Senator John Kerry, D-Mass.
Des Moines, IA
December 16, 2003
Shortly after he took office, Thomas Jefferson Americas first chief diplomat laid out the goals of American foreign policy: We are pointing out the way to struggling nations who wish, like us, to emerge from their tyrannies. For 225 years and with gathering force during the course of the last century these words have guided an America that has come to believe that the surest way to defend our people is to advance our ideals.
Saturday evening, halfway around the world, in a dark hole beneath a mud shack on a sheep farm, Jeffersons promise was fulfilled again. Saddam Hussein was a totalitarian who waged a reign of terror against his people and repeatedly endangered the peace of the world. And no one can doubt that we are safer and Iraq is better because Saddam Hussein is now behind bars.
His capture is a great tribute to the skill and bravery of the U.S. Armed Forces, who showed Saturday as they do everyday what it means to have the greatest military in history and why we must never retreat from having the strongest military in the world. This nation stands united with a single message for our troops: Job well done.
Saddam Husseins capture also represents a two-fold opportunity. For President Bush, it is still another chance to transform the situation in Iraq from an American occupation to a global coalition. And it is an opportunity for America to reclaim the best of our historic role overseas and to once again lead the world toward progress and freedom.
From the Battle of Belleau Wood to the Battle of the Bulge, from Korea to Kosovo, the story of the last century is of an America that accepted the heavy responsibility of its historic obligation to serve as not just a beacon of hope, but to work with allies across the world to defend and extend the frontiers of freedom.
But today, we confront a dual danger two major detours from the true path of American leadership. On one side is President Bush who has taken America off onto the road of unilateralism and ideological preemption. On the other side are those in my own party who threaten to take us down a road of confusion and retreat.
Iraq has been ground zero in that ideological tug of war, with difficult decisions that had to be made, and complicated issues of national security that had to be discussed with Americans honestly and responsibly.
When America needed leadership on Iraq, Howard Dean was all over the lot, with a lot of slogans and a lot less solutions. One moment he supported authorizing the use of force, the next he criticized those who did. He said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, then he said hed figured out that he didnt. He said he opposed the war all along, but less than a month before it began he said that if the U.N. wouldnt enforce its own mandates, then unilateralism is a regrettable, but unavoidable choice.
And at other times, Governor Dean said that we should not go into Iraq unless the UN Security council gave us authorization. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of how a President protects the United States. I have said many times I believe that America should have worked to get international backing before going to war. Our diplomacy should have been as good as our soldiers. A true international coalition would have been better for our troops, better for our security, better for Iraqs future. Perhaps it reflects inexperience, but for Howard Dean to permit a veto over when America can or cannot act not only becomes little more than a pretext for doing nothing it cedes our security and presidential responsibility to defend America to someone else -- a profound danger for both our national security and global stability.
The Democratic Party has always been stronger than that. Woodrow Wilson led America in a fight for self-determination and against old empires. Franklin Roosevelt defended freedom from fascism. Harry Truman contained the expansion of communism and introduced the Marshall Plan. John F. Kennedy pledged a long twilight struggle to end the Cold War. Jimmy Carter renewed Americas commitment to human rights around the world. And from Haiti to Bosnia, Bill Clinton placed Americas might on the side of Americas values while he expanded our circle of allies at the same time. And none of them would ever have given others the power to prevent America from defending its interests or its ideals.
To follow the path that Howard Dean seems to prefer is to embrace a Simon Says foreign policy where America only moves if others move first. And that is just as wrong as George Bushs policy of schoolyard taunts and cowboy swagger. Our job is to lead the world to a better place, to convince allies of mutual interest and global responsibilities.
We need a President who will not walk away from a dangerous world and a President who will not walk alone by choice but a President who will lead a new alliance of free nations to build a new era of security and peace. A President who will rally democratic countries to join in a lasting coalition to address the common ills of a new century terrorism, loose nukes, and drug trafficking, environmental destruction and epidemic disease. And with your help, thats the kind of President I will be.
I believe it was right to hold Saddam Hussein accountable for violating UN agreements. I believed then and I believe now authorizing force was the only way to get inspectors in, and the only way ultimately to enforce Saddam Husseins compliance with the mandate he had agreed to, knowing that as a last resort war could become the ultimate weapons inspections enforcement mechanism.
And I also believe that those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe we are not safer with his capture dont have the judgment to be President or the credibility to be elected President.
A year and a half ago, as this campaign was starting, I argued that for Democrats to win America's votes we must first convince the voters that we will keep America safe.
I believed then and I believe now that Americans deserve better than a false choice between force without diplomacy and diplomacy without force. To provide responsible leadership, we need to take the third path in foreign policy a bold, progressive internationalism backed by undoubted military might that commits America to lead in the cause of human liberty and prosperity. If Democrats do not stand for making America safer, stronger, and more secure, we wont win back the White House and we wont deserve to.
We need a President who can take us back to Americas rightful path in the world because President Bush has taken us so far off course. Whether it is failing to support a new Afghanistan or supporting a failed coup in Venezuela, whether it is pushing the world away on the Kyoto treaty or pushing the world into danger over North Korea, this Administrations go-it-alone attitude has endangered our interests and enraged those who should be our friends.
Nowhere is that clearer than in Iraq. The Bush Administration has not just been unilateralist in war, but unilateralist in the ongoing guerilla struggle. And we have been paying too high a price in dollars and the deaths of young Americans to continue down this road. Lets be clear: Our problems in Iraq have not been caused by one man and simply capturing Saddam Hussein does not finally and fully clear the path to a peaceful and democratic outcome. This is a moment of opportunity, a turning point when the Administration can and should face the realities of how you gain international support in this effort. We cannot expect other nations to join us now if the Administration prohibits them from sharing the reconstruction because they opposed us previously. That not only defies common sense its childish retribution which puts our troops at greater risk. Its time we leave no doubt what we believe: Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people, not Halliburton and Bechtel.
The Administrations reluctance to share power and responsibility is all the more stunning because it prevents them from investing Europe and Middle Eastern neighbors in their own self-interest not to have a failed state on their doorsteps and borders.
Saddams capture is a victory for the Iraqi people; they no longer need to fear the return of a brutal dictator who terrorized them for so long. But Saddams capture also represents a vital chance for the United States to build the coalition to win the peace that we should have built to win the war. To offer a real invitation to the rest of the world that says: Join us. Share the burden of creating a peaceful and stable Iraq because your security depends on it too.
The threat of Saddam himself is gone. But the threat of terror continues to reach from the streets of Baghdad and the Middle East to the streets of Asia, Europe, and America itself. We must not waste this opportunity to rebuild alliances, both in Iraq and against global terrorism.
We owe this kind of internationalism first of all to our troops. Today American soldiers in Iraq fear getting shot while getting a drink of water. They wonder whether the old station wagon driving toward their checkpoint will explode when it gets there. For their sake, we must put aside arrogance and swagger and enlist other countries to share the burden and the authority in Iraq so that we get the targets off the back of our soldiers. We need tools of diplomacy equal to the tools of war. Our forces are doing their job and doing their best. Now its time for America to have leaders that do the same.
With Saddam in custody, with others who did not join us in Iraq now celebrating that fact, we must reach out to the U.N. and our allies and internationalize the reconstruction of Iraq. I hope that the President exercises that kind of leadership.
Unfortunately, on three different occasions, when he could have led in the past, he stubbornly refused to do so.
The first opportunity came last fall after Congress authorized the use of force. President Bush promised America he would work with the UN Security Council to meet our common challenge. Instead, he refused to give the inspectors time and rushed to war without our allies.
There was a second opportunity after the Iraqi people pulled down Saddam Husseins statue in Baghdad. Again, the President could have worked with the United Nations to share the burden of rebuilding Iraq to ensure that the Iraqi people would not see us as an occupying power. And again, the President chose to let America shoulder the burden alone.
Then this Fall, the President addressed the UN General Assembly. Other nations stood ready to stand with us to provide troops and funds to stabilize Iraq. But instead of asking for their help, the President repeated the old formulas of his unilateralism, raising the risk for American soldiers and the bill to the American treasury.
Today, the risk is still too high and the bill is still too large. But today, we have also been given that rare fourth chance to set things right. We can return to the world, reject the idea of going it alone and hoarding all the power, and forge a shared response to the challenges of Iraq. No more snubbing allies, no more stonewalling the U.N., and no more sham coalitions. Its time to win the peace, and its time to do it right.
So President Bush needs to take four immediate steps.
First, go back to the international community and to the United Nations and offer a real partnership in Iraq. We need a new Security Council resolution to give the United Nations authority in the rebuilding process and the development of a new Iraqi Constitution and government. Ambassador Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority should be sincerely thanked for their service and replaced by a UN Special Representative in Iraq who will remove the stigma of foreign occupation from our presence there. The United States has ample power and influence to establish a working relationship which guarantees indeed guides us toan outcome which meets our goals and security needs.
Second, the UN authorization for international forces in Iraq is finally in place, but to expand participation we have to share responsibility, which the Administration still wont do. We need to conduct real diplomacy with the goal of really getting boots on the ground.
As we internationalize the work in Iraq, we need to add 40,000 troops the equivalent of two divisions to the American military in order to meet our responsibilities elsewhere especially in the urgent global war on terror. In my first 100 days as President, I will move to increase the size of our Armed Forces. Some may not like that. But today, in the face of grave challenges, our armed forces are spread too thin. Our troops in Iraq are paying the price for this everyday. Theres not enough troops in the ranks of our overall armed forces to bring home those troops that have been in Iraq for more than a year.
President Bushs policies have overextended our military and turned reserves into fulltime soldiers. Iowa, with a population of less than three million people, is in the Top 10 states in the proportion of National Guard troops on active duty; more than 2,600 of Iowa's 9,500 Army and Air Guard soldiers have been activated. George Bush and Don Rumsfeld say we have enough troops. I think theyre putting politics and pride ahead of what is right for our soldiers, our reserves, and our security.
Third, we need a reasonable plan and a specific timetable for self-government, for transferring political power and the responsibility for reconstruction to the people of Iraq. That means completing the tasks of security and democracy in that country not cutting and running in order to claim a false success for the sake of the 2004 election. The timing of events in Iraq should not be keyed to the timetable of the Bush re-election campaign. Genuinely engaging the Iraqi people in shaping new institutions is fundamental to the long term cause of a stable, peaceful, and independent Iraq that contributes to the world instead of threatening it.
The actions we now take to try Saddam Hussein can advance that hope or set it back. Justice must come to a brutal tyrant who has threatened the world and murdered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens.
But it must come through a new American partnership with the people of Iraq and of the international community. This is a unique time when we can show and not just speak the values of a free and just society to Iraqis, to the rest of the Arab world, and to our own people here at home. We can demonstrate in an unforgettable way that the rule of law includes rights that cannot be denied even to a despot. What a powerful signal that would be a signal that would reverberate across the globe and even across generations.
So the question of how to structure the trial of Saddam Hussein is not just a legal issue; it is a test of our values and our intentions. Saddam Hussein committed heinous crimes against the Iraqi people and the international community, but we cannot try him in some kind of kangaroo court without due process of law. To do so would reinforce our image as an occupying power and set back the cause of a new beginning in Iraq. We need to work with the Iraqi leadership to create a path to true justice that is fair and credible in their eyes, in the eyes of other Arab and Muslim people, and in the eyes of the international community.
After working with the Cambodian government and the United Nations for years to form the upcoming genocide tribunal in Cambodia, it is clear to me that we cannot and must not ignore the emotional and political stake the Iraqi people have in this issue. But as I saw in Cambodia, the international community also has a major stake in the quest for justice.
The Iraqi people should see the trial firsthand because that will prove once and for all that Saddam Hussein is gone. It was important that Nazi war criminals be tried in Germany, just as it will be important that those responsible for the Killing Fields be tried in Cambodia. Trying Saddam Hussein in Iraq will provide an essential sense of closure for the Iraqi people. And we and the world have a deep interest in showing the Iraqi people that a judicial process with transparency, fairness, and justice can provide accountability and a penalty that fits the crime.
Thats why I believe a mixed tribunal, in which international judges, prosecutors, and investigators work alongside Iraqis, is the best guarantee of a fair and valid process. While setting up a credible mixed tribunal in Iraq may be more difficult then going to an international tribunal in the Hague, I believe it will be more credible in the long term; it will give Iraqis a place and a stake in the process and it will lead to a stronger judicial system in that country for years to come.
Fourth, as we establish the rule of law, we urgently need to rebuild a sense of basic order. Today lawlessness and chaos, rampant violence and property destruction, threaten Iraqis and undermine the creation of a civil society. The job properly belongs to the new Iraqi security forces. And the United States and the allies we enlist need to do a far better job of training them and then transferring authority to them.
The Iraqi military battalion we just trained suffered a massive desertion when about half the troops left over inadequate pay. We need to get the planning right and stop making elementary mistakes. We need realistic support, equipment and pay. And we need to get this Iraqi Security force into shape to achieve early successes so that Iraqis can have confidence in their army and the troops can have confidence in themselves.
Iraqi police forces also need adequate training and mentoring. Here at home, a police officer has four to six months of training. We may not have that luxury in Iraq, but training must be sufficient not just speedy. And the police forces too need real support, equipment and pay. Countries like Italy, France, and Spain have national police forces with a paramilitary capability. They could contribute by preparing and mentoring a similar Iraqi force.
But they wont do it unless the Bush Administration changes course, renounces unilateralism, and turns a new page in Iraq and in all our international relations. We must lead, not order.
We should be prepared to act to protect our interest, but we must also be ready to listen to others.
So leadership is the issue abroad and at home.
In a world shadowed by terrorism, Americans are asking. Who can best defend us? Who can meet the challenge of this dangerous time? In the next election, Democrats owe the American people more than anger; we owe them answers. To earn their trust, we must prove by our experience and our vision that our approach to national security and foreign policy is strong and credible and the best way to defend our nation.
I am here to say that holding Saddam accountable was important, even if not always popular. I am here to say that doing nothing would have been the most dangerous path of all. But I am also here to say that the price of unilateralism in Iraq is too high, and Americans are paying it in resources that could be used for health care, education, and our security here at home. We are paying that price in respect lost around the world respect we need to win the war not just in one country, but the global war on terror. And most important, the price is paid in the lives of young Americans forced to shoulder the burden of this mission alone.
We must change a course of unilateralism and pre-emptive war that is radically wrong for America. Saddams capture offers even this Administration the chance to make change. And if we as Democrats are to change America, we cannot seek to replace the Bush unilateralism with confusion and retreat. Lets bring in our allies, take the target off our troops, and lets finally win the peace in Iraq. In a time of fear, in a uncertain world, lets affirm that Americas security depends on our own strength, but also on our ideals, and on the will and wisdom to forge a new era of internationalism where this nation truly and proudly is, as Lincoln said, the best hope of earth.