Transcript: Kerry on Assessment of Iraq Situation

FDCH E-Media
Thursday, September 23, 2004; 12:35 PM

At a campaign event in Columbus, Ohio, Sen. John F. Kerry disagreed with Iraqi interim prime minister Ayad Allawi’s view of the situation in Iraq, as presented this morning to a joint meeting of congress. Kerry said Allawi’s purpose was to put the “best face” on President Bush’s policy. Here is a transcript.

KERRY: I want victory. I want to win. And I have a better plan to win than George Bush does.

_____Kerry on the Trail_____
Kerry Says Allawi's Speech Contradicts Reality in Iraq (Associated Press, Sep 23, 2004)

The president says that things are getting better in Iraq and we must just stay the same course. Well, I disagree. They’re not getting better and we need to change the course to protect our troops and to win.

Before the war, the president said that there were lots of terrorists causing the trouble; that’s why we had to go to war. Just yesterday he says to the American people, now that we are at war, that there are only a handful of terrorists. And yet only two days earlier Prime Minister Allawi said, “That’s not true, thousands of terrorists are crossing the borders and entering into Iraq. “

It has become a magnet for terrorism. And that is what Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

We have an administration in disarray. The secretary of defense saying one thing and being corrected. The president saying one thing and being contradicted by the prime minister. The secretary of state saying one thing and being contradicted by the president.

America needs leadership that tells the truth. George Bush just yesterday said, he was just -- the CIA was just guessing on Iraq. Just guessing, America? The CIA?

They’re not just guessing. They’re giving the president of the United States their best judgment. It’s called an analysis. And the president ought to read it and he ought to study it and he ought to respond to it.

The president says, “Just stay the course and everything will be fine. “ I laid out a plan in New York to win.

KERRY: I laid out a plan which will help America protect our troops.

We need to bring other allies to the table. The president skedaddled out of New York so quickly he barely had time to talk to any leaders.

We need a summit. We need to bring people to the table. We need to behave like we are at war and respect the lives of our soldiers that are being lost because we are at war. They deserve better leadership. They deserve a mission with a plan that can succeed.

A president’s true test of leadership is how he responds when things are going wrong. You need to be prepared to tell the truth. And I think that a president who fails to admit his mistakes is a president who proves that he doesn’t know how to make the course correct.

A commander in chief’s first obligation in time of war is to tell the truth, to be straight with our soldiers and our citizens. That’s what we need today.

I have a plan to make us successful, and I wish the president would implement that plan now.

Happy to answer any questions.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Allawi told Congress today that democracy was taking hold in Iraq and that the terrorists there were on the defensive. Is he living in the same fantasy land as the president?

KERRY: I think the prime minister is, obviously, contradicting his own statement of a few days ago, where he said the terrorists are pouring into the country.

The prime minister and the president are here, obviously, to put their best face on the policy. But the fact is that the CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operations and the troops all tell a different story.

Yesterday I read the report of a deputy director of the Provisional Coalition Authority. He’s now returned to the United States. And his report was really pretty devastating. He wrote that we are losing the peace. He wrote that we are not getting the reconstruction aid out, that only 5 percent of the money has been spent. He wrote of the levels of unemployment and of the difficulties of people who are earning money throwing grenades at American soldiers.

KERRY: He wrote of the decisions that this administration had made that have made this situation more difficult than it needs to be.

I hope democracy will take hold. I want democracy to take hold. But at the moment I think most people would tell you that the United States and the Iraqis have retreated from whole areas of Iraq. There are no-go zones in Iraq today. You can’t hold an election in a no-go zone.

So it’s time to talk the truth and the reality about the numbers of troops on the ground.

I want success. Let me emphasize this. From day one, I have said we need to be successful. From day one, I have offered a road to success. From day one, this president has chosen a different course of action. And we Americans are paying a price in the lives of our young and in the dollars being spent by Americans because this president has stubbornly refused to embrace good advice and has stubbornly continued to pursue his own road.

I think it’s the wrong road, and I think we need to change.

QUESTION: Senator, how do you (inaudible) stop the kidnappings and the beheading?

KERRY: You have to provide security. And the only way to provide security adequately is to rapidly train the forces. This administration has not done that.

I mean, look, if you’re serious about this, folks, put some people on a 747. And I remember how we got plenty of troops into Vietnam on chartered airliners. Why don’t we put some people on airplanes and fly them to countries and train them there if their troops are unwilling to go into the country?

There are plenty of ways to do more rapid training. You can do more rapid training in nearby countries.

Secretary Rumsfeld misled the American people about the numbers of troops that have been trained. Look, he told America there were 210,000 armed forces. The secretary of defense didn’t tell the truth to the American people.

KERRY: Then he told Congress there were 95,000. He didn’t tell the truth to the Congress. There were 5,000 -- 5,000.

That’s a disgrace. It’s a disgrace that the secretary of defense doesn’t tell the truth to the American people. And it’s a disgrace that this president doesn’t hold anybody in his administration accountable for failure.

These are not small miscalculations. These are miscalculations which are costing lives, costing America’s reputation in the world. These are miscalculations of judgment.

And that’s what we hire a president for, is to exercise the right judgment. I think this president has exercised the wrong judgment from day one, and that’s why we need a change.

QUESTION: You criticized, to the AP, the president for retreating, I believe was your word, from Fallujah. Given the situation on the ground in Fallujah when there was an offensive there, when there was a rising civilian death toll, rising criticism among Arab media for our actions there, what would you have done differently?

KERRY: Let me tell you, I’ve said many times, I wouldn’t have just done one thing differently in Iraq, I would have done almost everything differently.

And when you people judge me, and the American people judge me on this, I want you to judge me on the full record.

I stood in Fulton, Missouri, and I gave the president advice about what he needed to do. He didn’t take it.

I stood at Georgetown University a year and a half ago and I gave the president advice about what he needed to do. He didn’t take it.

I stood on the floor of the Senate and gave him advice about what he needed to do. He didn’t take it.

I’ve laid out a whole series of things I would have done that would have prevented Fallujah.

Let me tell you, if the 4th Infantry Division and the diplomacy had been done with Turkey, you wouldn’t have had a Fallujah. This president rushed to war, without a plan to win the peace.

And ask the military leaders. Go ask the military leaders. General Shinseki told this country how many troops we’d need. The president retired him early for telling the truth.

That’s why you have Fallujah. That’s why you have a mess in Iraq. And that’s not the leadership this nation deserves.

Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.


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