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THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE | EXCERPTS FROM KERRY'S
SPEECH

'The President Has Made ... Catastrophic Decisions' in Iraq

September 21, 2004

Excerpts from Sen. John F. Kerry's remarks at New York University in New York City on Monday.

In fighting the war on terrorism, my principles are straightforward. The terrorists are beyond reason. We must destroy them. As president, I will do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to defeat our enemies. But billions of people around the world yearning for a better life are open to America's ideals. We must reach them.

To win, America must be strong. And America must be smart. The greatest threat we face is the possibility Al Qaeda or other terrorists will get their hands on a nuclear weapon.

... National security is a central issue in this campaign. We owe it to the American people to have a real debate about the choices President Bush has made -- and the choices I would make -- to fight and win the war on terror.

That means we must have a great honest national debate on Iraq. The president claims it is the centerpiece of his war on terror. In fact, Iraq was a profound diversion from that war and the battle against our greatest enemy, Osama bin Laden and the terrorists. Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions and, if we do not change course, there is the prospect of a war with no end in sight.

This month, we passed a cruel milestone: more than 1,000 Americans lost in Iraq. Their sacrifice reminds us that Iraq remains, overwhelmingly, an American burden. Nearly 90% of the troops -- and nearly 90% of the casualties -- are American. Despite the president's claims, this is not a grand coalition.

Our troops have served with extraordinary bravery, skill and resolve. Their service humbles all of us. When I speak to them, when I look into the eyes of their families, I know this: We owe them the truth about what we have asked them to do -- and what is still to be done.

... It is never easy to discuss what has gone wrong while our troops are in constant danger. But it's essential if we want to correct our course and do what's right for our troops instead of repeating the same mistakes over and over again. I know this dilemma firsthand. After serving in war, I returned home to offer my own personal voice of dissent. I did so because I believed strongly that we owed it to those risking their lives to speak truth to power. We still do.

Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not ... a reason to go to war. The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure.

The president has said that he "miscalculated" in Iraq and that it was a "catastrophic success." In fact, the president has made a series of catastrophic decisions ... from the beginning ... in Iraq. At every fork in the road, he has taken the wrong turn and led us in the wrong direction. The first and most fundamental mistake was the president's failure to tell the truth to the American people.

He failed to tell the truth about the rationale for going to war. And he failed to tell the truth about the burden this war would impose on our soldiers and our citizens.

... His two main rationales -- weapons of mass destruction and the Al Qaeda-Sept. 11 connection -- have been proved false -- by the president's own weapons inspectors -- and by the 9/11 commission. Just last week, Secretary of State [Colin L.] Powell acknowledged the facts. Only Vice President [Dick] Cheney still insists that the Earth is flat.

The president also failed to level with the American people about what it would take to prevail in Iraq.

He didn't tell us that well over 100,000 troops would be needed, for years, not months. He didn't tell us that he wouldn't take the time to assemble a broad and strong coalition of allies. He didn't tell us that the cost would exceed $200 billion. He didn't tell us that even after paying such a heavy price, success was far from assured.

And America will pay an even heavier price for the president's lack of candor.

... The president now admits to "miscalculations" in Iraq.

That is one of the greatest understatements in recent American history. His were not the equivalent of accounting errors. They were colossal failures of judgment -- and judgment is what we look for in a president.

... The administration told us we'd be greeted as liberators. They were wrong.

They told us not to worry about looting or the sorry state of Iraq's infrastructure. They were wrong.

They told us we had enough troops to provide security and stability, defeat the insurgents, guard the borders and secure the arms depots. They were wrong.

They told us we could rely on exiles like Ahmed Chalabi to build political legitimacy. They were wrong.

They told us we would quickly restore an Iraqi civil service to run the country and a police force and army to secure it. They were wrong.

... Let me put it plainly: The president's policy in Iraq has not strengthened our national security. It has weakened it.

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