Kerry Speech Regarding War on Terror

FDCH E-Media, Inc.
Friday. September 24, 2004; 14:15

In the following speech at Temple Universtiy in Philadelphia, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) accused President George W. Bush of diverting attention from the war on terror by invading Iraq. Instead, Bush's focus should have been on finding Osama bin Laden, Kerry said.

KERRY: My fellow Americans, the most urgent national security challenge we face is the war against those who attacked our country on September 11th, the war against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida.

As president, I will fight a tougher, smarter, more effective war on terror. My priority will be to find and capture or kill the terrorists before they get us, and I will never take my eye off the ball. 


When we hear people pleading for their lives before being beheaded, and when we see the brutal images of people on their hands and knees facing execution; when we look at the images of children brutalized by remorseless terrorists in Russia, we know that this is not just a political or military struggle. 

It goes to the very heart of what we value most: our families, our freedom, our communities. 

KERRY: It strikes at the bond between mother and child. 

As president, I will make it my sacred duty to be able to say to every single mother and father in this country, I am doing everything in my power to keep your children and our country safe. 


We owe the American people a real debate about the choices that President Bush has made, not this phony kind of 30 second, 60 second, attack, attack, attack. A real debate, real ideas, a real discussion that goes to the heart of how you make America safe. 

We owe America a real debate about the choices that President Bush has made and the choices that I will make to fight and to win the war on terrorism.

President Bush was right to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban. I supported that decision, so did our country and our allies, so did the world. All those people that Joe just referred to who joined with us on September 12th with those headlines that said, All of us are Americans now. 

But since then, again and again, the president has made the wrong choices in the war on terror around the world and here at home.


Instead of using U.S. forces, the best trained military in the world, the most capable, the most willing to go out and capture Osama bin Laden, the president outsourced the job to Afghan warlords who let Osama bin Laden slip away. That was the wrong choice.


KERRY: Instead of listening to career uniformed military officers, instead of listening to his own State Department, to Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, and outside experts about how to win the peace in Iraq, he hitched his wagon to the ideologues who told him that our troops would be welcomed as liberators. That was the wrong choice.


Instead of responding to the greatest intelligence failure in our history with a rapid overhaul of our intelligence system, starting on day one, the president dragged his feet and actually resisted reform, stood on the side of the status quo, blocked new ideas, resisted creativity. 

After opposing the 9/11 Commission, after trying to block its extension, as you've heard from two wives who are principally responsible for helping to keep pushing to make it happen, after finally agreeing to testify, but only with Vice President Cheney at his side...


... he still fully refuses to implement all of the commission's recommendations. 

Those were -- all of them -- the wrong choices. 


Instead of proposing a department of homeland security, the president actually opposed it. And then, when he caved in to political pressure, he actually went out and exploited it for political purposes. That was the wrong choice. 


Instead of expanding programs to keep weapons of mass destruction in Russia out of terrorist hands, the president tried to cut the programs, and even after 9/11, did little to strengthen them. That was the wrong choice. 


Instead of facing the urgent nuclear dangers in North Korea and Iran, he allowed these dangers to mount on his presidential watch. 

KERRY: That was the wrong choice.


Instead of speaking forcefully to the Saudis and others about terrorist financing, instead of being able to hold people accountable for the money that flows to the terrorists, the president has said little and done less. That is the wrong choice.


Instead of providing our police, our firefighters and ambulance drivers with the equipment they need, instead of protecting ports, trains, subway lines, highways in their most potentially catastrophic places -- we all understand it's difficult to protect everything, but there are certain places where there's a chance for much greater catastrophe than others. 

Instead of defending nuclear plants and chemical factories, this president underfunded homeland security again and again. That is the wrong choice.


And as Joe Biden mentioned a moment ago -- and he meets with leaders all over the world, all the time; he knows this -- that instead of bringing the world together against the terrorists, the president alienated the countries whose help we need to defeat them. That was the wrong choice.


Yet in the face of all of these judgments, all of these misjudgments, all the miscalculations and all the mistakes, the president still says he wouldn't do anything different. 

I would. I will make very different choices in the war on terrorism.


My fellow Americans, I know what needs to be done and I know what has been done wrong. 

I begin with this belief: The war on terror is the monumental struggle of our time. It is as monumental a struggle as the Cold War. Its outcome will determine whether we and our children live in freedom or in fear. It is not, as some people think, a clash of civilizations. 

Radical Islamic fundamentalism is not the true face of Islam. 


KERRY: This is a clash between civilization and the enemies of civilization, between humanity's best hopes and most primitive fears. 

The danger we face today will become even greater if terrorists acquire what we know they are seeking -- weapons of mass destruction -- which they would use to commit mass murder. 

We are confronting an enemy and an ideology that must be destroyed. We are at war. We are in a war that must be won. 


Americans know this. We understand the stakes. 

On September 11th, there were no Democrats, no Republicans; we were only Americans. We stood together, we stood together in the ways that Joe described, in blood lines and helping lines, searching for people, helping to comfort our fellow Americans. 

We all supported the president. We all prayed for victory, because we love our country and we despise everything our enemies stand for. 

But three years after 9/11, we see our enemies striking in Spain, in Turkey, in Indonesia, in Kenya, and now every day in the most despicable, gruesome ways in Iraq, which was not a terrorist haven before the invasion. 


In fact, there were more terrorist attacks in the world last year than the year before. 

And we see an administration in confusion. We hear the president, the commander in chief proclaiming one day that the war can't be won, and then saying something different the next day. 

We hear the secretary of defense himself wondering whether the radicals are recruiting, training and deploying more terrorists than we're killing or capturing. 

Then yesterday, when asked about conditions in Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld told Congress, I quote, "Let's pretend, hypothetically, that you get to election time in January, and let's pretend that it's roughly like what it is or a little worse, which it could be, because you've got to expect it to continue. So be it. Nothing is perfect in life." 

Now, if there was any doubt that the leaders of the Bush administration are living in a fantasy world of spin, I think Secretary Rumsfeld put that to rest. 


My friends, we need to end this confusion. We need national leaders who will face reality, not only in Iraq, but in the whole war on terror. And we need a president who has no doubt that the war on terror can and must be won. 


KERRY: Let me be as blunt and direct with the American people as I can be. Let me tell you the truth, which is what America deserves.


The invasion of Iraq was a profound diversion from the battle against our greatest enemy, Al Qaida, which killed more than 3,000 people on 9/11 and which still plots our destruction today. 

And there's just no question about it, the president's misjudgment, miscalculation and mismanagement of the war in Iraq all make the war on terror harder to win. 

Iraq is now what it was not before the war: a haven for terrorists. 

George Bush made Saddam Hussein the priority; I would have made Osama bin Laden the priority.


As president, I pledge to you, America, I will finish the job in Iraq and I will refocus our energies on the real war on terror. I will wage this war relentlessly, with a single-minded determination to capture or kill the terrorists, crush their movements and free the world from fear. 

But to destroy our enemy we have to know our enemy. 


We have to understand that we are facing a radical, fundamentalist movement with global reach and a very specific plan. They are not just out to kill us for the sake of killing us. They want to provoke a conflict that will radicalize the people of the Muslim world, turning them against the United States and the West. 

KERRY: And they hope to transform that anger into a force that will topple the region's governments and pave the way for a new empire -- an oppressive, fundamentalist superstate stretching across a vast area from Europe to Africa, from the Middle East to Central Asia. 

That's their goal. 

And the American people have a right to hear the answer to a fundamental question: How are we going to win this war? What is our strategy for eliminating the terrorists, discrediting their cause, and smashing their forces so that America can actually be safer? 

Every week, too many American families grieve for loved ones killed in Iraq by terrorist forces that weren't even there before the invasion, many of which got their weapons from the very ammo dumps that George Bush didn't guard after we won the war -- after we won the military part of the war. 

The jihadist movement that hates us is gaining adherents around the world -- ask any leader. An estimated 18,000 Al Qaida-trained militants are operating in 60 countries around the world, in a dangerous and more elusive network of extremist groups. 

Al Qaida shouldn't be hitting us anywhere. They should be losing everywhere. We should be winning everywhere. That is the goal of our...


That will take time. It will not be easy, but it can be done. 

And I have a comprehensive strategy for victory over terrorism, something this administration has never put forward, never fought for, never really understood. 

First, I will build a stronger, smarter military and intelligence capability to capture or kill our enemies. As president, I will expand our Army, which is now overstretched, by 40,000 active duty troops, not for Iraq, but so that we have more soldiers to actually fight and find the terrorists in the places that they are. 

I will double our Army special forces capacity. And we will accelerate the development and the deployment of many new technologies to track down and bring down the terrorists. 

I will strengthen our intelligence system, something that should have started three years ago, not waiting for a 9/11 Commission and then resisting it, in order to detect and stop the terrorists before they can strike.

KERRY: By the morning of September 12th, everyone in America knew that our intelligence wasn't as good as it needed to be. But three years later, believe it or not, we read that the CIA unit charged with finding bin Laden has fewer experienced case officers today than it had before 9/11. 

When I am president, that will change. I will act immediately.


I will act immediately to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations and I will create a national intelligence director with all of the budget and personnel authority that the commission says is needed to keep America safe. It's long overdue.


I will double our overseas clandestine service, train the linguists and the Arab experts that we need, and make sure that the operation hunting down Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida has all of the resources that it needs. 

I will make Afghanistan a priority again, because it's still the front line in the war on terror. And all you have to do is ask General Tommy Franks how surprised he was that those troops got moved out of there when he was trying to do the job he was doing before the Congress had even approved moving to Iraq.

As president, I will not subcontract the fight to warlords who are out for nothing but power and personal gain. 

I will help the government of Afghanistan expand its authority beyond Kabul to the rest of the country. I will lead our allies to share the burden so that NATO finally provides even more troops and I will show the world that America finishes what it begins.


Second, and this is critical, I will move decisively to deny the terrorists the deadly weapons that 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. 

Twelve years ago, we began a bipartisan program -- Joe Biden knows about it; he was part of it with Senator Dick Lugar and others -- in order to help these nations secure and destroy those weapons.

KERRY: It is incredible and unacceptable that in the three years after 9/11, President Bush has not stepped up that effort to lock down those loose nuclear materials and weapons in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Much more materials were secured in the two years before 9/11 than in the two years afterwards. 

When I am president, denying our most dangerous enemies the world's most dangerous weapons will become the central priority for the United States of America. 


I will secure nuclear weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union within four years. 

Now, let me just remind America, we tried to upgrade the amount of money that was going into this effort and they said no. I say yes, because that's how you make America safer. 


At President Bush's current pace it will take 13 years. I don't think we can afford that when you know what's happened in the black market and in the underground of clandestine efforts. 

I will seek a verifiable global ban on the production of materials for nuclear weapons. 

Nowhere is the nuclear danger more urgent and more obvious to Americans than in Iran and North Korea. This week, Iran announced its intention to process enough raw uranium to create five nuclear weapons. 

I will make it clear to Iran that we will lead an international effort to impose tough sanctions if they do not permanently suspend their uranium enrichment program and provide verifiable assurances that they are not developing nuclear weapons. 

Yesterday, there were reports that North Korea is preparing to fire an intermediate range ballistic missile that may be able to carry a nuclear warhead. When President Clinton left office that was impossible. The rods, the fuel rods, the uranium and the television cameras and inspectors were in the reactor. 

But George Bush refused to talk to them at all for two years, just left them to their own devices, and they figured out their own way to get our attention. 

KERRY: I will work with our allies to get the six-party talks with North Korea back on track and I will talk directly to the North Koreans to get a verifiable agreement that will eliminate their nuclear weapons program completely and irreversibly.


My friends, we have to get serious about diplomacy with North Korea now and only then are we going to have the support that our allies need in order to have the kind of action that you might have to take if diplomacy were to fail. 

Third, as president, I will wage a war on terrorist finances every bit as total as the war we wage on the terrorists themselves.

We will trace terrorist funds to their sources and we will freeze the assets of anyone, any person, any bank or any foreign official who is financing terrorism. I know how to do this. 

As a senator, I exposed and I helped dismantle an international bank that was one of the early financiers of terrorism. It actually had $3 million of Osama bin Laden's money in it, as well as the money of drug transactions and underground weapons transactions.

We did it by following the money. We can and must do the same to choke off the dollars that are funding Al Qaida and its allies. 

And on this, let me make clear, I will grant no one, no country, no sweetheart relationship a free pass.


As president, I will do what President Bush has not done -- I will hold the Saudis accountable. 


Since 9/11, there have been no public prosecutions in Saudi Arabia and few elsewhere of terrorist financiers. And I will work with our allies, with the World Bank and international financial institutions to shut down the financial pipeline that keeps terrorism alive. 

And I will pursue a plan, most importantly, to make this great nation of ours with all of its creativity, with all of our colleges and universities and laboratories and scientists and venture capitalists -- we're going to pull together and we're going to embark on a great journey and make this nation independent of Mideast oil. 


KERRY: That is our mission.


My friends, I believe in and I want an America that relies on our own innovation and ingenuity, not the Saudi royal family. 


Fourth, as president I will make homeland security a real priority by offering a real plan and backing it with real resources. 

The first task is to prevent the terrorists and their tools of destruction from entering our country. We know that Al Qaida members and other terrorists could cross into America from Mexico and Canada. 

We're now told that America's borders have actually grown more porous since September 11th, and 9/11 Commission staff report that our border inspectors don't even have the training and basic intelligence information to keep out the terrorists. 

At our sea ports, we're physically inspecting only 5 percent of the cargo coming into America. The Bush administration is spending more money in Iraq in four days than they've spent protecting our ports for all of the last three years. 


At our airports, there's been some progress. You all feel it when you try to travel. But there is far more to do. 

According to news accounts, the terrorist aviation list includes only those who are categorized as a danger to aviation. This is ridiculous. It should include every suspected terrorist who is a danger to anything anywhere in our country so you can capture them when they present themselves at the desk. That's common sense. 


Terrorists recently used explosives to bring down two planes in Russia. Yet here in America, I regret to tell you, the system for detecting explosives carried by passengers fails to pass our own government's tests. 

And here's something that makes no sense at all. Your luggage is X-rayed when it's put on the plane, but the cargo on the hold underneath seldom is. 

This has to change. 

In a Kerry-Edwards administration, we'll give our inspectors at our borders access to the terrorist watch lists. At our ports, we will provide a 600 percent increase in support for the most promising cargo inspection programs. In our airports, we're going to install the equipment to check passengers for explosives, to screen cargo just like we screen baggage, and make people fully safe on those planes. 

And across the country, we're going to make sure that our police and our firefighters and our ambulance drivers have the latest radios, hazmat suits, decontamination facilities and emergency operation centers that they need to respond effectively to a crisis. 

That is the least that we should do to make America safer. 


This is actually all common sense. 

KERRY: But none of it is a priority for the Bush administration. 

Here's what's on their agenda: costly, new nuclear weapons we don't need that risk fueling the new arms race, and committing to a missile defense system that could eventually cost $100 billion that doesn't yet work and won't stop the likely threats to our security that come through the Verrazano Bridge in a ship or that carried in in various suitcases and are assembled in a hotel.

Near here in Philadelphia region, there are eight chemical plants where a terrorist attack could endanger a million people. But this president allowed the chemical industry to derail common-sense measures for chemical plant security. 

My friends, as president, I won't hesitate to protect them. That's protecting the American people.


At a time when police officers are more critical than ever to our homeland security -- this is something Joe Biden and I know a lot about. Because back in 1994 we stood up together and fought to put 100,000 police officers on the streets of America to reduce crime. And you know what? It worked. We did reduce crime. We made our communities safer. 

But lo and behold, here we are at a time when America needs police who are more trained, police who are even trained as they are in Israel to go out on a patrol and be able to look for terrorists, to think differently about terror -- a whole new kind of training -- guess what this administration's doing? 

They've gutted the program to put 100,000 new police on our streets. I will restore that funding and make sure that that money reaches our first responders.


This president, believe it or not, has even failed in his budget to provide a nickel to safeguard our railroads and subways, leaving millions of people every single day vulnerable to terrorist attacks. We've got more people underneath in a tunnel in certain places in America, the equivalent of six 747s at one moment without escape, without ventilation, without recourse. 

I intend to invest more than $2 billion in new funding to protect our transit systems so that what happened in Madrid doesn't happen here in the United States of America.


Fifth, as we go after the terrorists and secure our homeland, I will focus on the long-term front line of this war. 

KERRY: To defeat the terrorists' aims, we have to deny them recruits and safe havens. 

For Al Qaida, this war is a struggle for the heart and soul of the Muslim world. We will win this war only if the terrorists lose that struggle. 

We will win when ordinary people from Nigeria to Egypt to Pakistan to Indonesia know that they have more to live for than to die for.


We will win when they once again see America as the America we were on September 12th, when they see us as the champion, not the enemy of their legitimate yearning to live in just and peaceful societies.

We will win when we stop isolating ourselves and start isolating the terrorists.


The world...


KERRY: I will. You know what, I'll say something about AIDS if you let me get a chance, because it's a very legitimate issue. And I have something to say about it, because I wrote the major legislation to deal with it three years ago. OK?


This is particularly important, what I'm talking about right now, because this is really at the core of how we set out a strategy where we actually can win, where you answer the question of Secretary Rumsfeld, are you creating more recruits than you're killing and capturing.

The world knows the difference between empty promises and genuine commitment. So we're going to win when we show that America uses its economic power for the common good, doing our share to defeat abject poverty, hunger and disease that destroys lives.


This is not in my speech, but I'm going to answer that gentleman's question, because it's a perfect segue for where I find myself.

KERRY: Several years ago, three or four years ago, I joined with Senator Bill Frist in a bipartisan effort and we co-chaired the effort on AIDS, because AIDS is the great moral challenge and the great pandemic across this globe. We've got 4 million people -- 5 million people have died of it. We've got 40 million people infected and it's moving. 

It's not a question of Africa. It's a question of South Asia, India, China, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, all across the world -- and it destroys human infrastructure. 

We laid out a comprehensive approach that dealt with treatment, dealt with prevention, dealt with retroantiviral drugs that can help prevent the passage from mother to child, dealt with creating the human infrastructure so we could stand up and lead.

And we called and passed -- Joe helped -- we passed with Jesse Helms' support, who co-sponsored it. We passed it in the Senate, but the ideological resistance of this administration has stopped it. 

The president has stood up and said he's going to provide $15 billion, and guess what, only a few hundred million have been released, only $200 million to the Global Fund. 

The Global Fund has no confidence in America. America is losing its moral authority because we don't step up on issues like AIDS. 

I will. I will lead America on these issues.


And it's not just a question of AIDS. 

The world's poorest countries suffering under crushing debt burdens need particular attention. 

As president, I'm going to lead the international community to cancel the debt of the most vulnerable nations in return for them living up to goals of social and economic progress and human rights.

My friends, we will win when we work with our allies to enable children in poor countries to be able to get a basic education. More than 50 percent of the population in the Arab and Muslim world is under the age of 25. If all they get to do is go to radical Islamic madrassas and learn how to hate and learn how to strap themselves with explosives, we have a problem for years to come, my friends.

The future is a race between schools that spark learning and schools that teach hate. We have to pre-empt the haters.


We have to win the war of ideas. New generations have to believe that there is more to life than salvation through martyrdom. 

Sixth, we will promote the development of free and democratic societies throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Millions of people there share our human rights values. They share our hopes for a better life for the next generation. They're facing their own struggle at home against the forces of fanaticism and militancy.

They're our natural allies. Their lost trust in our intentions has to be reversed. We have to restore the position where they trust us again. We have to reach out to them and, yes, we have to always promote democracy, but I will be clear with repressive governments in the region that we expect to see them change, not just for our sake, but for their own survival.


KERRY: As president, I will do what this president should have done years ago and what we need to do, which is lead a massive effort to improve our outreach to the Muslim world. 

We need to train a new generation of American scholars, diplomats, military officers who know this region just as we built our knowledge of the Soviet empire during the Cold War. 

I will convene a summit with our European partners and leaders from the Muslim world to strengthen mutual understanding, economic growth and the fight against terror.

And I believe we need to bring all of the leaders of the world's religions, including the moderate mullahs, imams and clerics of the world of Islam, together in order to isolate those who pervert even that religion.


Let it be clear, the issue here is advancing democracy in Arab nations, not yielding to pressure to undermine Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.


Our alliance with Israel, the survival and security of Israel are non-negotiable. 


The only solution is a Jewish state of Israel living side by side in security and peace with a democratic Palestinian state. That is what we need to achieve.


Finally, we will be stronger if we do not go it alone. 

As president, I will lead and rebuild strong alliances. This is not only critical to our military operations, it is essential to every other measure that we must take from tracking down terrorists, where we need the cooperation of other nations, to homeland security, where we need their help to stop terrorists and their weapons before they ever reach our shores.

If ever the United States of America needed to reach out rather than alienate countries, it is now. 

KERRY: The path to success in the war on terror is to recognize working with other countries is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and it will make America stronger.


My fellow Americans, we will not succeed in destroying freedom's adversaries if we are divided from freedom's friends. The terrorists certainly understand that. They're making a special effort to set off bombs in Turkey, Morocco and Indonesia. They want to keep other countries from standing with us in the war on terror.

They know what the Bush administration has been so reluctant to admit, that we are weaker when we fight almost alone. We are safer and stronger in our capacity to capture and kill the terrorists when we fight with allies by our side.

But the Bush administration would have you believe that when it comes to our allies -- this is what they're telling America today -- that when it comes to our allies, it won't make any difference who's president. They say the Europeans won't help us no matter what. We're not going to get more cooperation in the war on terror they say, no matter what. Ordinary people around the world will resent us, no matter what. 

Well, I have news for President Bush: Just because you can't do something doesn't mean it can't be done.

KERRY: It can be done. 


My friends, it is not George Bush's style that keeps our allies from helping, it's his judgment. And they know that he's not going to change. 

But I know that, as always, our allies will follow an America that leaves with sound judgment. And I will provide that.


The first President Bush waged the first Gulf War with a real coalition that fought with us on the battlefield and paid virtually the entire cost of that war. President Clinton built a real coalition in Kosovo, despite the opposition of Republicans in Congress, and now virtually every soldier on patrol there comes from a foreign country. During the Cold War, every American president understood what is still true today: The strength of our country is vital, but so is the character of our country.


It is better to be an America that rallies other countries to our cause than to be an America that isolates itself and has to go it alone. 

I know that we can win the war on terror. We can defeat, capture and kill those who commit terror. And I've just outlined a strategy for victory, a real strategy.

I know this struggle will be waged in many ways and many places. And I know that it will be a long and a difficult struggle. And I know we have to be resolute in confronting the evil that exists in the world. 

But in the end, one of our greatest strengths, one of our greatest safeguards, is that America can be the ideal that inspires others everywhere. 

That's who we are. That's America. If we again become that beacon of hope, we're going to discover in ourselves the most powerful and useful weapons in the war against the terrorists. Because if we're true to ourselves, terrorists cannot defeat the values and vision that have made America great.


No American mother should have to lie awake at night wondering whether her children will be safe at school the next day. No one should fear visiting our nation's capital or our greatest cities because they 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 the world. And that is the great victory that I will fight for and win as your president.

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



© 2004 The Washington Post Company