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Kerry on Iraq: "This May be Our Last Chance to Get It Right"

Aired April 30, 2004 - 14:15   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's turn to politics now. Presumptive Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry at Westminster College in Missouri. A week ago the vice president was there, had some harsh things to say. This is bit of a retort. Let's listen.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... rejecting his call for closer ties, even with Great Britain, "The Wall Street Journal" said that the United States wants no alliance or anything that resembles an alliance with any nation. Well, some things never change.

But what was true in 1946 is still true today. America must lead a broad coalition against our adversaries. And we must be a beacon of values as well as strength in order to succeed. This is our duty. It's our obligation to those great leaders of half a century ago who set us on the course to victory in the Cold War, starting right here at Fulton.

So you don't come to Fulton to give a speech. You come to Fulton to honor a tradition and to give the country and the world the gift of hard truths and a sense of hope. Both are needed...


KERRY: Both are needed today as we stand on the eve of the anniversary in this country of the day that major combat operations were declared over in Iraq, and the president declared "mission accomplished."

I don't think there's anyone in this room today or 6000 miles away who doesn't wish that those words had been true. But we've seen the news. We've seen the pictures and we know that we are living through days of great danger.

What anniversaries give us is the time to reflect, not about where we've been but about what might be possible, possible for our men and women in the military, the Iraqi people, and for allies all around the world.

This anniversary is not a time to shout. It's not a time for blame. It is a time for a new direction in Iraq and for America to work together so that, once again, this nation...

(APPLAUSE) KEERY: It is a time for America to work together so that once again this nation leads in a way that brings the world to us and with us in our efforts.


KERRY: In the end, and this is common sense, understood, I think, by most Americans, America is safer and stronger when it is respected around the world, not just feared.


KERRY: To move to that place of promise and possibility, we must all see and share in the hard truths that are all around us. We know that there's no harder truth than when an American pays the ultimate sacrifice for our country. At this moment 722 men and women have fallen.

Eulogies and rifle salutes and the last lone note of "Taps" have echoed around our towns. The sacrifice is profound and grief beyond measure, and the country's gratitude is real and eternal. I...


KERRY: I will share with you that it is a grief and a gratitude that lasts for all time because when I arrived here in Columbia, a big sign was held up over a fence. I didn't know these people were going to be there. But they were cousins, family members of one of my best friends who was killed in Vietnam.

And they came here holding that sign which said "Don Drow's (ph) country." This is where he came from, Missouri. And the hard truth is that we know now that more lives will be lost until the mission is truly accomplished. And our duty is to make sure that parents, families and friends who lost loved ones will know that they did not die in vain.


KERRY: We also know that for more than 135,000 families, the ongoing burden of this mission is something that they feel every day. The truth is that there's an empty seat in the church pew on Sunday, there's an extra car in the driveway and one less friend to phone for a movie on a Friday night.

And the reasons that summoned Americans to service vary. It might be the story of a young man or woman that was called to duty on the wake of September 11, or by a family tradition of service to our country, or it may be a small businessperson who was called to Reserve or National Guard duty like Liza Spence (ph).

We thank Liza for her service and for being here today. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE) KERRY: These are people who were called first for a few weeks, but now serve indefinitely. They answered the call of service. They did their duty. But we now know that our military was sent into battle without the right equipment.

Helicopter pilots have flown battlefield missions without the best available antimissile systems. We now know that roughly one- fourth of coalition deaths have occurred as a result of attacks on unarmored vehicles because we don't have enough armored vehicles to go around. We didn't send enough.

We now know that our failure to forge and to lead a true coalition has forced thousands in the National Guard and Reserves to be away from families and jobs for more than a year with no end in sight.

And we now know that civilians from half a dozen allied countries have been kidnapped, hundreds of Iraqi civilians have been murdered in terrorist attacks.

In addition, many of the Iraqi military and police whom we trained have refused to fight or fought inefficiently, and extremists in major cities are rallying, challenging our resolve and vowing to drive us out.

This is a moment of truth in Iraq, not just for this administration, the country, the Iraqi people, but for the world. This may be our last chance to get it right. And we...


KERRY: We need to put pride aside to build a stable Iraq. We must reclaim our country's standing in the world by doing what has kept America safe and made it more secure before, leading in a way that brings others to us so that we are respected, not just feared around the globe.

This will not be easy, especially now, after the decisions of the last year, a hard truth that sometimes fails to get through the newspapers and daily reports. But we can accomplish the mission and we must, because I can tell you from personal experience, we owe it to the brave men and women who stand in harm's way at this moment. In America...


KERRY: In America, we are blessed. When you stop and think about what it takes for those individuals who risk their lives, say good-bye to their families, go so far away to serve their country, it's a profound gesture of honor. It symbolizes the spirit of America, that there are men and women ready to do what it takes to live and to lead by our values.

I met so many of them when I served in Vietnam. And I have met so many of them since, from Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo and from Iraqi Freedom. Their love of country and since of duty is special. And it's something that they carry with them and one carries with them always.

And it's because of them and those who carry on today that, together, we have got to do what it takes to get this done right. We have to -- we have to come together as never before. Not just the United States but other nations, to build a stable Iraq. Not just to finish the mission but to remind the world that a shared endeavor can bring the world closer toward peace.

As complicated as Iraq seems, there are really only three basic options. One, we can continue to do this largely by ourselves, and hope more of the same works. Two, we can conclude it's not doable, pull out and hope against hope that the worst doesn't happen in Iraq. Or three, we can get the Iraqi people and the world's major powers invested with us in building Iraq's future.

Mistakes have complicated our mission and jeopardized our objective of the stable, free Iowa caucus with a representative government and securer in its borders. And we may have differences about how we went into Iraq, but we do not have the choice just to pick up and leave and leave behind the failed state, a new haven for terrorists, a creator of instability in the region.

I believe that failure, that just not staying the course is not an option in Iraq. But it is also true -- but it is also true that staying the course cannot simply be an excuse for more of the same. Here -- here is how we should and must proceed.

First, we must create a stable and secure environment in Iraq. And that will require a level of forces equal to the demands of the mission. To do this right we have to truly internationalize both politically and militarily. We cannot defend on a U.S.-only presence.

In the short term -- in the short term, if our commanders believe they need more American troops, then they should say so and they should get them and get what they need. But more and more American soldiers cannot be the only solution. Other nations have a vital interest in the outcome. And they must be brought to that interest and brought to that outcome.

To accomplish this we must do the hard work to get the world's major political powers to join in this mission. And to do so, the president must lead. He must build a coalition of key countries, including the United Kingdom and France and Russia and China, the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, to share the political and military responsibilities and burdens of Iraq with the United States.

The coalition should endorse the Brahimi plan for an interim Iraqi government, and it should propose an international high commissioner to work with the Iraqi authorities on the political transition. And it should organize and expand its international security force, preferably with NATO but clearly under U.S. command, and not necessarily with NATO.

Once these elements are in place that coalition would then go to the U.N. for a resolution from the U.N. to ratify the agreement. The U.N. would provide the necessary legitimacy. And the U.N. is not the total solution, we all know that. But it is a key that opens the door to participation by others, as is the international diplomacy that brings that initial group of people together.

In parallel, the president must also go to NATO members and others to contribute the additional military forces and go to NATO to take on an organizing role. NATO is now a global security organization and Iraq must be one of its global missions because of its global implications.

To bring NATO -- to bring NATO members in and others, the president must immediately and personally reach out and convince them that Iraqi security and stability is that global interest, that all must contribute to.

He must also convince NATO as an organization that Iraq should be a NATO mission, a mission consistent with the principles of collective security that have formed the basis of the alliance's remarkable history in the pursuit of peace and security.

To bring others in is the imperative, so that we share responsibility and authority. When NATO members have been treated with respect, they have always, always answered the call of duty. And so, too, with key other contributors. Everyone has a huge stake in whether Iraq survives its trial by fire, or whether it is consumed and become as breeding ground for terror, a place of intolerance and fear.

Now, I know that some will say that this is an impossible task. But I believe it is doable with the right approach. We must lead but we must listen. We must use every -- we must use every tool of diplomacy and of persuasion to bring other along because of mistakes.

I also understand that perhaps NATO cannot undertake the entire Iraq mission right away. But it could possibly take control of Iraq's borders, take responsibility for northern Iraq and/or the Polish sector, and train Iraq's army. If NATO did this, it would free up as many as 20,000 American troops and open the door for other countries outside of NATO to participate.

The immediate goal is to internationalize the transformation of Iraq, to get more foreign forces on the ground to share the risk and reduce the burden on our own forces. And that is the only way to succeed in this mission while ending the sense of American occupation. That is imperative.

We must take these steps because there is greater strength in greater numbers and stronger alliances. And failure to move forward will be seen as a failure of American leadership. And we will pay a price in the future.

The second key element is the high commissioner. Backed by a new broadened security coalition, that person should be charged with overseeing elections. The drafting of the constitution and coordinating reconstruction. The commissioner should be highly regarded by the international community and have the credibility of the international community to be able to talk to all of the Iraqi people.

This commissioner should be directed to work with Iraq's interim government, the new U.S. ambassador and the international community after June 30 to ensure a process that continues to move forward on the path towards sovereignty. And while focusing on the immediate needs of the Iraqis themselves, that will permit us to move forward.

The Iraqi people desperately need financial and technical assistance that's not swallowed up by bureaucracy and by no-bid contracts to favored companies. They need help that goes directly into the hands of grass roots organizations and reaches people. They need to see the tangible benefits of reconstruction in the form of jobs, infrastructure and services, and the advancement of Iraqis themselves.

And they need to be able to communicate their concerns to international authorities without feeling that they're being insulted and disrespected in their own country.

Third -- third -- third, we need a massive training effort to build Iraqi security forces that can actually provide security for the Iraqi people. We must accept the effort to date has failed. It must be rethought and reformed. Training cannot be hurried. It has to be done in the field and on the job as well as in the classroom.

And units cannot be put on the street without backup from international security forces. They cannot be rushed into battle before they are ready. This is a task to do in partnership with other nations.

And it will be facilitated when it is done with other nations. And this is a task which must be successful. If we fail to create a viable Iraqi security force, military and police, there's no successful effort for us or for other nations.

Now, the question, why would other nations join a cause that they did not support in the first place, particularly when they see what's happening? For one simple reason. It is in their profound self interest, and the president needs to put that self interest on the table and put it clearly before the world. That's what leadership is all about. That's what we need to do.

For the Europeans, Iraq's failure could endanger the security of their oil supplies, further radicalize their large Muslim populations, threaten destabilizing refugee flows and seed a whole new source of terrorism which they have also felt the brunt of.

And for Iraq's neighbors, a civil war in Iraq could draw them in, put moderates in the region on the defensive and radicals on the rise. And a civil war could threat the regimes in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. These compelling interests have always existed. And they must now be the central piece of a diplomatic effort long overdue.

Will a new approach in Iraq be difficult to achieve? Yes. Is there a guarantee of success? No. In light of all the mistakes that have been made, no one can say that success is certain, but I can say that if we do not try, failure is all too likely and too costly.

If the president -- if the president will take the needed steps to share the burden and make progress in Iraq, if he leads, then I will support him on this issue. When Winston Churchill came to Westminster and defined the great mission of the Cold War, he called on free nations to canned together against tyranny.

America's leader at that moment of history was a tough and visionary son of Missouri named Harry Truman. President Truman -- President Truman could have used America's power as an excuse to go it alone in the world. Instead, he joined with the leaders of many nations to create institutions like NATO and other alliances in order to preserve peace, in order to spur economic progress and in order to address global problems together.

Much has changed since Churchill spoke here. The institutions created more than half a century ago remain useful, however, and very relevant. But yesterday's designs are not sufficient for today's needs. Our institutions and our alliances have to adapt to new opportunities and to new threats. New enemies must be confronted by new strategies, and America must lead in new ways.

But even as we contemplate what has changed, we must also remember what has not. Our belief in the rights and dignity of every human being, our faith -- our faith in democracy is the best form of government in all of human history. Our confidence -- our confidence in America's capability to lead allies and friends to stand together and build a world more peaceful, prosperous and just than we have ever known before.

That was our mission in Churchill's time. And for all the differences of time and circumstances, that is our urgent need in Iraq today, and it is our enduring mission in the years ahead. There is pride in that and honor. And if we meet the test, my friends, we will have a world that is safer because of American leadership.

Thank you very much for the privilege of being here. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: The presumptive Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts in the same gymnasium where in 1946 Winston Churchill alongside President Harry Truman of that time warned of an iron curtain in the wake of World War II. Invited there after Monday's speech by Vice President Cheney was deemed by the president of Westminster College to be too critical.

In that speech, Vice President criticized Kerry's understanding of the broader struggle against terror and criticized his record of voting to cut military expenditures and military intelligence expenditures. And said this, "Had the decision belonged to Senator Kerry, Saddam Hussein would still be in power. Today in Iraq, in fact, Saddam Hussein would almost certainly be in control of Kuwait as well." The words of Vice President Cheney, Monday, same location.


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