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Kerry Attacks Bush Over Iraq Policies

The administration's choice of confrontation instead of diplomacy has harmed the U.S., the senator says in a speech in Los Angeles.

June 02, 2006|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) harshly criticized the Bush administration for "disdaining diplomacy" in favor of a confrontational and unilateral foreign policy that has hurt the United States' standing around the world and made it less safe.

In a speech Thursday in Los Angeles, the former (and perhaps future) Democratic Party presidential candidate warned that the mistakes of Iraq must not be repeated in the current standoff with Iran.

"War is the ultimate failure of diplomacy," Kerry told a gathering of the Pacific Council on International Policy. "Yet our current leadership has arrogantly discarded this basic principle.... All too often they disdained diplomacy as little more than an inconvenient detour on the chosen path to armed conflict."

The result, he said, was an ill-advised rush to war in Iraq that alienated other governments and diminished sympathy for the U.S. generated by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. America's current isolation, and the presence of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq, is "playing right into Iranian hands.... The Iranians are delighted," Kerry said.

Emphasizing that a nuclear-armed Iran would be "a very serious threat to the U.S. and our allies," Kerry contended that the most conservative estimates are that Tehran is at least five years away from developing atomic weapons.

"There is time for diplomacy to work here," he said, but added that negotiating with Iran is "an uncertain proposition at best."

Kerry spoke before news broke of the agreement between six major powers, including the U.S., to offer an incentive package for Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. He hailed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent offer of direct negotiations with Iran, but said any talks "must be more than an effort to check the box on diplomacy as they move toward a confrontation."

The 21-year veteran of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also had harsh words for the Iraqi government. The sight of politicians haggling over Cabinet seats in the midst of an undiminished insurgency is "a disgrace, and this administration ought to get tough," he said.

He proposed intense U.S. pressure to force consensus, either by withholding reconstruction funds or threatening a unilateral withdrawal of troops.

Kerry, who voted to give President Bush authorization to use force against Saddam Hussein in 2002, said he would attach an amendment to this summer's defense appropriations bill calling for a total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the end of this year. But he acknowledged that the idea would be unpopular. "I know I'm not going to get the majority of my own caucus."

On domestic issues, Kerry predicted that rising public dissatisfaction with the Bush administration could translate into huge gains for Democratic candidates in November's midterm congressional elections.

"There is something bubbling up in America that I believe is going to be reflected in the polls," he said.

As for his own political ambitions, Kerry would say only that he is "thinking very hard" about another presidential run in 2008.

"And I'm thinking about it a lot earlier than I'd like to because it's clear there are several other people also thinking about it," he said

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