The following are excerpts from the first presidential debate between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry:
Waging the War on Terrorism
KERRY:I believe in being strong and resolute and determined. And I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, wherever they are.
But we also have to be smart . . . And smart means not diverting your attention from the real war on terror in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden and taking if off to Iraq where the 9/11 Commission confirms there was no connection to 9/11 itself and Saddam Hussein, and where the reason for going to war was weapons of mass destruction, not the removal of Saddam Hussein.
This president has made, I regret to say, a colossal error of judgment. And judgment is what we look for in the president of the United States of America. . . . First of all, he made the misjudgment of saying to America that he was going to build a true alliance, that he would exhaust the remedies of the United Nations and go through the inspections.
In fact, he first didn't even want to do that. And it wasn't until former secretary of state Jim Baker and General Scowcroft and others pushed publicly and said you've got to go to the U.N., that the president finally changed his mind -- his campaign has a word for that -- and went to the United Nations. . . .
He also promised America that he would go to war as a last resort.
Those words mean something to me, as somebody who has been in combat. Last resort. You've got to be able to look in the eyes of families and say to those parents, I tried to do everything in my power to prevent the loss of your son and daughter.
BUSH: My opponent looked at the same intelligence I looked at and declared in 2002 that Saddam Hussein was a grave threat.
He also said in December of 2003 that anyone who doubts that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein does not have the judgment to be president.
I agree with him. The world is better off without Saddam Hussein.
I was hoping diplomacy would work. I understand the serious consequences of committing our troops into harm's way.
It's the hardest decision a president makes. So I went to the United Nations. I didn't need anybody to tell me to go to the United Nations. I decided to go there myself.
And I went there hoping that, once and for all, the free world would act in concert to get Saddam Hussein to listen to our demands. They passed the resolution that said, Disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. I believe, when an international body speaks, it must mean what it says.
Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming. Why should he? He had 16 other resolutions and nothing took place. As a matter of fact, my opponent talks about inspectors. The facts are that he was systematically deceiving the inspectors.
Iraq Withdrawal Timetable
K:We can't leave a failed Iraq. But that doesn't mean it wasn't a mistake of judgment to go there and take the focus off of Osama bin Laden. It was. Now, we can succeed. But I don't believe this president can. I think we need a president who has the credibility to bring the allies back to the table and to do what's necessary to make it so America isn't doing this alone.
. . . The timeline that I've set out -- and again, I want to correct the president, because he's misled again this evening on what I've said. I didn't say I would bring troops out in six months. I said, if we do the things that I've set out and we are successful, we could begin to draw the troops down in six months. And I think a critical component of success in Iraq is being able to convince the Iraqis and the Arab world that the United States doesn't have long-term designs on it.
B:Let me first tell you that the best way for Iraq to be safe and secure is for Iraqi citizens to be trained to do the job.
And that's what we're doing. We've got 100,000 trained now, 125,000 by the end of this year, 200,000 by the end of next year. That is the best way. We'll never succeed in Iraq if the Iraqi citizens do not want to take matters into their own hands to protect themselves. I believe they want to. Prime Minister Allawi believes they want to. . . .
And so, the answer to your question is: When our general is on the ground and Ambassador Negroponte tells me that Iraq is ready to defend herself from these terrorists, that elections will have been held by then, that their stability and that they're on their way to, you know, a nation that's free; that's when.
Top National Security Threat
K:Nuclear proliferation. Nuclear proliferation. There's some 600-plus tons of unsecured material still in the former Soviet Union and Russia. At the rate that the president is currently securing it, it'll take 13 years to get it.
I did a lot of work on this. I wrote a book about it several years ago -- six, seven years ago -- called "The New War," which saw the difficulties of this international criminal network. And back then, we intercepted a suitcase in a Middle Eastern country with nuclear materials in it. And the black market sale price was about $250 million.
Now, there are terrorists trying to get their hands on that stuff today.
And this president, I regret to say, has secured less nuclear material in the last two years since 9/11 than we did in the two years preceding 9/11.
B:I agree with my opponent that the biggest threat facing this country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network. And that's why proliferation is one of the centerpieces of a multi-prong strategy to make the country safer.
My administration started what's called the Proliferation Security Initiative. Over 60 nations involved with disrupting the trans-shipment of information and/or weapons of mass destruction materials.
And we've been effective . . . It's a central part of dealing with weapons of mass destruction and proliferation.
North Korea Nuclear Problem
B: Before I was sworn in, the policy of this government was to have bilateral negotiations with North Korea.
And we signed an agreement with North Korea that my administration found out that was not being honored by the North Koreans.
And so I decided that a better way to approach the issue was to get other nations involved, just besides us. And in Crawford, Texas, Jiang Zemin and I agreed that the nuclear-weapons-free peninsula, Korean Peninsula, was in his interest and our interest and the world's interest.
And so we began a new dialogue with North Korea, one that included not only the United States, but now China. And China's a got a lot of influence over North Korea, some ways more than we do. . . .
And I think this will work. It's not going to work if we open up a dialogue with Kim Jong Il. He wants to unravel the six-party talks, or the five-nation coalition that's sending him a clear message.
K:With respect to North Korea, the real story: We had inspectors and television cameras in the nuclear reactor in North Korea. Secretary Bill Perry negotiated that under President Clinton. And we knew where the fuel rods were. And we knew the limits on their nuclear power.
Colin Powell, our secretary of state, announced one day that we were going to continue the dialog of working with the North Koreans. The president reversed it publicly while the president of South Korea was here.
And the president of South Korea went back . . . bewildered and embarrassed because it went against his policy. And for two years, this administration didn't talk at all to North Korea.
While they didn't talk at all, the fuel rods came out, the inspectors were kicked out, the television cameras were kicked out. And today, there are four to seven nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea.
That happened on this president's watch.
Now, that, I think, is one of the most serious, sort of, reversals or mixed messages that you could possibly send. . . . I want bilateral talks which put all of the issues, from the armistice of 1952, the economic issues, the human rights issues, the artillery disposal issues, the DMZ issues and the nuclear issues on the table.