John Kerry in UCLA Address Promises More Effective War on Terrorism
Massachusetts Senator at Burkle Forum calls for mending fences with allies to improve intelligence on terrorist groups, pledges additional aid for rebuilding Afghanistan to help stabilize region. The presidential hopeful says President Bush has done too little rather than too much in the world battle with terrorism.
[Massachusetts Senator and Democratic Party presidential front-runner John Kerry received a standing ovation from almost 600 faculty, students, and local dignitaries for a talk on foreign policy issues in the Freud Playhouse on the UCLA campus Friday February 27. The overflow meeting was sponsored by the Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Affairs and was chaired by the center's director, Geoffrey Garrett, who is also vice provost of the UCLA International Institute. Senator Kerry concentrated his remarks on a criticism of the Bush administration's war on terrorism, taking the stance that President Bush has done too little rather than too much in the effort to locate and eradicate "jihadist groups" around the world. Following is the full text of John Kerry's remarks.]
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It’s an honor to be here today at the Burkle Center – named in honor of a good friend and one of America’s outstanding business leaders.
Day in and day out, President Bush reminds us that he is a war President and that he wants to make national security the central issue of this election. I am ready to have this debate. I welcome it.
I am convinced that we can prove to the American people that we know how to make them safer and more secure – with a stronger, more comprehensive, and more effective strategy for winning the War on Terror than the Bush Administration has ever envisioned.
As we speak, night has settled on the mountains of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. If Osama bin Laden is sleeping, it is the restless slumber of someone who knows his days are numbered. I don’t know if the latest reports – saying that he is surrounded – are true or not. We’ve heard this news before.
We had him in our grasp more than two years ago at Tora Bora but George Bush held U.S. forces back and instead, called on Afghan warlords with no loyalty to our cause to finish the job. We all hope the outcome will be different this time and we all know America cannot rest until Osama bin Laden is captured or killed.
And when that day comes, it will be a great step forward but we will still have a lot more to do. It will be a victory in the War on Terror, but it will not be the end of the War on Terror.
This war isn’t just a manhunt – a checklist of names from a deck of cards. In it, we do not face just one man or one terrorist group. We face a global jihadist movement of many groups, from different sources and with separate agendas, but all committed to assaulting the United States and free and open societies around the globe.
As CIA Director George Tenet recently testified: “They are not all creatures of bin Laden, and so their fate is not tied to his. They have autonomous leadership, they pick their own targets, they plan their own attacks.”
At the core of this conflict is a fundamental struggle of ideas. Of democracy and tolerance against those who would use any means and attack any target to impose their narrow views in a world no longer safe for diversity.
The War on Terror is not a clash of civilizations. It is a clash of civilization against chaos; of the best hopes of humanity against the dogmatic fears of progress and the future.
Like all Americans, I responded to President Bush’s reassuring words in the days after September 11th. But since then, his actions have fallen short.
I do not fault George Bush for doing too much in the War on Terror, I believe he’s done too little.
Where he’s acted, his doctrine of unilateral preemption has driven away our allies and cost us the support of other nations. Iraq is in disarray, with American troops still bogged down in a deadly guerrilla war with no exit in sight. In Afghanistan, the area outside Kabul is sliding back into the hands of a resurgent Taliban and emboldened warlords.
In other areas, the Administration has done nothing or been too little and too late. The Mideast Peace process disdained for 14 months by the Bush Administration is paralyzed. North Korea and Iran continue their quest for nuclear weapons – weapons which one day could land in the hands of terrorists. And as Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld has admitted, the Administration is still searching for an effective plan to drain the swamps of terrorist recruitment. The President’s budget for the National Endowment for Democracy’s efforts around the world, including the entire Islamic world, is less than three percent of what this Administration gives Halliburton – hardly a way to win the contest of ideas.
Finally, by virtually every measure, we still have a homeland security strategy that falls far short of the vulnerabilities we have and the threats we face.
George Bush has no comprehensive strategy for victory in the War on Terror – only an ad hoc strategy to keep our enemies at bay. If I am Commander-in-Chief, I would wage that war by putting in place a strategy to win it.
We cannot win the War on Terror through military power alone. As President, if necessary, I will use military force to protect our security, our people, and our vital interests.
But the fight requires us to use every tool at our disposal. Not only a strong military – but renewed alliances, vigorous law enforcement, reliable intelligence, and unremitting effort to shut down the flow of terrorist funds.
To do all this, and to do our best, demands that we work with other countries instead of walking alone. For today the agents of terrorism work and lurk in the shadows of 60 nations on every continent. In this entangled world, we need to build real and enduring alliances.
Allies give us more hands in the struggle, but no President would ever let them tie our hands and prevent us from doing what must be done. As President, I will not wait for a green light from abroad when our safety is at stake. But I will not push away those who can and should share the burden.
Working with other countries in the War on Terror is something we do for our sake – not theirs. We can’t wipe out terrorist cells in places like Sweden, Canada, Spain, the Philippines, or Italy just by dropping in Green Berets.
It was local law enforcement working with our intelligence services which caught Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramsi Bin al Shibh in Pakistan and the murderer known as Hambali in Thailand. Joining with local police forces didn’t mean serving these terrorists with legal papers; it meant throwing them behind bars. None of the progress we have made would have been possible without cooperation – and much more would be possible if we had a President who didn’t alienate long-time friends and fuel anti-American anger around the world.
We need a comprehensive approach for prevailing against terror – an approach that recognizes the many facets of this mortal challenge and relies on all the tools at our disposal to do it.
First, if I am President I will not hesitate to order direct military action when needed to capture and destroy terrorist groups and their leaders. George Bush inherited the strongest military in the world – and he has weakened it. What George Bush and his armchair hawks have never understood is that our military is about more than moving pins on a map or buying expensive new weapons systems.
America’s greatest military strength has always been the courageous, talented men and women whose love of country and devotion to service lead them to attempt and achieve the impossible everyday.
But today, far too often troops are going into harm’s way without the weapons and equipment they depend on to do their jobs safely. National Guard helicopters are flying missions in dangerous territory without the best available ground-fire protection systems. Un-armored Humvees are falling victim to road-side bombs and small-arms fire.
And families across America have had to collect funds from their neighbors to buy body armor for their loved ones in uniform because George Bush failed to provide it.
The next President must ensure that our forces are structured for maximum effectiveness and provided with all that they need to succeed in their missions. We must better prepare our forces for post-conflict operations and the task of building stability by adding more engineers, military police, psychological warfare personnel, and civil affairs teams.
And to replenish our overextended military, as President, I will add 40,000 active-duty Army troops, a temporary increase likely to last the remainder of the decade.
Second, if I am President I will strengthen the capacity of intelligence and law enforcement at home and forge stronger international coalitions to provide better information and the best chance to target and capture terrorists even before they act.
But the challenge for us is not to cooperate abroad; it is to coordinate here at home. Whether it was September 11th or Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, we have endured unprecedented intelligence failures. We must do what George Bush has refused to do – reform our intelligence system by making the next Director of the CIA a true Director of National Intelligence with real control of intelligence personnel and budgets. We must train more analysts in languages like Arabic. And we must break down the old barriers between national intelligence and local law enforcement.
In the months leading up to September 11th, two of the hijackers were arrested for drunk driving – and another was stopped for speeding and then let go, although he was already the subject of an arrest warrant in a neighboring county and was on a federal terrorist watch list. We need to simplify and streamline the 58 national terrorist watch lists and make sure the right information is available to the right people on the frontlines of preventing the next attack.
But we can’t take any of those steps effectively if we are stuck with an Administration that continues to stonewall those who are trying to get to the bottom of our September 11th intelligence failures. Two days ago, the Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert refused the request of the bipartisan 9-11 commission for just a little more time just to complete their mission. This after the Commission has had to deal with an Administration that opposed its very creation and has stonewalled its efforts.
He didn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call Denny Hastert to ram through his Medicare drug company benefit or to replace a real Patients Bill of Rights with an HMO Bill of Goods. This President told a Republican fundraiser that it was in the “nation’s interest” that Denny Hastert remain Speaker of the House. I believe it’s in America’s interest to know the truth about 9-11. Mr. President, stop stonewalling the commission and stop hiding behind excuses. Pick up the phone, call your friend Denny Hastert and tell him to let the commission finish its job so we can make America safer.
Third, we must cut off the flow of terrorist funds. The Bush Administration has refused to act against those who continue to supply and launder such funds. If I am President, we will impose tough financial sanctions against nations or banks that engage in money laundering or fail to act against it. We will launch a "name and shame" campaign against those that are financing terror. And if they do not respond, they will be shut out of the U.S. financial system.
Fourth, because finding and defeating terrorist groups is a long-term effort, we must act immediately to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. I propose to appoint a high-level Presidential envoy to lead this effort – a single individual empowered to bring other nations together to secure and stop the spread of these weapons. We must develop common standards to make sure dangerous materials and armaments are tracked, accounted for, and secured. Today, parts of Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal are easy prey for those offering cash to scientists and security forces who too often are under-employed and under-paid.
If I am President, I will expand the Nunn/Lugar program to buy up and destroy the loose nuclear materials of the former Soviet Union and to ensure that all of Russia’s nuclear weapons and materials are out of the reach of terrorists and off the black market.
Next, whatever we thought of the Bush Administration’s decisions and mistakes – especially in Iraq – we now have a solemn obligation to complete the mission, in that country and in Afghanistan. Iraq is now a major magnet and center for terror. Our forces in Iraq are paying the price everyday.
And our safety at home may someday soon be endangered as Iraq becomes a training ground for the next generation of terrorists.
It is time to return to the United Nations and to return America to the community of nations to share both authority and responsibility in Iraq, and take the target off the back of our troops. This also requires a genuine Iraqi security force. The Bush Administration simply signs up recruits. In a Kerry Administration, we will create and train an Iraqi security force that truly can take care of itself and of the people it is supposed to protect.
We must offer the UN the lead role in assisting Iraq with the development of new political institutions. And we must stay in Iraq until the job is finished.
In Afghanistan, we have some NATO involvement, but the training of the Afghan Army is insufficient to disarm the warlord militias or to bring the billion dollar drug trade under control. This Administration has all but turned away from Afghanistan. Two years ago, President Bush promised a Marshall Plan to rebuild that country. His latest budget scorns that commitment.
We must – and if I am President, I will – apply the wisdom Franklin Roosevelt shared with the American people in a fireside chat in 1942, “it is useless to win battles if the cause for which we fight these battles is lost. It is useless to win a war unless it stays won.” This Administration has not met that challenge; a Kerry Administration will.
But nothing else will matter unless we win the war of ideas. In failed states from South Asia to the Middle East to Central Africa, the combined weight of harsh political repression, economic stagnation, lack of education, and rapid population growth presents the potential for explosive violence and the enlistment of entire new legions of terrorists. In Saudi Arabia and Egypt, sixty percent of the population is under the age of 30, unemployed and unemployable, in a breeding ground for present and future hostility. And according to a Pew Center poll, fifty percent or more of Indonesians, Jordanians, Pakistanis, and Palestinians have confidence in bin Laden to “do the right thing regarding world affairs.”
We need a major initiative in public diplomacy to bridge the divide between Islam and the rest of the world. For the education of the next generation of Islamic youth, we need an international effort to compete with radical Madrassas. We have seen what happens when Palestinian youth have been fed a diet of anti-Israel propaganda. And we must support human rights groups, independent media and labor unions dedicated to building a democratic culture from the grass-roots up. Democracy won't come overnight, but America should speed that day by sustaining the forces of democracy against repressive regimes and by rewarding governments which take genuine steps towards change.
We cannot be deterred by letting America be held hostage by energy from the Middle East. If I am President, we will embark on a historic effort to create alternative fuels and the vehicles of the future – to make this country energy independent of Mideast oil within ten years. So our sons and daughters will never have to fight and die for it.
Finally, if we are going to be serious about the War on Terror, we need to be much more serious about homeland security. Today, fire departments only have enough radios for half their firefighters and almost two-thirds of firehouses are short-staffed. We should not be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down in New York City. We need to put 100,000 more firefighters on duty and we need to restore the 100,000 police on our streets which I fought for and won in 1994 but which the Bush Administration has cut in budget after budget.
We need to provide public health labs with the basic expertise they need but now lack to respond to chemical or biological attack. We need new safeguards for our chemical and nuclear facilities.
And our ports – like the Port of Los Angeles – need new technology to screen the 95 percent of containers that now enter this country without any inspection at all. And we should accelerate the action plans agreed to in US-Canada and US-Mexico “smart border” accords while implementing new security measures for cross border bridges. President Bush says we can’t afford to fund homeland security. I say we can’t afford not to.
The safety of our people, the security of our country, the memory of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, neighbors and heroes we lost on September 11th call on us to win this war we did not seek.
And our children’s future demands that we also do everything in our power to prevent the creation of tomorrow’s terrorists today. Maybe there’s no going back to the days before baggage checks and orange alerts. Maybe they’re with us forever. But I don’t believe they have to be. I grew up at a time of bomb shelters and air raid drills. But America had leaders of vision and courage in both parties. And today, the Cold War is memory, not reality.
I believe we can bring a real victory in the War on Terror. I believe we must, not only for ourselves but for all who look to America as “the last best hope of earth.” I believe we can meet that ideal – and that’s why I’m running for President.
Published: Friday, February 27, 2004