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John Kerry
Iraq and the War on Terror—Remarks in Iowa
October 20, 2004 • Waterloo, IA

Thank you for that kind introduction. It’s an honor to be here at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center. We all know about those five brothers who were lost in the same ship in the Second World War, and what that kind of sacrifice means to American families and to our nation. Like the countless others who’ve given their lives in service, they are the greatness of America. We pause to salute them today and here in Waterloo every day you honor what they gave to our country.

I’m also honored to be surrounded this morning by four of our finest military leaders -- generals and admirals who know combat, who know what’s going on in Iraq, and who know what it takes to keep America safe. Admiral Stansfield Turner, former Director of the CIA, General Claudia Kennedy, the highest ranking woman to ever serve in our armed forces, General Edward Baca, former head of our National Guard, and General Melvyn Montano, of the National Guard – who both know how important our reservist and guard are to America’s defense, and who believe with me that they should never be subject to a backdoor draft.

And while they are not able to be here today, I am proud to have the support in this race, two former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff under both President Reagan and President Clinton – Admiral William Crowe and General John Shalikashvili. I’m proud that these leaders are standing with me not just in this campaign, but for the cause of a stronger America.

And I am proud to have the support of so many of the widows of 9-11 led by Kristen Breitweiser, who’s also with us today.

The other day, in a speech full of distortions, the president made it clear that he can’t talk about most of the issues in this election. He wants to make it solely a contest about national security. I welcome that debate. I believe a President must be able to defend this country and fight for the middle class. I believe a president has to do both at the same time. And I believe this president has failed to make our country as safe and secure as it should be.

America is fighting… and must win... two wars. The war in Iraq. And the war on terror.

President Bush likes to confuse the two. He claims that Iraq is the centerpiece of the war on terror. In fact, Iraq was a profound diversion from that war and the battle against our greatest enemy: Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network.

But now that we’re fighting two wars, we must… and we will… prevail in both. In Iraq, because the President’s miscalculations have created a terrorist haven that wasn’t there before. And in the worldwide struggle against the terrorists, because they attacked us … and because they represent the greatest threat to security in our time.

In Iraq, every week brings fresh evidence that President Bush doesn’t see what’s happening – isn’t leveling with the American people about why we went to war in Iraq…how the war is going – and has no idea how to put our policy back on track.

Here’s what Americans have learned over the past two weeks:

-- The President’s top weapons inspector in Iraq released a final, exhaustive study, with this damning conclusion: Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and no programs to produce them.

Iraq was in fact a diminishing threat. The main reason President Bush gave for rushing to war was wrong.

A CIA report found no clear link between Saddam's regime and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist behind the beheadings of Americans in Iraq and now an al Qaeda ally.

Before the war, the administration claimed that Zarqawi’s presence in Iraq was proof of an Al Qaeda-Saddam collaboration. That was wrong.

In fact, Zarqawi was operating out of a no-man’s land in North Eastern Iraq… next to territory controlled by America’s Kurdish allies… not by Saddam. He and his terrorist allies were reportedly producing Ricin, a horrific biological weapon. We could have… but did not… take them out. That was a terrible mistake that this administration has never explained.

Paul Bremer, the President’s man in Baghdad, and several senior generals have said the administration did not send enough troops to Iraq to manage the aftermath of the war.

That failure made it impossible to stop widespread looting and crime, to secure Iraq’s borders against terrorists, and to guard one million tons of ammunition and weapons that wound up in the hands of insurgents who are using them against our troops.

And the failure left a power vacuum filled by Saddam loyalists… Shi’a extremists… and international terrorists, who were not in Iraq before the war, but have found a haven there now.

And finally, the American people learned that, nine months ago, the top U.S. commander in Iraq pleaded with the Pentagon for critical supplies to counter the growing insurgency – all of which our troops should have before they want to war -- including 36,000 sets of body armor, and spare parts for tanks, helicopters and fighting vehicles.

The very next day, President Bush went out and declared that our troops were properly equipped.

That’s what Americans learned.

But what did the President learn? Apparently, nothing. He is in denial. He ignored these findings... just as, before the war, he ignored the uniformed military, leaders of both parties in Congress, and outside experts who predicted virtually every problem we now face in Iraq... just as today, against all the evidence, he insists that we’re making good progress.

But the facts are grim: the coalition has lost control of areas where 1 million Iraqis live. U.S. forces are attacked an average of 87 times a day – up 100% since the spring. Over 130 foreigners kidnapped in Iraq since March.

Make no mistake: our troops are the best-trained and best-led forces in the world, and they have been doing their job honorably and bravely. The problem is the commander-in-chief has not being doing his.

If President Bush cannot recognize the problems in Iraq, he will not fix them. I do recognize them and I’ll fix them.

All Americans are concerned about the outcome in Iraq. Now, they have a choice. More of the same failed policy. Or a fresh start.

The President believes we’re stronger when we act alone. I believe America is stronger when we lead strong alliances.

Getting more countries with us in Iraq won’t be easy now. In fact, this President makes it harder every day.

But, with new leadership, a fresh start, and new credibility, I believe it can be done… because chaos in Iraq is as bad for our allies and Iraq’s neighbors as it is for us. It’s in their self-interest to prevent Iraq from becoming a permanent terrorist haven in the heart of the Middle East.

First, we must show other countries that we have a clear strategy for success.

Right now, other countries don’t believe we have one… and they don’t want to be part of a failure.

Last month, I spelled out my strategy in detail. Now, President Bush claims my plan is what he’s already doing. He couldn’t be more wrong – or more out of touch with reality.

Last month, I said we had to get serious about training Iraqi security forces.

President Bush then boasted that we have “trained about 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other security forces personnel.” In fact, the Pentagon told Congress that we have trained only 22,700 minimally effective forces, including just 5,000 soldiers.

Instead of building a serious training program, the administration wasted 18 months putting untrained Iraqis into uniform to justify the inflated numbers it was giving out to the American public.

The result is that, for all their bravery, too few Iraqi security forces are ready for duty.

Here’s what my administration will do differently.

We will treat the training of Iraqi security forces as the war time emergency it is. We will urgently expand the training program inside and outside Iraq. We will strengthen the vetting of recruits… double classroom training time… and get serious about field training. We will recruit thousands of trainers from our allies and work with them to open training centers in Europe.

President Bush isn’t doing that. I will.

Last month, I said we must carry out a reconstruction plan that brings real benefits to the Iraqi people.

In his recent speech, the President claimed: “we’ve already allocated $7 billion for reconstruction efforts so more Iraqis can see the benefits of freedom.”

Here’s what he didn’t tell us. Allocated does not mean spent. It’s Washington-speak calculated to mislead Americans into thinking the government has done something it hasn’t.

In fact, only 8 percent of what this President promised has actually been spent.

And even worse, of the amount actually spent, just 27 cents on the dollar trickles down to projects that help Iraqis. Where do the other 73 cents go? To soaring security costs … corruption and mismanagement … and huge profits for contractors like Halliburton.

Is it any wonder that respected Republicans like Senator Richard Lugar talk about the “incompetence of the Administration” in Iraq?

Here’s what my administration will do differently.

We will target high visibility, quick impact projects… put the personnel we need in place… and cut through the red tape. We will use more Iraqi contractors and workers, instead of big corporations like Halliburton. We will stop paying companies under investigation for fraud and corruption. And we will fire the civilians in the Pentagon responsible for mismanaging the reconstruction program.

The President isn’t doing that. I will.

Last month, I said that we must take urgent, essential steps to guarantee promised elections can be held next year, including supporting the U.N. elections mission in Iraq

In his speech, the President said “those elections are already scheduled for January… and the U.N. is already there.”

But once again, that’s Washington speak and it’s misleading. Scheduled does not mean they have the ability to do it.

In fact, the U.N. says the elections are in grave doubt because of the deteriorating security situation. There are only five U.N. election experts on the ground in Iraq. We need hundreds more, but there is no security force in place to protect them.

Here’s what my administration will do differently.

We will recruit troops from other nations for a U.N. protection force. Unbelievably, we just learned that the President rejected an offer by Arab and Muslim nations to provide those troops. This was a costly failure of judgment, rooted in an ideological commitment to go it alone.

We will intensify the training of Iraqis to work at the polls and guard as many as 30,000 polling places. We will make sure an independent Iraqi electoral commission has the equipment and ballots it needs.

The President isn’t doing all this. I will.

If President Bush really thinks his administration is implementing my plan for Iraq, he’s even more out of touch with reality than I thought.

The second thing we must do to bring the world with us in Iraq is to give other countries a real say and a real stake – and treat them with respect.

At every turn… before the war… in its immediate aftermath… and today…this Administration has treated potential allies with disdain. As a result, nearly 90 percent of the coalition troops – and nearly 90 percent of the coalition casualties – are American.

Before the war, the U.N. Security Council voted 15-0 to demand that Saddam let the weapons inspectors back in… and threatened serious consequences if Iraq tried to stop them.

But our allies urged us to let the inspectors finish their work… and to make sure we had a plan to win the peace.

That was sound advice. It was reinforced here at home by General Brent Scowcroft, who was National Security Adviser to the first President Bush.

But this President wouldn’t listen. He rushed to war.

We’ll never know how many other countries would have been with us if this President had exercised sound judgment. But we do know that his disregard for other countries isolated America, not Iraq, from the rest of the world.

Then, immediately after we took Baghdad, the President missed another opportunity to bring other nations abroad.

Russia and India said they were open to sending peacekeepers… as many as 17,000.

Instead of accepting their offer, President Bush let Vice President Cheney talk him out of giving the U.N. the role in Iraq these countries said they needed to get involved. The president acted like the divider, not the uniter, of a global coalition.

Then, nine months after Saddam’s statue fell, with the insurgency taking root, this President made a third critical misstep. Instead of reaching out to allies to get their help in training Iraqi security forces – which should have been our most urgent priority – this administration issued a new order prohibiting countries that were not part of the original coalition from participating in any reconstruction contracts in Iraq.

Is it any wonder that the United States is still paying the overwhelming majority of the reconstruction costs in Iraq?

By treating other countries with contempt, President Bush gave them an excuse to stay on the sidelines instead of shouldering their responsibilities.

As President, I will treat our allies with respect. I will encourage them to help develop Iraq’s resources and to bid on contracts. I will establish an international advisory group for Iraq that includes our key allies, the world’s other major powers and Iraq’s neighbors… to give them a voice… and to give Iraq the support and breathing room it needs to succeed.

Last month, the president squandered a critical opportunity in New York, where he and other world leaders had gathered at the United Nations. I urged him to call a special summit on Iraq… right then and there… to get everyone in the room… and get commitments from them to send troops, trainers, a U.N. protection force, more financial aid and debt relief.

It was a decisive moment, but the President didn’t even try. I will lead and I believe others will follow.

This President says he’s a leader. Well Mr. President, look behind you. There’s hardly anyone there. It’s not leadership if we haven’t built the strongest alliance possible and if America is almost alone.

The President’s failures in Iraq have made us weaker, not stronger, in the war on terrorism. That is the hard truth. The President refuses to acknowledge it. But terrorism experts around the world do.

The Israelis know more about terrorism than anyone else because they have suffered more from it than anyone else – which is one reason we must always stand by their side.

And here’s what one of Israel’s leading institutions – the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies – just concluded in its annual report:

“…Iraq [is] a major distraction from the global war on terrorism. Iraq has now become a convenient arena for jihad, which has helped Al Qaeda to recover… The U.S. presence in Iraq now demands more and more assets that might have otherwise been deployed… against the global terrorist threat.”

The President diverted our forces and focus from Afghanistan to Iraq. When Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, the President should have sent U.S. forces -- not Afghan warlords – to surround the caves, and he should have used America’s best mountain troops and technology to hunt down, kill and capture the terrorists.

But Osama got away. And what did the President say? “I truly am not that concerned about him.”

And what is the result? Far from being destroyed, al Qaeda has spread, with thousands of militants plotting and planning in 60 countries… forging new relationships with at least 20 extremist groups in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Global terrorism is increasing, not receding. Since 9/11, the number of significant terrorist attacks has jumped to the highest level in 20 years.

The President took his eye off the terrorists.

I will stop at nothing to kill the terrorists before they kill us… and prevent others from taking their place.

That requires America to be strong. It also requires America to be smart.

My plan for winning the war on terrorism calls on the totality of America’s strength – our military, intelligence, economic and political power.

First, we will destroy terrorist networks by transforming our military and reforming our intelligence services.

I will expand our active duty forces by 40,000 soldiers… not for Iraq… but so that we have enough troops to fight the terrorists wherever they are. This administration has resisted that plan, while instituting a back-door draft for Iraq. They have it exactly backwards.

I will double the Army’s Special Forces capability to go after the terrorists. We will combine and grow the extraordinary fighting talent of all of our elite forces into the most versatile, deadly anti-terrorist force the world has ever known.

This administration opposed the creation of the 9/11 Commission, before bowing to public pressure. Now, it’s dragging its feet on the Commission’s bi-partisan recommendations to make America more secure.

Mr. President, it’s time for leadership. It’s time to implement the real 9/11 Commission intelligence recommendations that were passed by the Senate. Mr. President, if you don’t do it now, I will do it in January.

The President’s budget provides just 20 percent of the CIA’s needs for its Counter Terrorism Center… and shortchanges our counter-terrorism efforts across the intelligence community.

As President, I will change that. I will be a determined leader, not a reluctant follower, when it comes to intelligence reform and funding the intelligence community.

Second, we will 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.

A decade ago, we began a bipartisan program to help Russia secure and destroy those weapons. This President actually tried to cut that program… and even after 9/11, he flat-lined it. At the rate President Bush is going, it will take 13 years to secure all the loose weapons in the former Soviet Union. I will get the job done in 4 years.

I will also lead an international effort to end the dangerous nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran.

Under this President’s watch, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has gone from one to two nuclear bombs to six to eight bombs today. That means that North Korea… a country that will sell anything to anyone… can sell nuclear weapons to terrorists and still hold an arsenal in reserve. On George Bush’s watch, America is more threatened than ever before.

I will work with our allies to get the 6-party talks back on track. And I will talk directly to the North Koreans… as our South Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Russian partners have requested... and seek a verifiable, irreversible end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

North Korea is not the only gathering danger. While a divided administration has been bickering with itself about Iran, that country -- the world’s most active sponsor of state terrorism -- has advanced its nuclear program.

I will reassert American leadership. Iran must verifiably and permanently end the production of nuclear materials for weapons. If Iran refuses, I will lead the world to take tough measures, including sanctions.

Third, we will cut off terrorist financing.

According to the 9/11 Commission, this administration delayed pressuring the Saudis to shut down so-called charities that were in fact major sources of terrorist funding. They even waited until last week to turn off the financial pipeline to the terrorist the President so fervently denounces, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

As President, I will impose sanctions against any bank… and any nation… that fails to cooperate in the fight against money laundering. I will insist that the Saudis crack down on charities that funnel funds to terrorists… and on anti-American and anti-Israel hate speech. And I will pursue a plan to make America independent of Mideast oil… so that no country holds our security over a barrel of oil.

Fourth, we will protect the homeland.

Even as we stay on the offensive against the terrorists, we’ve got to strengthen our defense.

For example, 95 percent of the containers coming into our ports are not screened today. I will change that.

Today, your luggage is x-rayed when it goes on the plane, but the cargo in the hold underneath is almost never checked. I will change that.

More than 2 million rail cars and 500 train stations are used by commuters everyday. Yet, the Department of Homeland Security still has no strategy to defend them…even after the terrorist attacks in Madrid. I will change that.

Half our fire-fighters don’t have the radios they need to communicate in a crisis. I will change that.

More than 100 chemical plants in the United States are located in communities of one million or more people. The President caved to pressure from his big donors and dropped new plant security regulations. I will change that.

President Bush said during the debates that we don’t have enough money to do what we must to keep Americans safe because he’s determined to hold on to his tax cut for the wealthiest one percent of Americans.

I will change that, too.

I will never put a price tag on America’s security.

My plan will screen more shipping containers and more air cargo for explosives … invest in rail and subway security… defend our chemical and nuclear plants… increase border security…and give our first responders the equipment and personnel they need to protect America.

Fifth, we will deny the terrorists safe havens and new recruits...and promote freedom and democracy.

Today, terrorists find sanctuary, support and successors among hundreds of millions of people around the world who live in failing or repressive states… and who have no hope for the future.

I will refocus our attention and reform our institutions to prevent weak and failing states from becoming terrorist havens. We will lead the world to focus on economic development… debt relief… combating corruption… investing in global education…fighting infectious disease like HIV-AIDS. Each of these tools is a weapon in the war on terrorism.

I will launch a new era of public diplomacy to explain our policies to the world… and to combat lies and distortions about America.

And I will support the forces of progress in non-democratic countries… not with reckless campaigns to impose democracy by force from the outside… but by working with modernizers from the inside to build the institutions of democracy.

I believe we can succeed in Iraq and I know we can win the war on terror. We can defeat, capture and kill the terrorists.

What we need is not personal attacks for political advantage, but a capacity to see reality and a real plan for success.

As president, I will be resolute in confronting the evil that exists in the world. I will never hesitate to use force to confront and defeat any threat. I will never give any nation or organization a veto over our national security. I will build and lead strong alliances. And I will never forget that, 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, we will show the world that the future belongs to freedom, not to fear.

On the morning of September 11th, Kristen Breitweiser, a wife and mother, didn’t think she had a care in the world. But just after 9am, tragedy struck and in an instant, Kristen lost her husband and the father of her children.

Kristen has had the courage to take her unbelievable loss and transform it into an unbending determination to make America safe. She is here today, because she is doing everything we can to advance that cause.

I want a world where no American mother should have to lie awake at night worrying what tomorrow will bring -- whether her husband will be safe at work or her children will be safe at school the next day. No one should have to fear that students on a graduation trip to our nation’s capitol or one of our greatest cities 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. That is a great issue in this campaign and that is the great victory I will fight for as your President.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.


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