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Public Statements

Toward a Democratic Foreign Policy

Location: Washington, DC

National Press Club * * As Prepared for Delivery * *

As some of you will recall, the last time I stood here was two years ago tomorrow, September 10, 2001. I've been asked about that speech many times.

At that time, I argued for the United States to focus on the most urgent threats facing our country—not a Star Wars type national missile defense system this Administration was pushing obsessively. I argued that the real threat will come to this country in the hold of a ship, the belly of a plane, or will be smuggled into a city in the middle of the night in a vial in a backpack. It won't come from a nuclear weapon on an ICBM with a return address that says, "It came from us, here's where we are."

The real point that day was to urge this Administration to set aside its ideological bias and determination to build a Maginot line in the sky and, instead, focus on the real threats to America's security.

Those threats demanded the most serious, life and death assessment of the vital national security priorities we were confronting. A national missile defense system was neither the highest priority nor the answer.

The next day was September 11th.

When I first began to draft these remarks I expected my broader point to be the same as it was two years ago: we must not let ideology trump reality as this Administration has been doing. Sunday night, the President gave me some hope—at least concerning Iraq—that he may finally be breaking out of that ideological straight jacket. I hope that his commitment to make Iraq the world's responsibility and not just our own is more than rhetorical. But the Administration's U-turn on Iraq,
welcome as it is, still leaves our foreign policy headed in the wrong direction. That's what I want to talk about today.

Let me be clear: I do not—and I will not—question the motives of either the neo-conservatives in this Administration who discount the value and utility of international institutions we've built, and put a premium on the use of unilateral military power even if it means alienating the world, or the knee jerk multi-lateralists in my own Party who have not yet faced the reality of the post 9-11 world, and believe that we can only exercise power if we get the world's approval first.

It is my view that we cannot, and must not, conduct foreign policy at the extremes. The stakes are too high. The choices we make now are critical and will shape the next fifty years just as the consensus behind containment shaped the last fifty.

This is not a time for political rhetoric. This is not a time for sidestepping the truth or dancing around the issues. This is not a time for conservative ideology to trump the reality on the ground. This is a time for hard facts, sober analysis, and decisive action that, in the end, will make us more secure.

What we need isn't the death of internationalism or the denial of our stark national interest. What I want to talk about today is a more enlightened nationalism that understands the value of international institutions but supports the use of military force - without apology or hesitation - when we must. An enlightened nationalism that does not allow us to be so blinded by our overwhelming military power that we fail to see the benefit, indeed the need, of working with others.

The truth is that while lots of politicians, analysts, and other so-called experts use phrases like "the bottom line" or "at the end of the day" to tell others what's important, the American people understand very clearly what matters most. It was true the day before 9-11 and it remains the same today: Do our priorities, our policies, our actions make us MORE SECURE OR LESS SECURE?

I believe that this Administration's priorities, policies, and actions demonstrate much too narrow a definition of our national security. As a result, we have missed significant opportunities to make America more secure.

The devastating punch we took on September 11th still reverberates throughout American society. I've spoken many times
about the pervasive sense of vulnerability and insecurity we feel not only collectively as a nation, but in our personal lives.
And it has gotten no better. We think twice about our travel plans. We think twice about riding elevators in tall buildings.
We even think twice about letting our kids go on field trips. Yesterday's soccer moms truly are today's security moms.

In the days after 9-11, those moms, and Americans everywhere, looked for a way they could do something to help. It was a time that called for rallying the nation and tapping into the desire all of us had to do something for our country - to unite us.

And I believe history will judge President Bush most harshly for squandering that opportunity.

Unfortunately, just as we operated under a misplaced set of priorities before 9-11, the days after the tragedy represented
the first of many squandered opportunities by this Administration. Rather than readjusting his priorities to meet the new harsh realities we faced, he persisted in his pursuit of policies that were no longer relevant and even counter productive.

These squandered opportunities persist to this day here at home and beyond our borders, driven by a domestic ideological
imperative and the devolution of power that limits our options.

Here at home, we have squandered the opportunity to rally Americans to service not just to stand in blood lines to help our brothers and sisters at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, but to rekindle an American spirit of community.

We squandered the opportunity to rally Americans to produce a rational policy to achieve energy security to wean us from
dependence on foreign oil: to ask Americans to make significant investments in alternative energy—solar panels in their homes, more fuel efficient cars; to increase our use of renewables and plentiful natural gas, even if in the short term it meant altering our behavior.

We squandered the opportunity to rally Americans to build an effective homeland defense: To provide first responders everything they need, like dependable communications equipment, and state-of-the-art computers, so that "security moms" can sleep more soundly at night.

We squandered the opportunity to make our borders and ports safer, our transportation systems more secure, and our nuclear power plants less vulnerable.

Is there even one American who would disagree with these measures? If there is, I'd like to meet him.

The question is: Why has this happened? Why has this Administration failed to fully fund Homeland Security? Why has it taken the President until now to begin to level with the American people about the tremendous cost of winning the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and continuing to take the fight to the terrorists?

I believe it is because this Administration has another overriding priority: Preserving the rationale for a huge tax cut, which in the end, when all is said and done, could approach a trillion dollars.

I believe we need to cut taxes, especially for the Middle Class, as much as we responsibly can. But never has any Administration summoned Americans to war AND at the same time pushed the biggest tax cut in history.

The result is a mixed message to the American people. For if this is to be a long, drawn out, and costly fight against terror, how can we wage this fight without paying any price?

And it reflects a woeful misunderstanding of the character of the American people - Rich... Poor... and Middle Class... Black... White... Hispanic... Asian - to meet and conquer these new threats

If you add the 87 billion dollars the President has proposed for Iraq - which I will support - to the existing budget deficit, we're now looking at a 600 billion-dollar shortfall not counting the money borrowed from Social Security.

It's not just the tax cut; the war on terrorism, the recession and other government spending all add up. But the
Administration's ideological fixation on tax relief for today's wealthiest Americans means that our grandchildren pay for our security and for their own. That gets it exactly backwards. We must have the resolve to pay for our security and that of our grandchildren.

Consider this: Just one of the years of the tax cut for the top one percent the tax cut for the year 2010 alone would be 85 billion dollars. So, if my math is right, we could say: skipping just one year - the last year - of the tax cut for the top one percent could pay just about the whole bill.

What if the President had said on Sunday night: "To all of you who are making a million dollars and getting a 93,000 dollar tax cut "...I'm asking you tonight to forego your tax cut in 2010." What if he said: "...I'm asking you to take just 10 times, not 100 times, the tax break we're giving to the middle class so that we can pay for peace in Iraq, security in Afghanistan, and the war against terrorism."

Do you think a single wealthy American watching on T.V. would have said: "No way. I want it all"? Of course not. Would a single American begrudge more support for the sons and daughters of the Middle Class and the poor who are serving on the front lines of freedom? Of course not.

Deferring or decreasing the size of the tax cut for the wealthiest among us would not alienate the rich or jeopardize an economic recovery. But it would restore a sense of national purpose and unity that is our country's greatest strength. I will propose such a plan in the Senate as soon as appropriate.

Those were the missed opportunities on the home front. Beyond our borders we have squandered the opportunity to rally the world to a common cause - To keep the focus on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction that threaten all of us. We have squandered the opportunity to build new bridges to our allies and find common ground with old adversaries so that we do not have to endure, in virtual isolation, every threat and challenge, every burden and risk, every very legitimate fight, all on our own.

Why in the world would we want that?

And finally, we have squandered the opportunity to build an effective national security strategy to meet these new threats,
one that advances America's interests without alienating the world.

Fifty or a hundred years from now, historians will write many books about whether and how this generation rose to the occasion, whether we were distracted or inattentive, whether we allowed faulty judgment to color the plain facts and the hard realities of our time. And one of the things that gives me some hope, one of the things that suggests we have another genuine opportunity that must not be squandered, is the realization that every major world power today has the same interest in achieving a common goal.

I'm not sure that has ever been the case before. If that's true and if we can summon the will and wisdom to work effectively with those across the globe who share this vision of humanity's future, our generation can approach the challenges of our time with some confidence.

We will be judged by how well we marshal the forces of civilization to combat international terrorism.

We will be judged by how well we work with others to eliminate the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

We will be judged by how well we inspire the world to address epidemics and pandemics that threaten to kill millions not just abroad but that spread, uncontrolled, to our shores.

We will be judged by how well we lead those who side with us as modernity and globalization are assaulted by fundamentalism and intolerance.

We will be judged by how well we help spread economic advancement around the globe, and how wisely we manage finite economic and natural resources.

To begin moving this nation in the right direction I believe we need to embrace a foreign policy of enlightened nationalism. Let me explain what I mean by that and whatwe must do to get there.

First, we need to correct the imbalance between projecting power and staying power. America's military is second to none.
It must and will remain second to none. President Bush used it well in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, just as he did in Afghanistan to take down the Taliban.

But staying power is just as important as projecting power and, on that account, the administration is running a dangerous deficit. In Afghanistan, our failure to extend security beyond Kabul has handed most of the country back to the warlords as many of us predicted. The Taliban is regrouping. And Afghanistan is now the number one opium producer in the world.
The proceeds will fund new tyrants and terrorists. In my view, the failure to win the peace in Afghanistan risks being repeated in Iraq unless we stay the new course the President set on Sunday night.

That failure would condemn both countries to a future as failed states, risking the collapse of Pakistan and enhancing the power and influence of Iran, and we know from bitter experience that failed states are breeding grounds for terrorists.

We have to show the staying power to write a different future. If we don't, Americans will be less secure.

A more enlightened approach, in my view, would be to level with the American people about the need to stay the course in Afghanistan and Iraq, explain to them why success is critical and failure is not an option, tell them that success will take years, require billions of dollars, as we've known from the outset, and call on tens of thousands of troops. I'm pleased the President has finally begun to do that. A more enlightened approach would be to empower experts in our own government to plan for post-conflict security and reconstruction ahead of time, not on the fly. It would be a better, more enlightened approach, for example, if we built up an international police force to handle security after we toppled a tyrant. If we're not prepared to do the post-conflict, we should think twice about doing the conflict, unless we have no choice. Second, we have to move away from the Administration's fixation on military preemption and focus on a true prevention strategy. I agree with those in the Administration who argue that the nexus of new threats, terrorism, WMD, and rogue states requires an additional response. Deterrence got us through the Cold War, and it's logic still holds in most cases. But it may not work against enemies with no territory or people to defend armed with terrible weapons they can smuggle across borders - including our own. That's why - when we face imminent danger - the right to act preemptively must remain, as it has been, a part of our foreign policy tool kit.

But this Administration has turned preemption from a necessary option into a one-size-fits-all doctrine and that, too, threatens to make us less secure. It tells our enemies that their only possible insurance policy against regime change is to acquire weapons of mass destruction as quickly as they can. It sends a message to fault line states, from India and Pakistan to China and Taiwan, to Israel and its Arab neighbors, that if the United States can shoot first and ask questions later, so can they.

And preemption sets aside any common-sense standard of proof. In fact, this Administration has set the bar so low that almost any excuse to use force works, as the Iraq intelligence fiasco so painfully shows. Just this week, a senior Administration official said that the presence of scientists in some countries could be enough for us to act.

Instead of a military preemption doctrine we should focus much more on a prevention doctrine to defuse problems long before they are on the verge of exploding.

What would that require?

It would require better funded programs to secure, and destroy weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union and beyond, in India and Pakistan, for example.

It would require new international laws that allow us to stop lethal cargoes anywhere on the high seas or in the skies.

It would require new alliances of intelligence agencies, law enforcement officials, and financial experts to uproot terrorists
and end their funding.

It would require fully funded development programs that demonstrate to those most likely to offer support and sanctuary to terrorists, that we offer them a better future.

It would require a sustained public diplomacy strategy to explain our policies to the world and to debunk the myths and lies our enemies spin about America's intentions. And it would require a determined policy of democratization through support - not just for elections - but for good governance, the rule of law and transparency, political parties, independent media, secular education, private enterprise, and civil society.

Finally, we have to put much more energy into working with the world instead of walking alone. No one disputes that the first responsibility of our government is to defend the security of this country and the safety of its people. And there may be times when we see a threat to our security, when we're right and the rest of the world is wrong.

In those instances, we must and we will retain the right to act alone. Those cases should be the exception. But this administration sees them as the rule, initially reinforced by our military success in Iraq and before that in Afghanistan.

Well, there was never any doubt we could take down Saddam alone if we had too. Just as there was no doubt we could topple the Taliban. But here's the rub: For every Iraq, there are ten North Koreas - threats to our security that do not have unilateral military solutions and that require collective, non-military action. That's something for which this administration has shown little aptitude.

Indeed, in my view, our policy paralysis has helped put North Korea on the verge of becoming a plutonium factory.
Consider most of the threats we face: International terrorism; The spread of WMD; International crime and drug trafficking; Infectious diseases like HIV-AIDS; Economic dislocation; Environmental degradation.

Not one of these threats has any respect for borders. Not one is susceptible to a unilateral military response. In each instance, we benefit from - indeed we need - the help of other countries.

Think about the war on terrorism. The most visible front has been our military intervention in Afghanistan. But to win the war, we must prevail on other, less visible fronts that demand cooperation: The intelligence sharing front; The law enforcement front; The financial network front.

And it's just common sense to do everything we can to spread the physical risk and share the financial cost of a pro-active foreign policy. Unfortunately, this administration's gratuitous acts of unilateralism have alienated the partners we need to meet most of the challenges we face. We said no thanks to NATO when it offered to help us in Afghanistan. We summarily rejected treaties on climate change, the international criminal court, a nuclear test ban and so on - issues that meant a lot to other countries even if they meant little to the Administration.

Should we sign on the dotted line just because our friends like a treaty even if we don't? Of course not. Should we roll up our sleeves sit down at the table with our partners and try to come up with a compromise or an alternative? Of course we should.

This administration's "our way or the highway" approach is not a way to win friends and support. Why should other countries help us with our concerns if we show disdain for theirs? That's what has happened, until now, in post-Saddam Iraq, and that's what will happen elsewhere.

It's not leadership if no one follows.

There's another critical point here. More than any country in the world, the United States benefits from an international system with clear, predictable rules and relationships. The genius of the World War II generation, the debt we owe them goes not only to winning the war, but to building institutions like NATO, the U.N., the World Bank, the IMF, and writing historic arms control and trade agreements that helped keep the peace and extend prosperity for fifty years.

This administration's approach - play by rules we like, ignore those we don't, will destroy that system. In its place, we'll end up with a law of the jungle, a jungle in which we will be the most powerful animal, but much less secure.

At the same time those who understand the value and utility of international institutions and international rules must also understand that when they are flouted, they must be enforced.

Enlightened nationalism recognizes that there is a strong link between power and legitimacy. You can't have one without the other.

When we use force, we should go the extra mile to ground it in law and legitimacy. BUT we must recognize that laws will prove meaningless if we do not summon the will to enforce them. I'm not sure, but I think it may have been John Locke who said something like, "There is nothing more terrible than to see a beautiful myth destroyed by an ugly fact."

It's time for the neo-conservatives in the Administration to look in the mirror and see reality. And it's long past time we had a foreign policy and national security agenda that addressed not only the urgent threats we face, but also the long-term priorities we must have the vision and wisdom to see.

Terrorism is the most urgent threat we face. But if we were to win that war tomorrow, we'd still have to confront the long list of lethal threats we face. The spread of weapons of mass destruction. International crime and drug trafficking. Ethnic wars. Infectious disease. Environmental decay. Poverty and despair.

As my mother always says: "Out of every tragedy, some good will come if you look hard enough." If we engage the war on terrorism in a way that brings the rest of the world with we can and we will build new relationships with old friends and former adversaries from Russia to China to India. We can and we will forge new alliances to tackle the threats that target us all.

That is enlightened nationalism. That is the opportunity before us. I hope that we demonstrate the wisdom to seize it.

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