John F. Kerry photo

Remarks at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay

October 26, 2004

Thank you Wisconsin. And thank you UWGB – it's great to be here at the home of the Phoenix.

I want to start by thanking all the mayors who made the trip to be here with me. Every day, America's mayors find themselves on the frontlines of the fight to secure America. They know better than anyone the challenges we face to keep our cities prepared. In the three years since September 11th, you have done a magnificent job. And today, I'd like to talk about how much safer we can be if we have a President who did his job as well as you do yours.

One week from today, America faces a fundamental choice – the choice of a lifetime – a choice about the future of our country.

I believe that we need a President who defends America and fights for the middle class.

When I am President, I will fight a tougher, smarter, more effective war on terror. We will hunt down, capture, and kill the terrorists wherever they are.

I will never give any other nation or organization a veto over our national security. But I will never forget what Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan all knew – that America is stronger, our troops are safer, and success is more certain when we build and lead strong alliances, not when we go it alone.

George Bush has failed to learn this lesson. And over the last four years, he has failed in his fundamental obligation as Commander-in-Chief to make America as safe and secure as we should be.

Yesterday, we learned that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives vanished from one of Iraq's most sensitive military installations, after the invasion.

Just as the Bush Administration's failure to secure Iraq's borders has led to thousands of terrorists flooding into the country, their failure to secure those explosives threatens American troops and the American people.

Before the war, the explosives were monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which warned the Bush Administration that they could fall into the wrong hands. And it urged the Bush Administration to secure them.

But we rushed to war in Iraq without a plan to safeguard sensitive sites like this one.

And now, the explosives are missing, unaccounted for, and could be in the hands of terrorists – used to attack our troops or our people.

As a result of this loss, terrorists could be helping themselves to what has been called "the greatest explosives bonanza in history."

No wonder the president thinks whether were going to be safe is "up in the air."

These explosives... HMX and RDX... could produce bombs powerful enough to demolish entire buildings... blow up airplanes... destroy tanks... and kill our troops. Terrorists used RDX to take down Pan Am 103 and Al Qaeda used it to attack the USS Cole.

Faced with these devastating facts, what did the President do? First he tried to hide the information until after the election. He has stood in front of the American people day after day, telling us how much progress we are making in Iraq and how much safer we are under his leadership, without ever mentioning the loss of these deadly explosives.

And when the media reported the loss, what did the White House have to say? First, they said they couldn't guard the weapons caches because they had other priorities. Those priorities, according to the White House officials, were Iraqi government buildings, the oil ministry, and the office of reconstruction. Then they argued that losing the explosives wasn't really that big a deal. Finally, at the end of the day, the White House boldly declared that it just didn't happen. Without a shred of evidence to dispute the IAEA, they flatly said the weapons were gone by the time our troops got there.

And what did the president have to say about the missing explosives? Not a word. Complete silence. Despite devastating evidence that his administration's failure here has put our troops and our citizens are in greater danger, George Bush has not offered a single word of explanation. His silence confirms what I have been saying for months: President Bush rushed to war without a plan to win the peace. He didn't have enough troops on the ground to get the job done. He didn't have enough allies to get the job done. He failed to secure Iraq and keep it from becoming what it is today – a haven for terrorists.

And now this morning, we learned that the president wants an additional $70 billion early next year for Iraq and Afghanistan – bringing the total cost to nearly $225 billion. This is the incredible price of going it almost alone in Iraq.

Mr. President, what else are you being silent about? What else are you keeping from the American people? How much more will the American people have to pay?

The American people deserve a commander in chief who will tell the truth in good times and bad. This president has failed that fundamental test.

When the President is faced with the consequences of his own wrong decisions, he doesn't confront them, he tries to hide them.

The truth is, President Bush has never leveled with the American people about why we went to war... how the war is going... or what he is doing to put Iraq on track.

The President diverted critical military and intelligence personnel from Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. He failed to use the best mountain troops in the world when we had bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora. Instead, he used Afghan warlords who one week earlier were on the other side.

This critical error in judgment allowed Osama to got away. And now, al Qaeda has spread to more than 60 countries... and its operatives have forged new ties to another 20 extremist groups in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Global terrorism is increasing, not receding.

When a Commander-in-Chief makes the wrong decisions, America's security pays the price.

After the invasion, the President's hand picked man in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, told him we didn't have enough troops in Iraq to prevent looting and crime... to secure Iraq's borders against terrorist infiltration... and to guard more than one million tons of ammunition and weapons that could wind up in the hands of the insurgents and be used against our troops.

The President's top commander in Iraq, General Sanchez, pleaded with the Administration for critical supplies to counter the growing insurgency, including 36,000 sets of body armor... and spare parts for our tanks, helicopters and fighting vehicles.

When a Commander-in-Chief makes the wrong decision, America's security pays the price.

The President's Central Intelligence Agency warned him this summer that the situation in Iraq was bad and getting worse. But the President just kept telling the American people that "his strategy is succeeding."

Since then, the coalition has lost control of areas where at least 1 million Iraqis live. U.S. forces are attacked an average of 87 times a day – up 100% since the spring. Over 150 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since March.

When a Commander-in-Chief makes the wrong decision, America's security pays the price.

Yesterday, we saw again just how out of touch this administration is. Vice President Cheney called the Iraq war a "remarkable success story." They don't see it; they don't get it; they can't fix it. All George Bush offers is more of the same.

Mr. President, these aren't accounting errors. These are fundamental errors of judgment. Being president is about making the right decisions. Time and again, this president has made the wrong decisions. Time and again, he has chosen the wrong path.

In virtually everything he has said... and everything he has done... the President has demonstrated to the American people... and to countries around the world... that he is divorced from reality in Iraq.

If President Bush can't recognize the problems in Iraq, he won't fix them.

I can and I will.

It's time for a fresh start in Iraq:

  • To bring our allies to the table.
  • To train Iraqis quickly and effectively so we can bring our troops home.
  • To use reconstruction money to benefit the Iraqi people, not Halliburton.
  • To hold the promised elections early next year.

We can succeed in Iraq – but only with new leadership and credibility.

The truth is, George Bush has not only made America less secure with his mistakes in Iraq; he's also failed in his obligation to protect the American people at home.

Three years after the deadliest attack in our nation's history, George Bush still hasn't done what's necessary to protect America because he's too busy protecting his tax cuts for the wealthy and the well-connected.

Just as he has been warned about his mistakes in Iraq, George Bush has been warned time and time again about the vulnerability of our homeland security: by Republicans and Democrats in Congress, by the 9/11 commission, by the FBI, by the CIA, by his own Justice Department, by his own Homeland Security department, by the Coast Guard, by the border patrol, and by mayors, firefighters, police officers, and emergency responders like those here with us today.

And after you and all of them told this president that we had to do better and do more on homeland security, what was his answer when I brought it up during our debate?

He said, "I don't think we want to get to how he's going to pay for all these promises."

This from the man who found a way to pay for $89 billion in tax cuts for people who make over $1.2 million – enough to nearly double what we're spending right now on homeland security. This from the man who thinks we can afford to shell out billions of dollars a year to corporations that put mailboxes in the Caribbean to avoid paying taxes.

We don't need a President who thinks we can't afford to fund homeland security, we need a President who believes we can't afford not to. And that's the kind of President I will be.

Just think about the state of our homeland security today:

There are over 100 chemical plants near communities of over one million. We know that the EPA and the Justice Department say they're vulnerable to attack. And a Georgia Pacific's former security chief has said that "Security at a 7-Eleven after midnight is better than at a plant with a 90-ton vessel of chlorine."

But George Bush has opposed common sense regulations to improve security at our chemical and nuclear plants, giving in to demands from his chemical and nuclear industry campaign contributors. That's wrong, and we're going to change it.

Today, our borders remain unsecured. Three million people without the proper documentation will enter our country this year – 4,000 every day on the Arizona-Mexico border alone. We've already caught individuals from countries like Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan attempting to cross our borders illegally.

Yet border inspectors tell us they lack the basic training and ready access to information they need to keep terrorists out – like the terrorist watch list. Robert Bonner, the President's own Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, calls the border situation "a complete mess."

But George Bush still hasn't created a single integrated watch list. And he is actually cutting jobs in our border patrol. You can't control a border unless it's patrolled.

Tom Ridge has admitted that 95% of the 20,000 containers arriving in America's ports each day are not physically inspected. But George Bush didn't request one dime to enhance our port security until Congress forced him to include it in the budget.

The FBI warns us that Al Qaeda may attack trains or subways here as they did in Madrid. But George Bush hasn't asked Congress for one dime to strengthen our public transportation system. That's wrong, and we're going to change it.

The Department of Homeland Security's own investigators were able to carry explosives and weapons past security screeners at every airport they visited. But George Bush has allowed thousands of airport screeners to be cut and he won't give airports the funding they need to improve baggage screening. That's wrong, and we're going to change it.

The government's own watchdogs tell us that our hospitals are not prepared to deal with a bioterror attack. And, despite pledging to maintain stockpiles of drugs to protect America from a bioterrorism attack, this Administration only has enough licensed anthrax vaccine for 530 people. That's wrong, and we're going to change it.

Half of our fire-fighters don't have the radios they need to communicate in a crisis. And the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that 76 percent of cities have still not received first responder funds. But George Bush has cut first responder training and assistance by nearly half in this year's budget. He cut resources for equipment and personnel to local fire departments. And he has consistently cut the COPS program that put 100,000 new police officers on the street. That's wrong, and we're going to change it.

Just think about what this President has done to our security. Even as he told us we can't afford more port security, more baggage security, more border patrol agents, more firefighters and more cops...George Bush tells America that we can afford every single dime of the $89 billion in tax cuts he gave to folks making more than $1.2 million a year. That's wrong, and we're going to change it.

Through the mistakes and misjudgments he has made in Iraq and at home, George Bush has failed to keep the American people as safe and secure as we should be.

My fellow Americans, I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as President. My highest obligation will be to protect the American people, and I won't let anything get in the way.

I will invest at least $60 billion more over the next ten years to protect America. I will secure our ports and our borders by screening cargo for nuclear materials. I will make sure that we have enough border agents with the right technology to keep commerce flowing in while keeping terrorists out. And I will make sure we have a single, effective, and integrated terrorist watch list that is accessible to everyone who needs it to keep America safe.

I will protect our transportation systems by making sure we screen airplane cargo just like we screen baggage; by ensuring our airports have enough trained staff to protect us; by investing more than $2 billion to improve security on our railroads, subways, bridges and tunnels.

I will protect our chemical and nuclear plants by requiring them to develop and implement real security plans.

I will protect our country against bioterrorism by making investments in our public health system to detect possible threats; by giving hospitals and emergency rooms the resources they need to contain an attack; and by making sure our public health system can develop and distribute enough vaccines for the people who need them.

And I will always make it my job to do everything possible so that America's first responders – America's heroes – can do theirs. We will invest in more manpower, more equipment, and more training for those who are on the frontlines defending America every day. We will restore funding for the COPS program. I will add 100,000 firefighters. And I will relieve the burden that this President has placed on our National Guard so that they can better fulfill one of their other missions -- to defend our homeland.

We have a lot of catching up to do; we need to begin now. We have to fix the problems and close the gaps that George Bush has left in our homeland security. We have to build an America that is safer and stronger.

In the past few months, I've been blessed and honored to receive the support of five women who lost their husbands on September 11th. These women fought tirelessly for the creation of the 9/11 commission to find the truth and to ensure that no other families have to suffer the pain that they have endured.

On the morning of September 11th, Kristen Breitweiser, a wife and mother, didn't think she had a care in the world. But just after 9am, tragedy struck and in an instant, Kristen lost her husband and the father of her children.

Kristen has had the courage to take her unbelievable loss and transform it into an unbending determination to make America safe.

I want a world where no American mother should have to lie awake at night worrying what tomorrow will bring -- whether her husband will be safe at work or her children will be safe at school the next day. No one should have to fear that students on a graduation trip to our nation's capitol or one of our greatest cities might be attacked. I ask for your help – Republicans and Democrats and Independents. Let's unite America to make our country safer.

Our hope – our determination – is nothing less than this: to live our lives confident that we are safe at home and secure in our world. That is a great issue in this campaign and that is the great victory I will fight for as your President.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

John F. Kerry, Remarks at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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