One Democrat who is challenging President Bush for the White House, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, says it’s about time to turn Iraq over to the United Nations. He appeared Monday on Buchanan and Press.
PAT BUCHANAN: I want to ask you a flat question. Everyone sort of agrees that Iraq is a bit more of a mess than we anticipated. Did the president make a mistake in launching this war when he did? And did you make a mistake in voting to give him a blank check?
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CONTENDER: Well, we gave him a check to do what was appropriate as president of the United States, which he said he would do — which is build a coalition and he said he would use the United Nations and obviously go to war as a last resort, Pat. He broke his own pledge to the American people. He didn’t go to war as a last resort. He built up the troops ahead of the United Nations. He certainly didn’t exhaust the remedies. Many of us were saying at the time-I said it point-blank in January. “Mr. President, do not rush to war, take the time to build the coalition not because it’s hard to win the war, but because it’s hard to win the peace.” They started this war on their schedule, Pat. And they clearly didn’t do the planning necessary.
BUCHANAN: If you had to do it over again, would you vote to authorize him to go to war the way you did last October?
KERRY: I would authorize a president to have the authority to use force because that’s the only way you could have gotten inspectors into Iraq. Hopefully, you know, if I were president, I’d do so in the way that I said. You build a coalition, you show maturity, you do the hard work of diplomacy, you do what’s necessary to protect the troops of the United States. And I think that means having the maximum number of nations with you and it means exhausting the remedies available to you. Look, the question now is let’s not go backwards, let’s go forwards.
What we have to do is get the United Nations far more deeply involved in this. Iraq is not an American prize. This is not something that we possess to dispose of at our will. This is a country and we should behave accordingly with the United Nations. I’m all for Americans keeping command of the security component, but the nation building, the infrastructure, the civilian component, the humanitarian component belong in the shared authority of the United Nations.
BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: The president made a specific request last night to you and other members of Congress, $87 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq. You’re going to get to cast another vote, Senator. How do you vote on this one?
KERRY: Well, I’m not going to vote for a blank check for the president, given everything we’ve obviously learned about this president and this administration. I believe two things have to happen: Number one, we have to know specifically how the president is going to use the money and precisely what he’s willing to do with respect to the United Nations and diplomacy. I will guarantee you I will do what is necessary to protect our troops. I will do what is necessary to achieve our goal. But I want to make certain we do it in a responsible way .
Secondly, I want to make certain that we do what we need to do here at home. If we’re going to spend $87 billion on Iraq, I want the president to step back from his tax cut. I want the president to step back from his irresponsible economic policies.
PRESS: He didn’t mention any names today, but Secretary Rumsfeld said that those people like you who criticize the president and what he’s doing in Iraq encourage our enemies and hinder the war on terror. Are you a traitor?
KERRY: I say to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld that those of us who have served in uniform and fought in war understand that the way you protect the interests of the troops is to make our democracy at home work. And I resent the secretary suggesting that all we should do is shut up and let them make mistakes. They’ve made enough mistakes. They’ve showed that they didn’t do the planning and we have a right to determine how the $87 billion is going to be spent on behalf of the American people.
And one of the lessons I learned in fighting a war is I’m never going to shut up when the safety of the troops is at stake. We’re going to stand up and fight for the troops and fight for the security interests of our country. And that means making certain that this president gets off his high horse, goes to the United Nations, and recognizes that the way you win our objective and protect the troops is to reduce the American exposure in Iraq, reduce the sense of American occupation in Iraq, globalize our presence and bring other countries in to share the burden and the cost of Iraq. That’s the only way to do it, it’s the way he should have done it in the first place.
BUCHANAN: Senator Kerry, did you offer or say you would offer a blanket amnesty for illegal aliens who have been in this country for five years and then make them basically citizens of the United States of America as “The Washington Times” reported?
KERRY: No. What I said was that we need a program of earned legalization, Patrick, where people who have spent five or six years in the country, who have paid their taxes, who have not gotten into trouble, and who are working and contributing to America, that we ought to allow them to earn their right rapidly to be American citizens. What I did say is that the 37,000 legal immigrants who are serving in the military in the United States military, those 37,000 legal immigrants ought to be immediately made American citizens.
BUCHANAN: Let’s talk about the 10 million who are here, an estimated eight to 11 million who are illegal aliens in this country. If you begin to legalize them after they’ve stayed here for five years, are you not giving a wholesale reward and a fast track to citizenship to massive lawbreakers and law breaking in the United States? I mean, these folks have broken our laws, broken into our country, broken in line ahead of others, and Senator Kerry is saying if you’ve hid out for five years and worked at a job, kept your nose clean, you’re on a fast track to citizenship.
KERRY: Hey, Patrick, who do you think is hiring them? Your friends in the Republican Party hire and exploit workers and what I’m proposing is that what we ought to have is a program of earned legalization. People who are paying their taxes in America, people who have contributed to the life of our country, whose kids are in school, who are holding good jobs, which a lot of people want them to hold, are contributing to America and I think it makes sense to transition them, but let me finish-but at the same time we should be doing what President Bush promised to do and another promise broken is having immigration reform completed with President Fox of Mexico, border control reform so that people aren’t dying in the deserts of the United States trying to come in here to find jobs. I think you can do both at the same time and I want to do what’s humane and what makes sense for the economy of our country.
PRESS: Senator Kerry, I want to go back to the 2004 race. Six months ago looking at the race we all thought John Kerry was going to be on top at this time, on top in Iowa, on top in New Hampshire. Instead, the guy on top is Howard Dean. That does in fact, we got this latest poll I guess from the Zogby poll over the weekend, Senator that shows nationwide Howard Dean at 16 and you at 13. Does that mean to you that you underestimated the depth of opposition to this war in Iraq and that Howard Dean got it right on?
KERRY: No, it really doesn’t show that at all. In fact, there was another poll, a Gallup poll that showed me at 16 and Howard Dean at 11. What it shows is that he’s gotten a lot of publicity in the last month.
I’ve announced my candidacy now. We’re moving. I’m now up on television.
He was. I wasn’t. And I think you’re going to see an enormous difference. I look forward to debating all across this country who is better prepared to be president of the United States. This is a dangerous time in America. It is not the time for on-the-job training in the White House as George Bush as proven to us.
BUCHANAN: Senator, all right, let me ask you, do you believe-I saw that debate the other night and I was taken back by Mr. Gephardt’s statement that the president of the United States was a miserable failure. It is as tough and brutal a statement as I have seen a leader in Congress make against a sitting president of the United States. Do you think Mr. Gephardt went over the top or do you think the statement was justified?
KERRY: Look, it’s not for me to comment. I’ve made my own comments about the president. I think the president is failing to lead America in the direction that we need to go. I think we need a president who has the courage to help America make the right decisions and move us in the right direction, Pat. You’re a conservative Republican. Do conservative Republicans like deficits of $600 billion? Do conservative Republicans like to trample on the line between church and state? Do conservative Republicans like to trample on the Bill of Rights? I think there are so many things that this president is doing that are contrary to the interests of our country and I can make America stronger, safer, and more secure abroad and at home, and that’s what’s important.
PRESS: Senator John Kerry thank you very much.