Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Tuesday he would expand the U.S. military within his first 100 days as president, contending 40,000 more troops are needed to meet America’s responsibilities around the world.
Kerry told supporters at Drake University that the occupation of Iraq as well as the global war against terrorism require more troops.
“In the face of grave challenges, our armed forces are spread too thin,” said Kerry, a Massachusetts senator and one of nine Democratic candidates.
Kerry said the capture of Saddam Hussein opens the door to building a coalition for peace in Iraq. He criticized President Bush for what he says has been a “go-it-alone attitude (that) has endangered our interests and enraged those who should be our friends.”
“Nowhere is that clearer than in Iraq,” Kerry said.
The United States needs a president who will seek help from allies, not only in building peace in Iraq but in the ongoing fight against terrorism, he said.
Dean comes under fire
Kerry criticized former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean for repeatedly shifting his position on Iraq.
“When American needed leadership on Iraq, Howard Dean was all over the lot,” he said. “One moment he supported authorizing the use force. The next, he criticized those who did.”
Kerry noted that Dean, bunched atop the field of Democratic contenders in most polls, supported the war in Iraq only with UN Security Council authorization.
Dean embraces a “‘Simon Says’ foreign policy where America only moves if others move first,” Kerry said. “That is just as wrong as George Bush’s policy of school yard taunts and cowboy swagger.”
Dean, whose anti-war stance helped push him to the front of the field, contradicted Bush by asserting on Monday that “the capture of Saddam has not made America safer.”
Several of the Democratic candidates sought in speeches to burnish their foreign policy credentials in the wake of Saddam’s capture.
Dean, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark said Monday more attention must be paid to al-Qaida, the terrorist group responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. All three suggested that the illicit spread of nuclear weaponry is a greater threat to the United States than Saddam ever was.
Dean and Edwards pledged to triple funds for securing Russia’s nuclear arsenal, amid fears about its security since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Edwards and Clark threatened sanctions against nations that seek weapons of mass destruction in defiance of international accords.
Lieberman assailed Dean on Tuesday, saying the former Vermont governor’s comments on Iraq raise the specter of a Democratic Party weak on national security.
“It goes beyond Iraq,” Lieberman said during a speech in Manchester, N.H. “The fact is that Governor Dean has made a series of dubious judgments and irresponsible statements in this campaign that together signal that he would take us back to the days when we Democrats were not trusted to defend our security.”
Rep. Dick Gephardt, another presidential hopeful, used a conference call Tuesday to criticize Dean for a lack of international experience and contradictory statements on Iraq. He predicted voters will remain more attuned to domestic issues in 2004, but that foreign policy will likely have greater importance because of security concerns.
“We’re in an unusual period where people actually worry about their own personal safety so I think they’re going to take a careful look at who they’re giving this responsibility to,” Gephardt said from Philadelphia.
Force seen as the only way
In his speech Tuesday at Drake University, Kerry said it was right to hold Saddam Hussein accountable for violating U.N. agreements. Authorizing force was the only way to get weapons inspectors into Iraq to check on the former Iraqi dictator’s compliance with U.N. resolutions, he said.
“I also believe that those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe who are not safer with his capture don’t have the judgment to be president, or the credibility to be elected president,” he said.
Hussein should face a tribunal comprised of international judges, prosecutors, investigators and Iraqis, Kerry said. The trial should be held in Iraq so that Iraqis can see once and for all that Saddam Hussein is gone, he said.
Kerry’s plan for bringing peace to Iraq includes:
- Increasing military participation by other countries in Iraq.
- Establishing a specific timetable for transferring political power to the Iraqi people.
- Providing adequate training and pay to rebuild the Iraqi police force.
- Returning to the international community to develop partnerships in rebuilding Iraq.
Kerry said the United States can’t expect other countries to join the effort to rebuild Iraq if the Bush administration prohibits them from sharing in the reconstruction because they opposed the war.
“It’s childish retribution which puts our troops at greater risk,” Kerry said. “It’s time we leave no doubt what we believe: Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people, not Halliburton and Bechtel.”