"Strengthening Our Military": Remarks of John Kerry
Thank you General Wilson for that kind introduction, and thank you all for coming today. General Wilson is the quintessential example of what we mean by the opportunity Army. He rose from private to Commander of the Army Materiel Command, supplying the Army with everything from beans, to bullets, to boots. And I'm delighted that he's with us today.
I can't tell you what a treat it is for me to stand here this afternoon in this remarkable library celebrating a remarkable man. In word and deed, Harry Truman embodied the highest ideals of the Greatest Generation. He desegregated our armed forces. He created the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe from the ground up, and gave life to the United Nations and NATO. And he set this nation and the world on a wise and patient path to win the Cold War without a third World War.
President Truman understood that our military is only as good as the men and women in its ranks. And I know that he would be as proud of the soldiers who serve this country today as he was of those who sacrificed for our country sixty years ago.
In the spirit of all the men and women in uniform we honor at this time every year, let me offer this pledge: As President, I will always remember that America's security begins and ends with the soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine – with every man and every woman in our armed services standing a post somewhere in the world. Today, we salute each and every one of them for their commitment, strength, and extraordinary courage – especially those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. They, like all veterans of wars past, deserve our prayers and then, when they come home, they deserve the respect and support of a grateful nation. After all, the first definition of patriotism is to keep faith with those who have worn the uniform of the United States.
And the first duty of a commander in chief is to make America strong and keep Americans safe. A week ago in Seattle, I outlined a new strategy of national security based on four imperatives. First, we must lead strong alliances for the post 9-11 world. Second, to secure our full independence and freedom, we must free America from its dangerous dependence on Mideast oil. Third, in addition to our military might, we must deploy all that is in America's arsenal – our diplomacy, our intelligence, our economic power, and the power of our values and ideas.
And fourth is the imperative I will discuss today: We must modernize the world's most powerful military to meet new and different threats. The Bush Administration was right to call for the "transformation" of the military. But their version of transformation was directed at fighting classic conventional wars, rather than the dangers we now face in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the war against al Qaeda. To rise to the challenges we face, we must strengthen our military, including our Special Forces; improve our technology; and task our National Guard with Homeland Security.
And there's a reason I decided to come here, to the birthplace of President Truman, to deliver this speech.
In 1945, Franklin Roosevelt died unexpectedly, leaving his vice president of only eighty-three days, Harry S Truman, to finish a war that had claimed the lives of 400,000 Americans. Beyond the war, the new President inherited a shattered Europe and a divided world, with the warmth of democracy on one side and the chill of communism on the other.
In describing what he saw before him that day, Harry Truman said: "I feel as though the moon and all the stars and all the planets have fallen upon me." In many ways, they had. But that plain spoken son of Missouri rose to a responsibility as grave as any given to any President. In a world divided between freedom and tyranny, his decisions set a course that saved the future of humanity.
To contain communism, and build a mighty alliance, Truman had to rebuild our military both to deter conventional aggression and the threat of nuclear weapons, because, as he put it, "The will for peace without the strength for peace is of no avail." He modernized our armed forces by creating the Department of Defense and the Air Force – the greatest change in our nation's military structure since the beginning of the Republic.
Today, in the post 9-11 world, we stand at another historic crossroad, at another moment when the old enemy is gone but we face a new threat. We must change if we are to meet and defeat the danger. We must reshape our military and prepare it for the risks and tasks of a new era.
Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and its copycat killers are claiming the right to execute the innocent. They confuse murder with martyrdom and fanaticism with faith. They use terror as a sword and religion as a shield.
They present the central national security challenge of our generation. But they are unlike any other adversary our nation has ever confronted. They have no president, capital city, territory, army, or national identity. We are not absolutely certain how they are organized or how many operatives they have. But we know the destruction they can inflict. We saw it here in America on September 11th. We saw it in Bali and in Madrid, and across the Middle East. And now we see it day after day in Iraq.
To defeat these threats, we must draw on the four imperatives I described earlier – especially the need to modernize America's military.
Despite all its talk of transforming that military, the Bush Administration has done far too little to adapt our forces to the new missions they must undertake.
We went into Iraq with too few troops to prevent looting and crime, and we failed to secure nearly a million tons of conventional weapons now being used against our troops. We failed to build alliances and squandered the opportunity to generate wider support inside Iraq, in the Arab world, and among the major powers. These mistakes have complicated our mission: a stable Iraq with a representative government secure in its borders.
But as hard as it is to believe, there is little evidence that this Administration has learned from its mistakes. The rhetoric of toughness is not enough to make us safe. We need tough decisions to strengthen the American military, so we can find and get the terrorists before they get us. As President, I will build a highly-trained military, with more ground troops and Special Forces not just to win war, but to win the peace.
Instead of over-relying on weapons and tactics to fight the battles of the past, against enemies out in the desert or on open seas, we must build mobile and modern forces to prevail against terrorists hiding in caves or in the heart of a city. We must broaden our capabilities to create a military ready for any mission, from armored battle to urban warfare to homeland security. Yes, we must invest in missile defense. But not at the cost of other pressing priorities. We cannot afford to spend billions to deploy an unproven missile defense system. Not only is it not ready, but it's the wrong priority for a war on terror where the enemy strikes with a bomb in the back of a truck, or a vial of anthrax in a briefcase.
This is part of a larger problem. From day one, this Administration has been obsessed with threats from other states -- instead of opening their eyes to the perils of the new century: terrorist organizations with or without ties to rogue nations and failed states that can become their sanctuaries. These are the enemies our military is facing. And this is where we must train, arm, and equip our military to win.
In addition, we must secure our own democracy and our own borders. Homeland security must be a top priority of the president. Today, it's too often something this Administration just pays lip service to when the cameras are rolling.
We can't meet the new threats of this new century with a military from the last one. We must always be ready for strategic and conventional missions. But we must also be committed to build the strongest possible military to meet the new and greatest threats. I'm running for president to build a new military for a new time.
My first order of business as commander in chief will be to expand America's active duty forces. Not to increase the number of soldiers in Iraq, but to add 40,000 new soldiers to prevent and prepare for other possible conflicts. The fact is, the war in Iraq has taken a real toll on our armed services. Nine out of ten active duty Army divisions – ninety percent of the Army's active duty combat divisions – are committed to Iraq, either currently there, preparing to go, or recently returned. That is a dangerous and potentially disastrous course that limits our capacity to respond to other crises.
The war has been especially tough on the Army's critical post-war specialists. Civil affairs. Military police. Combat support units. Psychological operations units. All are in short supply. All are nearly exhausted.
To pick up the slack, since 9-11, we've called up our Guard and Reserves at historic levels. Currently there are more than 165,000 Guardsman and Reservists on active duty. In fact, 40 percent of our forces in Iraq are from the Reserve and the Guard. They are America's workers, doctors, mechanics, and first-responders. Some have been on the ground in Iraq for as many as 15 months – much longer than was expected or promised. And many of these units are being pushed the limit.
The people of Missouri understand this situation well. More than 800 of your sons and daughters have had their deployments extended and their homecomings delayed. The Administration is even planning to send troops from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment to Iraq -- a unit whose primary mission has been to prepare other units for future deployments.
The effect is clear: our soldiers are stretched too thin.
The Administration's answer has been to put band-aids on the problem. They have effectively used a stop-loss policy as a back door draft. They have extended tours of duty, delayed retirements, and prevented enlisted personnel from leaving the service. Just yesterday, the Army announced this would affect even more soldiers whose units are headed to Iraq and Afghanistan. By employing these expedients, they've increased the forces by 30,000 troops.
But this has happened on the backs of the men and women who've already fulfilled their obligation to the armed forces and to our country – and it runs counter to the traditions of an all-volunteer military. Because they're serving one tour after another, our soldiers are not getting the training they need or the rest they deserve. Military families are under incredible strain as it becomes harder and harder to balance the demands of family life and military duty. This is especially true at a time when more than half of our military is married – a dramatic increase since Vietnam. When you add it up, we are in danger of creating another hollow Army – a grave concern that I've heard time and again over the last few months from active duty personnel. I heard it in Pittsburgh from an Army Reserve Captain who had just returned from Iraq. Like me, he fears that our military will not be ready for the next mission. That's not the way to make America safer.
The 40,000 new troops I am adding will not be soldiers who've already been on the front lines, but new volunteers trained and ready to defend their country. And this will help relieve the strain on our troops; it will bring more of our soldiers, guardsmen and reservists back home to their families and get them time for the new training they need.
But numbers alone won't win the war in Iraq or the war on terror. We need to create a "New Total Force." Our military must be prepared to defeat any enemy, anytime, any place. And our soldiers must be capable of success in any conflict.
As president, I will double our Special Forces capability to fight the war on terror. That's the second part of my plan to modernize the military. Our Special Forces are the troops who land behind enemy lines, conduct counter-terrorism operations, perform reconnaissance missions, and gather intelligence. In Afghanistan, after September 11th, they took the fight to the Taliban with remarkable creativity. They also train local forces to take on the responsibilities themselves and they build the relationships that are vital for our victory in the war on terror. We saw what they could do during the Iraq war, when two teams of American Green Berets totaling 31 men worked with Kurdish troops to defeat an Iraqi force numbering in the hundreds. The victory at the battle of Debecka Pass is a tribute to the flexibility, training, and courage of American Special Forces – all essential to winning the war on terror.
We must also recognize that the battle itself is only half the mission. In any conflict, we need an expanded, well-trained force, with soldiers prepared for both war and its aftermath.
As President, I will also increase our civil affairs personnel – those who arrive on the scene after the conflict is over and help win the peace. They work with local leaders and officials to get the schools back in shape, the hospitals reopened, and banks up and running.
We also need – and a Kerry Administration will provide – more military police, because public order is a critical step to winning the peace. At the same time, we should move greater responsibility for non-military missions to civilian agencies to ease the burden on our troops.
As President, I will build a modern military, with the best trained troops and the most modern equipment and technology. That's the third part of my plan. The war in Iraq has left us with a hefty bill to pay. Our equipment is worn from the daily assault of battle and the harsh effects of an unforgiving desert. We must repair, replace, and upgrade it to maintain the highest level of readiness.
We can't have a 21st century military unless we're using 21st century technology and preparing our forces for 21st century threats. We need a military that is equipped for the next fight, not the last one. That means educating, training, and arming every soldier with state-of-the-art equipment, whether it's body armor or weapons. And it means employing the most sophisticated communications to help our troops prevail and protect themselves in battle. Right now, the technology exists to let a soldier see what's over the next hill or around the next bend in the road. Every soldier in every unit should have access to that modern breakthrough, which can be the difference between life and death. As president, I will see to it that they do.
I will also accelerate the development of non-lethal technologies, like directed energy weapons, that can incapacitate the enemy, without risking the lives of innocent bystanders. The need for this technology is driven by pure military strategy. With more of the world's populations living in cities, it's more critical than ever that our military be able to carry out their missions with the least harm to civilians. As we saw in Fallujah and Najaf, our forces may advance on the ground, but innocent casualties can cost us victory in the minds of the people. This is especially true in the war on terror, where our forces must track down leaders and their cells no matter where they're hiding, even if it's in the center of a densely populated city.
Technology also plays a critical role in keeping the worst weapons out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists. On Tuesday, I proposed a broad agenda to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and material. But we must recognize if the worst does happen, and dangerous weapons technology falls into the wrong hands, the President must have at his disposal every instrument of force necessary to destroy those weapons before they are used against the United States, its citizens, or its allies. Before the war in Afghanistan, there were troubling reports that our military lacked forces specifically trained and targeted to seizing and dismantling nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. We simply can't win the war on terror if we can't control the world's most lethal weapons. As president, I will build new forces that specialize in finding, securing, and destroying weapons of mass destruction and the facilities that build them.
However, technology alone isn't the answer. We must educate and train our forces differently. This commitment to innovation must be wedded to a continuing investment in the men and women of the American military. Their training, education, and professional development will transform this new technology into real military power.
But one thing we've all learned in the war on terror is that America can't lead abroad unless we're secure at home. While this Administration has taken steps to protect our borders, they've left out a key asset in the fight on terror – our National Guard. The Guard has kept our nation safe since the militias gathered at Lexington and Concord. They've served in every war, and they're serving now. In fact, after September 11th, they were the first ones called on to line city streets, guard bridges, and patrol our airports.
But today, too many of them are far away from home and the Guard as a whole is not integrated into an effective strategy for homeland security. The National Guard was intended to complement, not be a substitute for, active duty forces. Sending thousands of National Guard members to Iraq has actually weakened our ability to defend our own country. Members of the Guard are first responders across the country – fire fighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians. To take them out of their communities is to take down a critical first line of defense. That's no way to protect America.
As president, I will make homeland security one of the primary missions of the National Guard. While the military can't solve the entire homeland security challenge, the National Guard can make an important contribution to the mission. That's the fourth part of my plan – modernizing our National Guard. I will assign Guard units to a standing joint task force, commanded by a General from the Guard. This task force will prepare and, if necessary, execute a coordinated strategy for homeland safety, working with the states and the federal government to react in times of crisis.
Just as it was in the time of Harry Truman, and in all the years of the Cold War, the job of commander in chief is now central to the presidency. As President, I will use military force to protect our interests anywhere in the world, whenever necessary. But strong leadership demands more than the willingness to use force. It means directing the use of the right tools at the right time for the right purpose and the right cause. Only then will we be strong and respected around the world.
Strong leadership means striking a balance between the Department of Defense and the other agencies focused on America's national security. It means coordinating our national power rather than competing for bureaucratic power. It means building a first-rate intelligence community, because no president can act wisely without it.
Strong leadership means listening to and respecting the advice, wisdom, and experience of our professional military – and never letting ideology trump the truth. It means working with Congress in a bipartisan fashion to make our military stronger.
Strong leadership means setting goals for a new military, insisting on progress, and seeing the mission through to success.
Strong leadership means building alliances to help win the war on terror and stem the spread of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
If Harry Truman were standing here today, I know that he would believe, as I do, that America's strength demands a new military for a new time – what he once called "the strongest, toughest and most enduring forces in the world."
Above all, as President, I will never forget the pledge with which I began today: I will always remember that our security and our strength begins with a single soldier, standing a single post somewhere in the world. And we should be grateful to men and women willing to do it, with such grace and such courage.
John F. Kerry, "Strengthening Our Military": Remarks of John Kerry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/216847