Democratic contender John Kerry began Thursday laying out a point-by-point criticism of President Bush’s foreign policy and offering his alternatives to it.
In his ads and speeches in recent weeks Kerry has concentrated on domestic issues such as college tuition aid, but will now begin focusing his fire on Bush’s policy.
Kerry’s speech Thursday is the first in an 11-day series of statements Kerry will make on national security.
A key theme of Kerry's new foreign policy offensive: a prediction that Bush is headed for failure when he goes to the Istanbul summit of NATO leaders which will be held on June 28 and 29.
In his speech Thursday in Seattle Kerry asked, “Will our allies promise to send troops to Iraq? Will they dedicate substantially more funding for reconstruction there?”
He said, “Attracting international support in a situation like Iraq is a clear test of presidential leadership.” He urged Bush to convince NATO “to accept Iraq as an alliance mission, with more troops from NATO and its partners.”
“If President Bush does not 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,” he said. "Our troops will be in greater peril, the mission in Iraq will be harder to accomplish, if not impossible, and our country will be less secure."
By contrast, Kerry vowed that if he is elected he will “lead a new era of alliances for the post-9/11 world. … 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.”
Currently, NATO members Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland have 7,000 troops in Iraq helping maintain order. The United States now has about 138,000 deployed in Iraq.
Will Europeans help?
Foreign policy experts outside the Kerry campaign have said there is no likelihood that Germany and France, the two principal NATO members who refused to send their own troops to Iraq, would do so now or in the future.
Video: “At this point, most Europeans and others around the world not only are worried about paying for the cost … for something they opposed, but, more importantly, they honestly don't want this administration to succeed,” said Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert at University of Maryland.
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On the other hand, Telhami said, “No one wants to see Iraq collapse. They don't want the militants to win. … So, in that sense, they're going to do the minimum to prevent disaster.”
But for the Germans and French that “minimum” will not include sending troops.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday prior to Kerry’s speech, Kerry foreign policy advisers Richard Holbrooke, who served as ambassador to the United Nations under President Clinton, and Sandy Berger, Clinton’s former national security adviser, said Bush’s Iraq policy had raised the risks of a terrorist attack on the United States.
“People will increasingly be making the link between Iraq and our safety here at home,” Berger said. “We have created a cauldron of terrorism, we’ve accomplished in Iraq what Osama bin Laden failed to accomplish in New York, we’ve set Islamic radicals off … and provided them with a tremendous recruiting tool. We’re less safe than we were, because of Iraq.”
Holbrooke told reporters that Bush’s speech on Iraq on Monday night “bore absolutely no relationship to reality.”
'Hail Mary desperation pass'
He derided Bush’s policy as “a Hail Mary desperation pass turning everything over to (U.N. envoy Lakhdar) Brahimi.”
He added, “It isn’t even clear Brahimi will be able to pull together an interim government by the end of next month.”
Video: Kerry's balancing act Holbrooke said, “The United States has turned its national security interest in the most critical spot in the world, in Iraq, over to Lakhdar Brahimi, a smart, estimable Sunni Arab from Algeria, whose interests, I can assure you … are not symmetrical at all with American national security interests, unless the Bush administration, under the cover of its rhetoric, is looking for a way to get out of Iraq.”
Berger said, “John Kerry has been amazingly consistent from the beginning on Iraq and he has been consistently right on the need for troops” and other issues.
But in the past eight months, Kerry has reversed his position on sending more American troops to Iraq.
In an April 30 Fulton, Mo., speech Kerry said that if U.S. commanders in Iraq need more troops then “they should get them.”
Yet last September in a debate with other Democratic contenders in Albuquerque, N.M, Kerry emphatically opposed sending more American troops to Iraq. “We should not send more American troops,” he said on Sept 4. “That would be the worst thing. We do not want to have more Americanization, we do not want a greater sense of American occupation.”
In his speech Thursday, Kerry said, “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. ... But you will never be sent into harm’s way without enough troops for the task,” a reference to U.S. troops levels in Iraq.
Kerry’s keeping open the option of sending more American troops to Iraq puts him directly at odds with elements in Democratic Party ranks and outside the party who want to set a date for a U.S. pullout from Iraq.
Call for withdrawal
Win Without War, the country’s largest anti-war coalition, called Thursday for a date certain for withdrawing U.S. troops.
“There is no military solution in Iraq,” said Win Without War, which comprises 42 groups, in its statement. “We therefore call upon our government to end the military and economic occupation of Iraq and to withdraw our troops by a date certain.”
Tom Andrews, Win Without War's National Director and former Democratic member of the House, told MSNBC.com Thursday, "Setting a date certain would be a critical step forward because it would indicate a change of course in our Iraq policy."
Asked about his group's discord with Kerry on the possibility of sending more troops, Andrews said, "The argument for increasing troops is based on the idea that our troops are a source of stability and security in Iraq. We believe that they are not. We believe they have become a source of instability and insecurity."
The presence of American troops in Iraq, he added, "is fuel for international terrorists around the world. More troops are not going to reverse this very dangerous direction we're going in, namely losing the hearts and minds of Iraqis."
The Win Without War coalition includes the NAACP, the National Council of Churches, Greenpeace, Moveon.org, and the Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club has endorsed Kerry for president, while Moveon.org has run TV ads attacking Bush and urging his censure by Congress and his defeat in November.
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