John F. Kerry photo

"Security and Strength for a New World": Remarks of John Kerry

May 27, 2004

Thank you all for being here.

Over the next ten days, our nation will come together to honor the bravery and sacrifice of past generations of Americans. On Saturday, in our nation's capital, we will dedicate a memorial to the heroes of the Greatest Generation who won World War II. On Memorial Day, we will salute all those who for more than two centuries made the ultimate sacrifice when America's freedom was on the line.

And on June 6th, we will mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day by remembering the brave young men who scaled the cliffs on beaches called Omaha and Utah – and brought the light of liberty from the New World to the Old.

To me, and to millions of Americans, the days ahead will be filled with the pride of families, the sadness of loss and a renewed commitment to service. But that is not enough. We must pay tribute.

We must hear and heed the lessons of the Greatest Generation.

Our leaders then understood that America drew its power not only from the might of weapons, but also from the trust and respect of nations around the globe. There was a time, not so long ago, when the might of our alliances was a driving force in the survival and success of freedom – in two World Wars, in the long years of the Cold War – then from the Gulf War to Bosnia and Kosovo. America led instead of going it alone. We extended a hand, not a fist. We respected the world – and the world respected us.

More than a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt defined American leadership in foreign policy. He said America should walk softly and carry a big stick. Time and again, this Administration has violated the fundamental tenet of Roosevelt's approach, as he described it: "If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble."

But that is precisely what this Administration has done. They looked to force before exhausting diplomacy. They bullied when they should have persuaded.

They have gone it alone when they should have assembled a team. They have hoped for the best when they should have prepared for the worst. In short, they have undermined the legacy of generations of American leadership. And that is what we must restore.

Today, there is still a powerful yearning around the world for an America that listens and leads again. An America that is respected, and not just feared.

I believe that respect is an indispensable mark of our nation's character – and an indispensable source of our nation's strength. It is the indispensable bond of America's mighty alliances.

I'm running for president because, abroad as well as at home, it's time to let America be America again. By doing so, we can restore our place in the world and make America safer.

It's time for a new national security policy guided by four new imperatives: First, we must launch and lead a new era of alliances for the post 9-11 world. Second, we must modernize the world's most powerful military to meet the new threats. Third, in addition to our military might, we must deploy all that is in America's arsenal -- our diplomacy, our intelligence system, our economic power, and the appeal of our values and ideas. Fourth and finally, to secure our full independence and freedom, we must free America from its dangerous dependence on Mideast oil.

These four imperatives are a response to an inescapable reality: War has changed; the enemy is different – and we must think and act anew.

Today, we are waging a global war against a terrorist movement committed to our destruction. Terrorists like al Qaeda and its copycat killers are unlike any adversary our nation has faced. We do not know for certain how they are organized or how many operatives they have. But we know the destruction they can inflict.

We saw it in New York and in Washington; we have seen it in Bali and in Madrid, in Israel and across the Middle East; and we see it day after day in Iraq.

This threat will only be magnified as the technology to build nuclear and biological weapons continues to spread. And we can only imagine what would happen if the deadly forces of terrorism got their hands on the deadliest weapons in history.

Everyone outside the Administration seems to understand that we are in deep trouble in Iraq. Failure there would be a terrible setback. It would be a boon to our enemies, and jeopardize the long-term prospects for a peaceful, democratic Middle East – leaving us at war not just with a small, radical minority, but with increasingly large portions of the entire Muslim world.

There is also the continuing instability in Afghanistan, where al Qaeda still has a base, and Osama bin Laden is still at large, because the Bush Administration didn't finish him off at the battle of Tora Bora. And in East Asia, North Korea poses a genuine nuclear threat, while we have begun to strip American troops to relieve the overburdened forces in Iraq.

In the coming week, I will also offer specific plans to build a new military capable of defeating enemies new and old, and to stop the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. But first, here today, I want to set out the overall architecture of a new policy to make America stronger and respected in the world.

The first new imperative represents a return to the principle that guided us in peril and victory through the past century – alliances matter, and the United States must lead them.

Never has this been more true than in the war on terrorism.

As president, my number one security goal will be to prevent the terrorists from gaining weapons of mass murder. And our overriding mission will be to disrupt and destroy their terrorist cells.

Because al Qaeda is a network with many branches, we must take the fight to the enemy on every continent – and enlist other countries in that cause.

America must always be the world's paramount military power. But we can magnify our power through alliances. We simply can't go it alone – or rely on a coalition of the few. The threat of terrorism demands alliances on a global scale – to find the extremist groups, to guard ports and stadiums, to share intelligence, and to get the terrorists before they get us. In short, we need a "coalition of the able" – and in truth, no force on earth is more able than the United States and its allies.

We must build that force – and we can. We can be strong without being stubborn. Indeed, that is ultimately the only way we can succeed.

Building strong alliances is only the first step. We cannot meet the new threats unless our military is adapted for new missions. This is my second new imperative.

As president, on my first day in office, I will send a message to every man and woman in our armed forces: This commander-in-chief will ensure that you are the best-led, best-equipped and most respected fighting force in the world. You will be armed with the right weapons, schooled in the right skills, and fully prepared to win on the battlefield. But you will never be sent into harm's way without enough troops for the task, or asked to fight a war without a plan to win the peace.

And you will never be given assignments which have not been clearly defined and for which you are not professionally trained.

This Administration has disregarded the advice, wisdom, and experience of our professional military officers. And often ended the careers of those who dared to give their honest assessments. That is not the way to make the most solemn decisions of war and peace. As president, I will listen to and respect the views of our experienced military leaders – and never let ideology trump the truth.

In the past, when our leaders envisioned the use of force, they had in mind the unleashing of massive numbers of American troops, battleships and aircraft in confrontation with the uniformed military of an enemy nation. Of course, a conventional war to halt conventional aggression still remains a possibility for which we must prepare. But there are other urgent challenges.

I will modernize our military to match its new missions. We must get the most out of new technologies. We must reform training and update the way we structure our armed forces -- for example, with special forces designed to strike terrorists in their sanctuaries, and with national guard and reserve units retooled to meet the requirements of homeland defense.

This strategy focuses not only on what we must do, but on what we must prevent. We must ensure that lawless states and terrorists will not be armed with weapons of mass destruction.

This is the single gravest threat to our security. Any potential adversary should know that we will defend ourselves against the possibility of attack by unconventional arms. If such a strike does occur, as commander-in-chief, I will respond with overwhelming and devastating force. If such an attack appears imminent, as commander-in-chief, I will do whatever is necessary to stop it. And, as commander-in-chief, I will never cede our security to anyone. I will always do what is necessary to safeguard our country.

The Justice Department said yesterday that terrorists may be planning to attack the United States again this summer -- some believe that al Qaeda would use an attack to try and influence the outcome of the November election.

I have a message today for al Qaeda or any terrorist who may be harboring these illusions: We may have an election in here in America. But let there be no doubt -- this country is united in its determination to destroy you. And let me be absolutely clear: As commander-in-chief, I will bring the full force of our nation's power to bear on finding and crushing your networks. We will use every available resource to destroy you.

But not all problems should be viewed through a military lens. We should never wait to act until we have no other choice but war. That brings me to my third new imperative.

In this new world, beyond military power, we must deploy all the power in America's arsenal.

We need to employ a layered defense to keep the worst weapons from falling into the worst hands. A strategy that invokes our non-military strength early enough and effectively enough so military force doesn't become our only option.

As President, I will launch a global initiative to fully secure the materials needed for nuclear weapons that already exist and sharply limit and control future production.

This initiative will include changes in international treaties, sharing of intelligence, and setting conditions for economic sanctions and the interdiction of illegal shipments. The key is for America to lead: to build an international consensus for early preventive action, so that states don't even think of taking the nuclear road, and potential traffickers in nuclear and biological technology fear the consequences of getting caught.

We must also have the best possible intelligence capabilities. Nothing is more important than early warning and specific information when dangerous technologies are being developed or sold. Whether it was September 11th or Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, we have endured too many intelligence failures. That is why I will do what this President has failed to do: reform our intelligence system by making the next director of the CIA a true director of national intelligence, with true control over intelligence personnel and budgets all across the government.

All the levers of power will be deployed to overcome the 21st century dangers we face. I intend to discuss this initiative in detail early next week.

Finally, a new national security policy demands an end to our dependence on Mideast oil. That is my fourth new imperative. For too long, America has lost its voice when talking about the policies and practices of some governments in the Persian Gulf.

We have been constrained by their control over the oil that fuels too large a part of our economy. This is a weakness that this Administration has ignored – and one that must be addressed.

I have proposed a plan for energy independence from Mideast oil in the next ten years. It invests in new technologies and alternative fuels. It provides tax credits to help consumers buy and manufacturers build fuel efficiency cars. It will tap America's initiative and ingenuity to strengthen our national security, grow our economy, and protect our environment.

If we are serious about energy independence, then we can finally be serious about confronting the role of Saudi Arabia in financing and providing ideological support of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. We cannot continue this Administration's kid-glove approach to the supply and laundering of terrorist money. As President, I will impose tough financial sanctions against nations or banks that engage in money laundering or fail to act against it. I 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.

The same goes for Saudi sponsorship of clerics who promote the ideology of Islamic terror. To put it simply, we will not do business as usual with Saudi Arabia. They must take concrete steps to stop their clerics from fueling the fires of Islamic extremism.

Let me now turn to a subject that I know is on the minds of all Americans – the situation in Iraq.

The stakes in Iraq couldn't be higher. Earlier this week, the President again said he wanted to create stability and establish a representative government in Iraq. He did acknowledge what many have known all along – that we would be far better off if our allies were with us. What's important now is to turn these words into action.

In the coming weeks, President Bush will travel to Europe and meet with the members of the G-8 here in the United States. There will be speeches, handshakes and ceremonies. But will our allies promise to send more troops to Iraq? Will they dedicate substantially more funding for reconstruction there? Will they pledge a real effort to aid the transformation of the Middle East. That is what we need. But the day is late and the situation in Iraq is grim.

Attracting international support in a situation like Iraq is a clear test of presidential leadership. It is what capable and confident presidents do. I urge President Bush to make a sustained effort. He should start at the Summit in Istanbul by persuading NATO to accept Iraq as an alliance mission, with more troops from NATO and its partners. He should seek help in expanding international support for training Iraq's own security forces, so they can safeguard the rights and well-being of their own people.

And he should propose the creation of an International High Commissioner to work with Iraqis in organizing elections, drafting a constitution, and coordinating reconstruction.

Over the last year, we've heard from the President that our policy should simply be to stay the course. But one thing I learned in the Navy is that when the course you're on is headed for the shoals, you have to change course.

If President Bush doesn't secure new support from our allies, we will, once again, feel the consequences of a foreign policy that has divided the world instead of uniting it. Our troops will be in greater peril, the mission in Iraq will be harder to accomplish, and our country will be less secure.

I have spoken today about the architecture of a new national security policy. But at issue here is not just a set of prescriptions; at stake is a vision of an America truly stronger and truly respected in the world. This is not a partisan cause. Patriotism doesn't belong to any one Party or President. And if I am President, I will enlist the best among us, regardless of party, to protect the security of this nation.

And I will call on the whole nation to let America be America again.

My father was a pilot during World War II. A year before Pearl Harbor, he was on active duty and he later served in the South Pacific.

And for the rest his life, he served in one capacity or another – whether nationally or locally, by vocation or as a volunteer.

He told me shortly before he died that the "human conscience, when it works is the most divine thing in our small segment of the universe."

In today's world, conscience marks the difference between tolerance and terror.

In an earlier era, it was the difference between honor and holocaust.

Much has been written about the Greatest Generation.

The question before us now is what will be said about our own.

Because, for better or worse, as Abraham Lincoln once said, we cannot escape the judgment of history.

We do not have to live in fear or stand alone. We don't have to be a lonely "watchman on the walls of freedom." We can, once again, lead a great alliance. That is how we can honor the legacy of the Greatest Generation and restore respect to the greatest country – the United States of America.

Thank you and God bless America.

John F. Kerry, "Security and Strength for a New World": Remarks of John Kerry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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