party. “Security and political stability cannot be divorced,” he said. “Security must come first and that is why it is so imperative to succeed in building a genuine coalition on the ground in Iraq.” The Bush administration has denied that it is planning to withdraw from Iraq before security is guaranteed.

On a related issue, Kerry said that President Bush had paid “lip service” to the idea that peace in the Middle East is critical to combating terrorism. Kerry said that in the first days of his administration, he would appoint a presidential ambassador devoted to the peace process.

“There are a number of uniquely qualified Americans who I would consider appointing, including: President [Jimmy] Carter, former Secretary of State James [A.] Baker [III], or, as I suggested almost two years ago, President [Bill] Clinton.” He said he had raised this idea with Carter and Clinton recently and gotten favorable reactions.

Kerry also said he would appoint a presidential envoy for the Islamic world, “who will seek to strengthen moderate Islam and find new ways to isolate the terrorists.”

On other issues, Kerry said he would open a dialogue with Iran on areas of mutual interest and renew direct talks with North Korea on nuclear issues. He also said he would seek legislation to create a director of national intelligence with control over budgets and personnel of competing intelligence agencies. Currently, the director of central intelligence— who heads the Central Intelligence Agency— is supposed to coordinate the government’s intelligence policies but does not have authority over agencies other than his own.

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