Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, outlining a new national security policy, today warned terrorists against any attempt to influence the November elections and vowed to "respond with overwhelming and devastating force" if the nation were attacked with weapons of mass destruction during his presidency.
In a speech in Seattle, Kerry, a four-term senator from Massachusetts, repeatedly criticized the Bush administration's management of U.S. alliances, as well as its handling of the armed forces and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he said he would adopt a tough new approach to Saudi Arabia, which he said has failed to stop financial and ideological support for the al Qaeda terrorist network of Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden and other terrorist groups.
Launching an 11-day campaign swing dedicated to national security issues, Kerry charged that President Bush and his administration have engaged in bluster and bullying when they should have been building alliances and respect.
"They've looked to force before exhausting diplomacy," Kerry said. "They bullied when they should have persuaded. They've gone it alone when they should have assembled a whole team. They have hoped for the best when they should have prepared for the worst. They've made America less safe than we should be in a dangerous world. In short, they have undermined the legacy of generations of American leadership."
He said the world yearns for "an America that listens and leads again," a nation "that is respected, not just feared and mistrusted."
In response to Kerry's speech, the campaign of President Bush and Vice President Cheney distributed denunciations of it from Republican legislators and other officials.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said Kerry "wants to 'internationalize' an effort [in Iraq] that already involves NATO nations, the U.N. and over 30 coalition partners," according to the Bush campaign's press release. Cornyn charged that "Kerry's rhetoric on Iraq simply doesn't match reality."
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said, "The American people want steady leadership, not John Kerry's baseless rhetoric and anger."
Rep. Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) was quoted as saying, "John Kerry's absurd 'hat-in-hand' foreign policy will never deter terrorists, and his insistence on deferring to other nations for the protection and security [of] America is misguided and dangerous."
Kerry's words -- and his shift of focus from domestic themes to foreign policy and national security issues -- were aimed at challenging Bush in an area in which he continues to top Kerry in opinion polls. While Bush's overall job approval rating has plunged in recent weeks, and shrinking minorities approve of his management of the economy and the occupation of Iraq, Bush still enjoys majority backing for his handling of the war on terrorism and has steadily outpolled Kerry on the question of whom voters trust more in a crisis.
In his speech, Kerry listed four "imperatives" of a new national security policy: rebuilding alliances, modernizing the armed forces to deal with new dangers, deploying diplomacy, intelligence, economic power and American values to help overcome threats and freeing the United States from its "dangerous dependence on Mideast oil."
He said that full energy independence -- a goal that he has stressed repeatedly as part of his economic platform -- would allow the United States to be more assertive in the war on terrorism. He noted that he has proposed a plan to make the nation independent of Middle East oil in 10 years, in part by investing in new technologies and alternative fuels.
"If we are serious about energy independence, then we can finally be serious about confronting the failure of Saudi Arabia to do all that it can to stop financing and providing ideological support of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups," Kerry said. "We cannot continue this administration's kid-glove approach to the supply and laundering of terrorist money. As president, I will impose tough financial sanctions against nations or banks that engage in money laundering and facilitate terror in this world, and we will take strong steps against those who fail to act." He said recalcitrant states "will be shut out of the U.S. financial system."
Kerry also denounced "Saudi sponsorship of clerics who promote the ideology of Islamic terror." He warned, "We will not do business as usual with any country that does not demonstrate its full will to partner in this struggle. They must all take concrete steps to stop their clerics from fueling the fires of Islamic extremism."
If elected, Kerry said, he would send a message to every member of the U.S. armed forces on his first day in office, promising them -- in an apparent reference to the increasingly costly occupation of Iraq -- that "you will never be sent into harm's way without enough troops for the task . . . and you will never be asked to fight a war without a plan to win the peace."
Apparently referring to the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq, Kerry added: "And you will never be given assignments which have not been clearly defined and for which you are not professionally trained."
Kerry said the single gravest threat to U.S. security comes from "lawless states and terrorists" armed with weapons of mass destruction. He said his strategy would focus on preventing the acquisition of such weapons.
If the United States is attacked with unconventional arms, he said, "as commander in chief, I will respond with overwhelming and devastating force."
Commenting on al Qaeda's reported interest in influencing the November election, Kerry warned against "harboring these illusions."
Kerry declared: "We may have an election here in America, but let there be no doubt, this country is united in its determination to defeat terrorism. And we will never be deterred in our exercise of democracy. So this is my message to the terrorists: As commander in chief, I will bring the full force of our nation's power to bear on finding and crushing your networks. We'll use every resource of our power to destroy you."