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"Making America Secure Again: Setting the Right Course for Foreign Policy"

Location: New York, NY

An Address to the Council on Foreign Relations by John Kerry

December 03, 2003

New York, NY -


Abraham Lincoln saw and spoke of America as "the last best hope of earth."

That vision did not encompass a reach for global empire; and it did not rest on an assumption that might alone could set the world right. That vision was founded on values and the power of an idea, not primarily on wealth or weapons.

Strength of arms will always be needed. But the use of American power has always been guided by values and principles, not by might alone.

Today we have an Administration that has turned its back on those values and principles. We have a President who has developed and exalted a strategy of war - unilateral; pre-emptive; and in my view, profoundly threatening to America's place in the world and the safety and prosperity of our own society.

Simply put: The Bush Administration has pursued the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in modern history. In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the world rallied to the common cause of fighting terrorism. But President Bush has squandered that historic moment. The coalition is now in tatters and the global war on terrorism has been set back. The President had the opportunity to unite the international community and hold Saddam Hussein accountable, and in doing so perhaps avoid war. But he refused to take the time or make the full diplomatic effort. Instead, he rushed into battle - and he went almost alone. Now the United Nations is divided and we are fighting an increasingly deadly guerrilla war in Iraq almost singlehandedly. We have lost the good will of the world, overextended our troops, and endangered not enhanced our own security.

I believed a year ago and I believe now that we had to hold Saddam Hussein accountable and that we needed to lead in that effort. But this Administration did it in the worst possible way -without the United Nations, without our allies, without a plan to win the peace.

So we are left asking: How is it possible to liberate a country, depose a ruthless dictator who at least in the past had weapons of mass destruction -- and convert a preordained success into a diplomatic fiasco? How is it possible to do what the Bush Administration has done in Iraq - win a great military victory yet make America weaker?

This is the consequence of a policy that regards legitimacy as largely a product of force and victory as primarily a triumph of arms. But as we discovered in Vietnam, success on a battlefield, or even in a series of battles too often can be the beginning and not the end of conflict. The Bush Administration is so enthralled by the idea of preemption and American military might that it even offered a United Nations Resolution calling the United States an "occupying power" in Iraq. No wonder that is how we are viewed today.

By so quickly and cavalierly dismissing the concerns of the international community in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, the Administration compromised American credibility and leadership, made our job in Iraq harder, and weakened the war on terrorism. For what nation, be it Germany, Russia, France or even Mexico, would quickly cooperate with us after having been publicly castigated and ridiculed for disagreeing with us over Iraq. President Bush says that the cooperation of other nations, particularly our allies, is critical to our war on terrorism. And he's right. Yet his administration consistently runs roughshod over the interests of those nations on a broad range or issues - from climate control to the International Court of Justice to the role of the United Nations to trade to rebuilding Iraq. And by acting without international sanction in Iraq, the Administration has in effect invited other nations to invoke the same precedent to attack their adversaries - or to develop nuclear, biological or chemical weapons to deter such an attack.

Intoxicated with the preeminence of American power, the Administration has abandoned the fundamental tenets that guided our foreign policy for more than half a century-belief in collective security and alliances, respect for international institutions and international law, multilateral engagement, and the use of force not as a first option but as a last resort.

Triumphalism may make the armchair warriors now in the seats of power feel good, but it does not serve America's interests. A foreign policy of triumphalism denies us the true victories we need; even more, it invites a new, wider and more fundamental war. It diminishes Islamic moderates and fuels the fire of jihadists, enabling them to attract more recruits to their cause. The battle against terrorism is not and must not be a modern crusade against Islam. But unless we as a nation change course, we could incite and invite a clash of civilizations with catastrophic consequences for the future.

Those of us who seek the Democratic presidential nomination owe the American people more than just anger or criticism of the Bush foreign policy or even piecemeal solutions. We need to convince America that Democrats are responsible stewards of our national security and America's role in the world.

So I have come to the Council on Foreign Relations today to discuss what I would do as President to change a foreign policy that is radically wrong - and to renew an American role of leadership in the 21st century that is true to both our interests and our ideals.

The election of 2004 is very different from others, especially those since the fall of the Berlin Wall. No issue now is more central and fundamental than national security. And in a sense, all the great issues are increasingly seamless: To succeed at home, we must succeed abroad; if our foreign policy fails, our economic policy ultimately will falter - as confidence is shaken by global instability, or contracts and commerce are lost to us by global hostility.

As President, I will chart a new course rooted in our enduring values. I will replace the Bush years of isolation with a new era of alliances - because while the Cold War has ended, our need for allies to confront and overcome a different array of dangers and challenges is as great or greater than ever.

As President, I will not cede our security to any nation or institution - and adversaries will have no doubt of my resolve to use force if necessary - but I will always understand that even the only superpower on earth cannot succeed without co-operation and compromise with our friends and allies.

Instead of demeaning diplomacy, I will restore diplomacy as a tool of the strong - and enlist expert and thoughtful Americans of both parties as envoys to carry a new American message around the world.

I will carry that message to the world myself in my first hundred days in office. I will go to the United Nations and travel to our traditional allies to affirm that the United States has rejoined the community of nations. I will make it clear that when the Secretary of State speaks, he or she speaks for America - not for the losing cause of internationalism inside an Administration obsessed with its own hubris and swagger.

Nowhere is the need for the United States to reengage the world community and renew alliances more critical than Iraq. The American people demand and deserve a policy that provides greater protection to our troops and greater prospects for success. Ironically, the Bush Administration's actions have pushed the United Nations and our allies away from joining us in this endeavor even though they too have an enormous stake in its outcome.

A powerful case can be made that the international community has a common interest in assuring that Iraq does not become a permanent quagmire - or a rogue state reborn, with Saddam Hussein or his successor basking in his palace, thumbing his nose at the world and sponsoring a new haven for terrorists. The Administration, bent on its go-it-alone approach, has done little to make the case or to give the United Nations and our allies the necessary incentives to join in.

Our best option for success is to go back to the United Nations and leave no doubt that we are prepared to put the United Nations in charge of the reconstruction and governance-building processes. I believe the prospects for success on the ground will be far greater if Ambassador Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority are replaced by a UN Special Representative for Iraq.

I understand that the United Nations is reluctant to return to Iraq, for good reason. But I believe if the UN role is absolutely clear and substantively real, the Secretary General and members of the Security Council will support this course of action. But one thing is beyond doubt: we will continue to have difficulty persuading other countries, particularly those with meaningful military capabilities, to contribute troops and funds for reconstruction unless and until we vest real responsibility in the hands of the United Nations and the international community. I have said before - and I repeat today-that the Bush Administration should swallow its pride and reverse course. But the evidence is strong that it lacks the wisdom or will to do so.

In fact, I fear that in the run up to the 2004 election the Administration is considering what is tantamount to a cut and run strategy. Their sudden embrace of accelerated Iraqification and American troop withdrawal without adequate stability is an invitation to failure. The hard work of rebuilding Iraq must not be dictated by the schedule of the next American election. I have called for the Administration to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people as quickly as circumstances permit. But it would be a disaster and a disgraceful betrayal of principle to speed up the process simply to lay the groundwork for a politically expedient withdrawal of American troops. This could risk the hijacking of Iraq by terrorist groups and former Baathists. Security and political stability cannot be divorced. Security must come first and that is why it is so imperative to succeed in building a genuine coalition on the ground in Iraq..

An international effort in Iraq is indispensable, but only the start of the new era of alliances in which the United States must lead and re-engage the world.

The war on terrorism is not just an American cause; it is a global conflict against a hidden and deadly enemy with many faces in many places. No matter how much power we have, we cannot prevail single-handedly. We must work with the international community to define a global strategy that is inclusive not exclusive, collective and not imperial.

As President, I will work aggressively to rebuild the relationships frayed and shredded by the Bush Administration, particularly with our NATO allies. I will immediately convene a summit with European and world leaders to discuss a common anti-terrorism agenda, including a collective security framework and a long-term strategy to build bridges to the Islamic world.

I will treat the United Nations as a full partner - not only in the war on terror, but in combating other common enemies like AIDS and global poverty. We must seek not only to renew the mandate of the UN, but to reform its operations and revitalize its capacity. If I am President, the United Nations will be seen as the asset it is, not a liability to a safer America.

Nowhere is the need for collective endeavor greater than in Afghanistan. We must end the Bush Administration's delay in expanding NATO forces and deploying them outside Kabul. We must accelerate training for the Afghan army and police. The disarmament of the warlord militias and their reintegration into society must be transformed from a pilot program into a mainstream strategy. Either the warlords must be drawn into a closer relationship with the central government, or they must be isolated and removed.

The Bush Administration has ignored the drug trade in Afghanistan, which has become a multi-billion dollar slush fund for corruption and instability. As President I will reverse the explosion in the growth of opium by doubling our counter-narcotics assistance to the Karzai Government and reinvigorating the UN regional drug control program.

Iran presents an especially difficult challenge. Our relations there are burdened by a generation of distrust, by the threat of nuclear proliferation, and by reports of Al Qaeda forces in that country, including the leadership responsible for the May 17th bombings in Saudi Arabia. But the Bush Administration stubbornly refuses to conduct a realistic, non-confrontational policy with Iran even where that may be possible. As President, I will be prepared early-on to explore areas of mutual interest with Iran, just as I was prepared to normalize relations with Vietnam a decade ago. Iran has long expressed an interest in cooperating against the Afghan drug trade. That is one starting point. And, just as we have asked that Iran turnover Al Qaeda members who are there, the Iranians have looked to us for help in dealing with Iraq-based terrorists who threaten them. It is incomprehensible and unacceptable that this Administration refuses to broker an arrangement with Iran for a mutual crackdown on both terrorist groups.

Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan and the surrounding states, recent attacks from Saudi Arabia and Indonesia to Kenya, Morocco, and Turkey point to a widespread and widening network of terrorists targeting this country and our friends. This calls for an international response to deny the terrorists sanctuary, freedom of movement, and financial resources. Failed and failing states like Somalia or countries with large areas of limited government control like the Philippines need international help to close down terrorist havens.

We need a similar collective action to end terrorist funding. I wrote the international anti-money laundering legislation that is now the law of the land. That legislation permits the executive branch to impose financial sanctions against nations or banks that fail to cooperate in the war against money laundering. These sanctions are among our most potent tools in changing the environment which sustains terrorism. How has the Bush Administration used them? By going after Nauru.

As President, I will do more than target a strip of sand in the Pacific. I have focused on this issue since I first led our nation's efforts to expose and shut down BCCI. And in my first 100 days, I will launch a "name and shame" campaign against individuals, banks and foreign governments that are financing terror. Those who fail to respond will be shut out of American financial markets.

One country that requires a great deal of scrutiny is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia's role in the financing of terror was highlighted in a report published by this Council. The report concludes: "For years individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for al-Qaeda. And for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem." Perhaps even more disturbing is the allegation that al-Qaeda continued to receive money from inside Saudi Arabia long after the September 11 attacks. According to the Council's report, "Some, whose donations go to al-Qaeda, know full well the terrorist purposes to which their money will be put."

The Saudi government now claims to be cracking down on terrorist financing, but their actions have not matched their words. The United States must do everything possible to ensure that Saudi reforms are real, not just window-dressing. There needs to be accountability.

I have specific concerns.

Saudi Arabia has long been a major supporter of Islamic extremism here and elsewhere. Saudi-funded hate speech can be found in schools, mosques, and other institutions across the world, fostering hatred of Jews, Christians, Americans, and the West. This kind of officially sanctioned bigotry breeds terrorism. Spokesmen for the Saudis now say that textbooks are being rewritten to remove "possibly offensive" language and that Islamic clerics are being told to tone down their rhetoric. But we need more than promises. We need to see the new textbooks. We need to hear what the government-financed clerics are preaching.

Saudi officials and spokesmen have said repeatedly that the Saudi government is opposed to every form of terrorism; yet the Saudi regime openly and enthusiastically supports Palestinian terrorist groups, such as Hamas,. The Saudis cannot pick and choose among terrorist groups, approving some while claiming to oppose others.

Beyond all this, one purveyor of Saudi hate speech is a senior member of the ruling family who serves as the top law enforcement official in the kingdom. I'm referring to Prince Nayef, the Saudi interior minister. More than a year after 9/11 attacks, Prince Nayef told an Arab media outlet that he thought "the Jews" were responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. How can we even begin to regard Saudi Arabia as a reliable ally against terrorism when its top law enforcement officer, supposedly responsible for tracking down terrorists, is a man who promotes wild, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to explain away the 9/11 attacks?

The truth is, we have deep, and for the moment inescapable ties - corporate and energy dependence - that complicates our relationship with significantly. And that is why we must adopt a new energy policy for America and create a real partnership against terror which is in the best long-term Saudi interests as well.

Perhaps the greatest need for a new era of alliances comes from the gravest threats that terrorists or unstable states can pose if they acquire weapons of mass destruction. I will give this challenge the focus it demands. As President, I will elevate non-proliferation to the top of the global agenda and create a new framework with tough, accountable, enforceable standards. On this issue, too, the Administration's unilateralism is profoundly dangerous. Today, George Bush is poised to set off a new nuclear arms race by building bunker-busting tactical nuclear weapons -smaller and, some incredibly believe, more "usable" nuclear bombs. I don't want a world with usable nuclear bombs. As President, I will engage Iran and renew bilateral negotiations with North Korea on the nuclear issue - and I will seek a new international protocol to track and account for existing nuclear weapons and to deter the development of chemical and biological arsenals.

All this and more - including economic and social progress in the poorest countries so we can drain the swamps where terrorists breed - cannot be achieved if the United States goes it alone, alienates the world, and simply seeks to impose its will. The new era of alliances I propose will take different forms to deal with different and urgent challenges. But the overriding imperative is the same - to replace unilateral action with collective security. So far, the failure to do so means that we are less safe today than we were three years ago.

Just as American cannot go it alone, we cannot neglect our indispensable role in the search for peace in the most volatile region of the world. President Bush pays lip service to the idea that Mideast Peace is critical to combating terrorism. But his Administration has lurched from episodic involvement to recurrent disengagement, jeopardizing the security of Israel, encouraging Palestinian extremists, and undermining our own long term national interests. Leaders of good will on both sides, private citizens as well as public officials are working to advance the peace process, with some of them offering the vision of a final settlement. They understand, as President Clinton did, that it may be easier to break the stalemate and end the violence fostered by extremists if the end game is the focus, not the steps leading up to it. In the first days of a Kerry Administration, I will appoint a Presidential Ambassador to the Peace Process who will report directly to me and the Secretary of State - and who will work day-to-day to move that process forward. There are a number of uniquely qualified Americans who I would consider appointing, including: President Carter, former Secretary of State James Baker, or, as I suggested almost two years ago, President Clinton.

Over the longer term, to prevail in the war on terror we must build new bridges to the Islamic world. In recent years, our capacity to communicate and persuade has constricted even as the need has mounted because our diplomatic presence abroad has been squeezed by tight budgets and our diplomats have been forced to withdraw behind concrete barriers in the face of terrorist threats. Our annual budget for international affairs - what we spend on the war of ideas - is a fraction of what we spend to prepare for war on the battlefield. Yet, as we have learned through painful experience, we cannot afford to win one war and lose the other.

As President, I will fight for the funding to expand our diplomatic presence - and I will direct America's representatives overseas to reach out to populations, not just governments - to religious and cultural leaders and to a new generation growing up in this age of mass communication. We invented it; we should be using it. And this kind of public diplomacy cannot be an afterthought; it must be at the core of our efforts. We must speak and we must listen. I will also appoint a Presidential Envoy for the Islamic world who will seek to strengthen moderate Islam and find new ways to isolate the terrorists - and who will make the case for progress, mutual respect - and yes, our conviction that Israel and the Arab world can and should live together in a secure and lasting peace.

President Bush has spoken of the transformation of the Middle East. But I am convinced that the transformation must be rooted in the aspirations of the people who live there, not in Republican political ideology. Our purpose must be to help them open up their own societies and economies. How can this Administration preach democracy in the Mideast and then condone, as it has in recent days, the denial of a free press in Iraq?

Finally, we must recognize that America will only be secure if our intelligence is sound. The Bush Administration has stonewalled the 9/11 Commission and resisted Congressional investigations of our intelligence failures. The need here is to fix the problem, not the blame-and speedy completion of this task is critical to prevent and respond to future terrorist attacks.

We must insure that our intelligence is accurate, not manipulated; that it flows efficiently between agencies and to our allies abroad and the law enforcement community at home - because even what we do know will hurt us if it is not known in the right places. We must end the multiple watch lists and the bureaucratic rivalries that put institutional pride ahead of national safety. As President, I will address this danger immediately by asking Congress to pass legislation creating a Director of National Intelligence, with real control of all national intelligence personnel and budgets. And I will appoint a Secretary of Defense and other officials who will co-operate with this change - who will understand that their job is to protect the country, not their own fiefdoms. I will also complete a comprehensive review of the national intelligence establishment, a review which the Bush Administration commissioned in its early days but which has stalled in the face of entrenched bureaucratic interests.

Today, I have set out both the principles and specific points of a foreign policy that can make America once again a great leader for freedom, not a lonely great power that for all its might grows weaker in the world. Our future will be imperiled, not improved, if we betray our own principles, if we take the path of arrogance, if we blunder down the false road of empire. Our greatest asset is that we need not be alone - that we have friends across the globe who share our cause of freedom and progress.

I know what the Bush apologists will say to this - that it is unpatriotic to question, to criticize, and to call for change. They are already broadcasting television ads which say just that. But I believe that flag does not belong to any President or any political party. I believe it is the essence of patriotism to hold this nation to a higher standard. And I believe that in a time of fear, in an uncertain world, America's security depends on our own strength, but also on our ideals, and on the will and the wisdom to forge a new era of alliances where this nation truly and proudly is the best hope of earth

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