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John Kerry: Real Security in the Post 9/11 World

by Pamela Leavey

Today, John Kerry is delivering a speech on the war on terror at the Council on Foreign Relations. The Democratic Daily has obtained an advanced copy of the text of Kerry’s speech.

Senator John Kerry: “Real Security in the Post-9/11 World”
Council on Foreign Relations, New York City
December 8, 2005 – Remarks As Prepared For Delivery:

So much of what we used to take for granted in national security policy has now been called into question.

We used to know that despite our differences in philosophy and in perspective our two great parties could cooperate to craft international policies in our national interest.

We used to understand that the vast and unique role of the United States in world affairs required a far-sighted and multi-faceted approach to protecting our people and our interests.

We used to value as a national treasure the international alliances and institutions that enhanced our strength, amplified our voice, and reflected our traditions and ideals in maintaining a free and secure world.

We used to measure America’s strength and security by our moral authority, our economic leadership, and our diplomatic skills, as well as by the power of our military.

And we used to say politics stopped at the water’s edge–we used to call on our people to share in the sacrifices demanded by freedom, and our leaders used to raise hopes and inspire trust, not raise fears and demand blind faith.

All that has changed in a remarkably brief period of time.

In recalling what we’ve lost, I’m not looking back to the Greatest Generation of World War II–or to the leaders who shaped our Cold War policies, and wore down the threat of totalitarian communism. I’m not talking about thirty or forty or fifty years ago–I’m talking about what we had just four short years ago.

After September 11th, the American people, elected officials from both parties, and much of the whole world offered the President of the United States their loyal support when he announced our intention to wage a global war on terror. Not since the bombing of Pearl Harbor has a president enjoyed a greater reservoir of moral and political capital, or more material and diplomatic resources, at the beginning of a war.

Four years later, our reservoir of resources has been diminished and our goodwill has been squandered. And as the 9/11 Commission’s final report has just told us, Washington is failing to take the basic steps necessary to make us safe. It is an inexplicable abdication of responsibility.

So where do we go from here?

Well, I wish we could have a real debate-a real council of war that brings Senators and Congressmen of both parties together to forge a winning strategy for America. But since the current administration confuses examination of failed policies with an admission of weakness, and debate with division, that’s not possible today. So those of us who want our country to win the war on terror must take advantage of opportunities like these to show the road not taken, and the right path to success.

For all their rhetoric about democracy, human rights, the hateful ideology of our adversaries, and international coalitions against terrorism, the President and his advisors have shown time and time again that they conceive the war on terror as almost exclusively a military operation. That’s why they’ve been so willing to bend every relationship and international institution–to bend, in fact, our own values and respect for norms of behavior America has long championed. Make no mistake, we are united in our commitment to track down and kill the evil men who would harm us. But that alone will not win the real war on terror.

The real war on terror is an even bigger challenge. It is a war that has drawn us smack into the middle of an internal struggle in the Islamic World. It is fundamentally a war within Islam for the heart and soul of Islam, stretching from Morocco East to Indonesia. -It leads, ultimately, to a struggle for the transformation of the Greater Middle East into a region that is no longer isolated from the global economy, no longer dependent on despotism for stability, no longer fearful of freedom, and no longer content to feed restive and rising populations of unemployed young people a diet of illusions, excuses, and dead end government jobs.

As the 2004 Arab Human Development Report tells us, “By 21st century standards, Arab countries have not met the Arab people’s aspirations for development, security and liberation … Indeed, there is a near-complete consensus that there is a serious failing in the Arab world …located specifically in the political sphere.” And in addition, in regions where the mosque remains the only respected alternative to the autocratic state structures, there is no credible secular alternative. So we are caught in a cauldron of religious struggle where today there is no center of moral authority that forcefully condemns those who murder in the name of Islam.

In the long run–and we’re in this for the long run-the war on terror cannot be won without the successful transformation of the Greater Middle East, and especially its Arab core. And our strategy must do what it takes to increase the internal demand for change in that region.

That means we are in a war of ideas and ideologies–but ultimately a war that must be fought and won within the Islamic world.

That means we have a huge stake in finding partners in the Arab world who are willing not only to support the transformation of the Middle East, but to reestablish the broad and unchallenged moral authority needed to isolate and defeat terrorists.

And ultimately, that means we must liberate ourselves and the Middle East itself from the tyranny of dependence on petroleum, which has frustrated every impulse towards modernization of the region, while giving its regimes the resources to hold onto power.

We have to understand that the hostility to America and to our values that feeds the jihadist threat is the product of many decades of repressed debate within the Middle East. We’ve become the convenient excuse for the failures of the rulers, and the convenient target for the frustrations of the ruled.

And frankly, we’ve made that possible by signaling Arab regimes we don’t much care what they do so long as they keep the oil flowing and the prices low. That attitude must not only end; it must be reversed. Energy independence is not just a domestic priority for our country. It’s also essential to our national security, because our reliance on their oil limits our ability to move them towards needed reforms and props up decaying and sometimes corrupt regimes, including those that support terrorist groups. Any long-term strategy for winning the war on terror must therefore include a determined effort to reduce our dependence on petroleum. So many opportunities to do that are staring us in the face, but none have been seized with the urgency our security demands.

And these efforts have to be international in nature, linked to the rapid emergence of new energy technologies, in order to ensure that growing economies like China and India don’t just replace us as the enablers of Middle East autocrats.

So this is the long range mission in the war on terror: one, make sure the right side wins the war of ideas within the Islamic world; two, build up diversified economies and civil society; and, three, end the empire of oil. These three challenges make it abundantly clear this is not a war the United States should fight alone.

And that’s the basic insight the President and his administration have yet to fully grasp and translate into policies Americans can fully understand.

Nothing makes that clearer than their policy in Iraq, where our mismanaged occupation has inadvertently created a new front in the war on terror.

In the critical days after Saddam’s regime collapsed, we got just about everything wrong. You know the list: failing to seal the borders and prevent sabotage of critical infrastructure; creating a formal occupation; privatizing the reconstruction; disbanding the entire Iraqi security structure; and on and on. No one in the administration has been fired for these mistakes, but our courageous troops, and the Iraqi people, are paying a high price for them every day.

Even the President likes to say we cannot succeed in Iraq until the struggle for its future becomes an Iraqi struggle, not an American struggle. All of us accept that whatever happens in Iraq will shape the outcome of the war on terror, even as the administration ignores the dynamic on the ground expressed by our top military commander in Iraq. As General Casey told Congress, our large military presence “feeds the notion of occupation” and “extends the amount of time that it will take for Iraqi security forces to become self-reliant.” That’s why we need to focus all of our energies on making 2006 the year in which we turn over that struggle to our partners within Iraq, and do everything possible to give the next Iraqi government the local, regional, and global legitimacy it needs to survive and thrive. I’ve set out a series of steps we should take to eliminate the perception of a permanent military occupation, to achieve the political solution our generals say we need to weaken the insurgency, to isolate the foreign jihadists, and to bring Iraq stability.

But just as importantly, we have to apply the painful lessons learned in Iraq to the broader and continuing war on terror.

The right rhetoric’s not enough. Statements of “resolve” are not enough. We need skill as well as resolve, and a strategy as well as an attitude.

To begin with, we cannot have effective public diplomacy as a weapon in the war on terror in the absence of basic, sound policies. To be successful in this battle of ideas, we must first undermine the jihadist propaganda about the United States. We have to pay greater attention to how our words and deeds are understood in the Middle East, because our good intentions are doubted by the very people the terrorists seek to turn against us.

For this reason alone, we have to get Iraq right to undermine the myth, all too real in many Middle Eastern minds, that the United States seeks to steal Iraq’s oil, insult its religion, and seize its land for military bases. Success there won’t mean automatic victory in the larger struggle, but failure there would only further radicalize the region and the Islamic world.

We must also work to address the perception, unjustified as many think it is, that we have done too little to achieve real progress in the Middle East Peace Process. The establishment of a democratic Palestine at peace with Israel is in all of our interest. It is essential for Israel’s long-term security and regional stability. It will deny Islamic extremists a recruiting tool and repressive regimes an excuse not to address problems at home. While Secretary Rice has taken a more hands-on approach, the long-standing violence and distrust between the parties demands sustained and committed leadership from the President.

We must also start treating our moral authority as a precious national asset in the war on terror. We play into the hands of our enemies and lose credibility when the Vice President lobbies for the right to torture, even after the Abu Ghraib disaster, when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has to publicly remind the Secretary of Defense that our troops have an obligation to stop torture when they see others doing it, and when we continue to hold detainees indefinitely in a legal no-man’s land.

We must counter the teaching of hatred in Madrassas by pressing regimes more consistently and effectively to teach tolerance in schools throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, and to broaden educational opportunities. We must work with moderate Muslims, especially clerics, to permanently discredit the belief that the murder of innocents can be justified in the name of God, race, or nation. The people of the Middle East need to learn who we are from direct experience with Americans-not from watching a failed Madison Avenue ad campaign or from hearing Karen Hughes tell chauffeur driven women with bodyguards they would be better off getting a driver’s license.

And democratic values and openness should be championed not simply as western values but as the universal values that they are. Democratization is not a crusade. If it is seen as the result of an army marching through Muslim lands it will fail. But more importantly, that’s not the way democracy works. Democracy spreads with patient but firm determination, led by individuals of courage who dream of a better day for their country. Viktor Yushchenko had that dream in Ukraine. Hamid Karzai had that dream in Afghanistan. And Lech Walesa had that dream in Poland. We need to create the conditions where this dream can become a reality in the Arab world. If we are serious about spreading democracy and fighting a real war on terror, then, quite simply, our resources must match our rhetoric.

We must do everything possible to promote economic, social and political transformation in the Middle East, especially among Sunni Arabs. Nations like Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain are not only moving towards political freedom and pluralism–they are also trying to build real economies built on the talents of their own people rather than trying to simply pump prosperity out of the ground. Every move in that direction in this critical region should not only be praised, but rewarded tangibly as a role model. There’s no way to overemphasize the importance of ensuring that the Greater Middle East does not continue its long trajectory towards a region where an exploding young population collides with dysfunctional and isolated economies, producing instability and ultimately, more and more terrorism. Majority populations under the age of 18 without jobs or futures are a sure recipe for disaster.

So we must work harder with our allies in Europe and Asia to strengthen our commitment and enhance our efforts to integrate the Middle East into the global economy. This is the only way to stop economic regression, spur investment beyond the oil industry, and spark trade, investment and growth in the region. It’s the only way to turn young minds and energy away from terror.

In the end, these many steps will open a region that for too long has been closed to opportunity and progress, modernize governments and societies that can then better meet the needs of their citizens, respond to their grievances, and provide a more hopeful alternative to the dark ideology of terror. That would be real public diplomacy-a real battle of ideas-and a vast improvement on the ineffective initiatives of the last four years.

The fact is we must demand more of Americans too. We must mobilize our universities and our intellectual capital to understand and address the challenges we face. We need a real investment in language studies and area studies so that our intelligence, our use of force, and our diplomacy are better informed and more effective. There is a great patriotic pool of Arab- and Islamic-Americans who should be called to serve in this effort, just as Americans of East-European descent served during the Cold War.

Doing all these things, and doing them right, is how we can wage and win the long-term war on terror. This is the preeminent challenge to our security in the twenty-first century, and we have to change our policies right now.

Of course there will be times, like in Afghanistan, when direct military engagement will be necessary. And that requires reshaping our military for the missions ahead: a larger infantry and more special forces; more personnel trained and equipped to perform post-conflict reconstruction missions; a Guard and Reserve force that meets the nation’s needs overseas and at home.

But because this is a long-range war, we absolutely have to do a better job of destroying terrorist cells and preventing terrorist attacks here at home.

The fact is that al Qaeda has morphed into a global hydra of hidden terrorists who often share nothing more than a common hatred. To disrupt and destroy their networks before they can attack, we must do much more to improve and overhaul our intelligence and law enforcement capabilities by accelerating the creation of a true domestic counterterrorism capability within the FBI, and greatly increasing our overseas clandestine intelligence service. And to be truly effective in the global conflict, we must leverage much greater assistance from foreign intelligence agencies, expand the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program and increase exchange programs and liaison relationships.

And we must treat securing dangerous materials around the world with the urgency the threat demands. We can all agree that our top national security priority is to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. How often do you hear politicians pay lip-service to that, yet the 9/11 commission gives the administration a nearly failing grade on that very task. That’s just plain unacceptable.

One of the worst myths the President has propagated is that we’ve somehow bottled up the world’s terrorists in Iraq, and by fighting them there, we no longer need fear that they can strike us here.

The 9/11 commission’s report on the administration’s efforts to implement its much-praised recommendations gave our government failing grades on homeland security. And the fiasco of the federal Katrina response showed graphically that you have to do more than create a new Department to deal with grave emergencies competently. It’s time to finally get serious, with money and attention, to the most urgent homeland security threats, including the extreme vulnerability of our ports, the most likely point of entry for terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

Finally, we must adapt international institutions to meet today’s threats. Of course we have to end corruption and inefficiency at the United Nations. But we must not lose sight of its continuing importance to our own security. We should be leading the negotiations of a meaningful convention against terrorism so that the world, in one voice, finally condemns terrorism and the groups that use it.

In other words, at home, in the Middle East, and around the world, we have to convince more people that the war on terror is a common fight against a threat to our collective security, not just America’s fight against terrorists.

And that is an approach, as you here at the Council well know, that restores a distinctly American tradition.

Some say President Bush’s preference for unilateral action reflects “American exceptionalism.” But I say, what has always made America “exceptional,” in the history of great powers is that we have not sought conquest or empire when these temptations were within our reach. Our confidence in our own greatness led us to build an international order of mutual respect and cooperation. That’s why America emerged from the twentieth century as the unquestioned leader in the world’s march towards freedom, as the authors of a global consensus linking our self-interest as a nation to the common interests of all nations. That is the real tradition of American “exceptionalism” the President needs to understand and embrace.

Within living memory, we had another president who prided himself on simple virtues and unshakeable resolve.

Harry Truman was an uncomplicated man. Yet he was also a man who believed he should be held personally accountable for every decision and every judgment, every day, not just on election days. At the end of one great war against totalitarianism and at the beginning of another, Harry Truman presided over the greatest era of bipartisan, multi-lateral foreign policy our country or the world has ever seen. It’s time for the President to put a little more Harry Truman in his foreign policy.

And if he won’t, then those who admire Harry Truman will keep up the fight at home, in order to win the fight against terrorism around the world. And we’ll be joined by other Americans and, I hope, by leaders in organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations, who understand this is a fight we dare not lose. More than that, it is a fight we must win.

The text of the speech is available here in a WORD Doc.

12 Responses to “John Kerry: Real Security in the Post 9/11 World”

  1. Read the whole thing. Perfect.

    “Those who make peacful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” ~John Kennedy

  2. Haven’t seen it as C-Span, yet. I’m looking forward to the Q&A he is supposed to have.

    Wonderful. I hope this gets more exposure than Georgetown and the other opportunities. Some sites are pushing their own 08 choices too soon, and not realizing we have things to fix, by everybody.

  3. Carl Levin is on Ed Schultz talking about drawing troops – not mentioning JK, but definately on the realm of JK’s plan…

  4. Great speech, really good

  5. I was so disappointed with the scant exposure of the speech. I didn’t see it on C-Span – even checked the evening schedule. Thanks, Pamela, for posting the speech, which is excellent and in the Georgetown U. category in my book.

    Al Franken just had Barack Obama on his show from Chicago, and just about endorsed Barack for 2008 saying he was the only strong possibility.

  6. Dotti

    I would not wprry about what Franken is saying at this point. Obama running would be tantamount to Edwards. Not enough history, not enough experience to get the vote.

  7. You just can’t make things up and act like they are true and then draw the self serving conclusions from the made up set of facts. It doesn’t work.

  8. Considering how most of Bush’s policies, both domestic and foreign, are based upon make up facts, we definately see the consequences of acting like made up facts are true. It hasn’t worked for the past five years.

  9. “And in addition, in regions where the mosque remains the only respected alternative to the autocratic state structures, there is no credible secular alternative.” What does this mean? Isn’t this an argument for democracy in Iraq? In the middle East?

  10. Democracy would be desirable, but it cannot be imposed from outside, especially where there is no tradition of democracy or secular institutions.

  11. THis was a wonderful, insightful, well thought out and fact based speech. Of course the national media isn’t covering it and if I didn’t read it on the blogs I would never had known Kerry made this speech. IT america’s loss that the speeches he has made in recent weeks are getting enough exposure due to the media whores and their drive to have warner or hil as the dem nominee.

    I hope Cspan will have this speech and it’s time for kerry supporters to start applying pressure to media outlets.

    Here is the basic outline to get the discussion going on how we are to win the fight against terrorism. War isn’t the right word because terroirsm is a tool not a specific target.

    He’s right on about the middle east though.

  12. Pen,

    The “war on terrorism” idea creates a problem.

    You are correct that war isn’t the right word as terrorism is the methodology, not the target or the actual enemy.

    The problem is that the right wing noise machine has made so much noise about both the war on terrorism and on their claims that Democrats are weak on war (deapite the fact that it was the Republicans who resisted taking effective action against al Qaeda until after 9/11, and then allowed their desire to go to war against Iraq to weaken their response).

    At this point if someone like Kerry were to try to explain how “war on terrorism” is the wrong way to put it, the right wing noise machine would twist it to make it appear that the Democrats are opposed to fighting terrorism. I think we are better off ignoring the poor terminology and accepting the use of this phrase, and at the same time laying out a better foreign policy as Kerry has been doing.