John F. Kerry photo

Radio Address to the Nation

April 17, 2004

Good morning, this is John Kerry and I would like to talk with you about the current very critical situation in Iraq. We all know that events there have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Each day, it seems more American soldiers are killed. Civilians from half a dozen allied countries have been kidnapped. Too many of the Iraqi military and police, whom we trained, have refused to fight. Extremists appear to be gaining confidence and have vowed to drive our troops from the country.

We cannot – and will not – let that happen. Americans differ about whether and how we should have gone to war. But it would be unthinkable now for us to retreat in disarray and leave behind a society deep in strife and dominated by radicals. All Americans are united in backing our troops and meeting our commitment to help the people of Iraq build a country that is stable, peaceful, tolerant and free.

But staying the course does not mean stubbornly holding to the wrong course. In order to complete our mission, we must review our tactics.

We need strategies that reflect realistic goals and the facts on the ground. The President had a chance on Tuesday night to present such a strategy, but chose not to.

It is now more important than ever that we take a different approach, designed to maximize our chance for success by making full use of the assets we have.

First, our leaders must level with the American people and be honest and upfront about the difficulties we face. The President may not want to admit to mistakes, but his choices in Iraq have so far produced a tragedy of errors.

Second, we must recognize that progress is not possible in Iraq if people lack the security to go about the business of daily life. We must supply our military commanders with the additional troops they have requested. But the military alone cannot win the peace in Iraq.

The use of force must be combined with a diplomatic strategy that will work. United Nations representatives have put forward a fair proposal for an interim government. It will allow Iraqis from all factions to participate. It's a good starting point, but it leaves many hard questions unanswered.

That is why, for the long term, our third step we must remove the "Made in America" label from the Iraqi occupation.

We can do that by creating an international mission authorized by the United Nations. That mission should become the main civilian partner in helping the Iraqi people hold elections, restore government services and rebuild their economy. This would make it possible to attract needed financial help from other nations, and show that Iraqi extremists are opposing not just the United States, but also the will of the nations of the world. Removing that "Made in America" label can send a message to Iraqi military and police that its time to do their jobs not because America is telling them to, but because the world stands ready to help them secure a stable Iraq.

Fourth, we should transform the military force in Iraq into a NATO security force under the leadership of an American commander. By sharing responsibilities with our friends and allies, we can get others to share the burdens and the risks. Given the dangers in Iraq it won't be easy to get our friends and allies to send in new troops, but I am confident that we can do that with real leadership and a commitment to share authority as well as responsibility. To achieve this we need a major diplomatic effort including a high level mission to consult with our NATO partners.

Because of the go-it-alone policy in Iraq, our troops have borne ninety percent of the risks and casualties, while our taxpayers have paid ninety percent of the costs. The failure of the Administration to internationalize the conflict has lost us time, momentum, and credibility – and made America less safe. Our stubborn, unilateral policy in Iraq has steadily drifted – from tragedy to tragedy. Our troops deserve better. To succeed in Iraq, we must be tough enough to stick to our principles in the face of setbacks. But we must also be smart enough to fight the enemy with all the tools and all the help we can find. Our troops today are paying the price for a flawed policy. We need a new policy that puts our soldiers first.

This is John Kerry. Thanks for listening.

John F. Kerry, Radio Address to the Nation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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