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John Kerry Addresses Pacific Council on National Security

by Pamela Leavey

Today, Senator John Kerry spoke at the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles. The meeting was chaired by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who is Co-Chair of the Pacific Council’s Board of Directors. John Kerry, has served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 21 years. In April, Kerry called for the redeployment of American combat troops from Iraq by the end of the year.

John Kerry spoke to the Pacific Council on security issues from proliferation in Iran and North Korea, to the need for a change of course in Iraq. I attended the speech today, along with a handful of other Los Angeles area bloggers. After the speech, all of the bloggers had the opportunity to sit and talk with Senator Kerry in an off the record conversation — There’s more about that here.

Below are Senator Kerry’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Senator John Kerry
Speech to Pacific Council on International Policy, Century City, California

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you all for coming today. I want to especially thank Secretary Christopher for his kind introduction. It’s truly an honor to be here with Secretary Christopher today. He is a distinguished diplomat in the finest tradition, the embodiment of the kind of statesmanship we need more than ever to keep America safe in these challenging times.

From the Middle East peace process to the Dayton Accords for Bosnia, to the Agreed Framework with North Korea and the restoration of civilian leadership in Haiti, Secretary Christopher lived the ideal that that the essence of effective foreign policy is achieving your goals without having to use military force.

Unfortunately, our current diplomacy is not anywhere near as effective as it needs to be – and we are much less safe as a result. In fact, 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 political philosophy and in perspective our two great parties could cooperate to craft international policies in our national interest.

We used to understand that the unique and historic 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.

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.

And like Secretary Christopher, we used to understand diplomacy must be the primary means of advancing America’s national security interests.

To be sure, America has never hesitated to pick up arms and fight when necessary to repel grave threats or advance freedom. There are times when we have no other choice — most recently in Afghanistan. No president should ever take the option of using force off the table, and no president should ever cede our security to any other country or institution. We never have, and we never will.

But it is important to remember that war is the ultimate failure of diplomacy – which is why those who know what war is really like care so much about making sure our diplomacy is as good as it can be.

Yet our current leadership has arrogantly discarded this basic principal — that the greatest success comes in reaching your objective without the terrible risks and costs of war — for a new doctrine rooted in the primacy of military force. For all the rhetoric of freedom and democracy, they behave as though might really does make right. For far too long, they dismissed the alliances and institutions that served us so well in the past as nothing more than speedbumps on the road to exercising unilateral power. And all too often they disdained diplomacy as little more than an inconvenient detour on the chosen path to armed conflict.

The results speak for themselves. Think about where we were just a few years ago. All the world was united with us after September 11th, in that remarkable period where newspapers across the world proclaimed: “we are all Americans now.” The Taliban had been toppled. Osama bin Laden was on the run.

Soon after that, in January 2002, President Bush declared Iran, Iraq and North Korea an “axis of evil.” He warned that if they were allowed to continue their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, “the price of indifference would be catastrophic.”

Four and a half years later, we’ve paid a catastrophic price – for incompetence, not indifference. We’re bogged down in a war against the only member of the so-called axis that did NOT have weapons of mass destruction. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden has still not been held accountable. North Korea has reportedly quadrupled its nuclear weapons capability, and Iran’s radical President is now defiantly seeking nuclear weapons capability while denying the holocaust and flirting with the chilling thought of ‘wiping Israel off the map.’

Catastrophic, indeed — and indifferent diplomacy is undeniably part of why we now find ourselves confronted by a world that is less safe and less secure than it was when the President spoke those words.

To keep America safe in the 21st century, we must change course and restore statesmanship to its rightful place as the cornerstone of our national security policy. I believe deeply in the power of effective diplomacy — the kind of diplomacy practiced by Dean Acheson, George Kennan, and Presidents of both parties like Truman and Eisenhower.

As a Senator, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to work on some important diplomatic initiatives. I know what sustained, hard-nosed diplomacy can accomplish. I know the gulfs it can bridge – between people, and between countries. I learned a lot of lessons teamed up with Senator McCain in helping bring about normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. Let me tell you, if two Senators with very different experiences can return to a country where they once fought a bloody war and help move former enemies toward a new era of reconciliation and cooperation, just imagine what a sitting President could accomplish.

Yet starting with the lead up to the war, our diplomatic efforts in Iraq have ranged from the indifferent to the indefensible. Key to any hope of stabilizing Iraq is sustained diplomacy from the highest levels of America’s leadership that matches the effort of our soldiers on the ground.

While the Iraqis have made important progress in forming a new government, there is clearly more to be done when, in the middle of an escalating civil war, they still do not have an Interior Minister to run the police or a Defense Minister to run the army. We must not tolerate delays, jockeying for position, and the playing of political games while our troops are putting their lives on the line. All we have heard from the Bush Administration is more platitudes when what we need is more pressure on Iraqi leaders to move forward. It took President Bush three years to admit he was wrong to say ‘bring it on.’ We can’t afford years to go by until he admits the standstill in Iraq today is wrong.

Beyond the unity government, a true national compact is needed to bring about a political solution to the insurgency and end the sectarian violence. To achieve this, we should immediately bring the leaders of the Iraqi factions together at a Dayton-like summit that includes our allies, Iraq’s neighbors, members of the Arab League and the U.N. This will enable the parties to engage in the intensive diplomacy necessary to forge a comprehensive agreement that addresses federalism, oil revenues, the militias, security guarantees, reconstruction, economic assistance, and border security.

We also need to acknowledge that it takes a deadline to get Iraq up on its own two feet and get American troops home. The fact is that our soldiers have done an incredible job of giving the Iraqis the opportunity to create a democratic future for their country. They are now caught in the middle of an escalating civil war that they are powerless to end. Exactly one year after Dick Cheney declared that the insurgency was in its last throes, they are still being killed and maimed by IED’s they cannot defend against. Our soldiers have done their job. It’s time for the newly-elected Iraqi leaders to do their job. And it’s past time for America’s political leaders to do theirs.

That’s why we must agree with the new Iraqi government on a schedule for leaving, withdrawing American combat forces by the end of this year. The only troops that remain should be those critical to finishing the job of standing up Iraqi security forces. This will empower and legitimize the new leadership with the Iraqi people, it will expedite the process of getting Iraqis to assume a larger role in running their country, and it will undermine support for the insurgency among the vast majority of Iraqis who want U.S. troops to leave.

In fact, a recent poll of Iraqis shows that 87% support their government endorsing a timeline for U.S. withdrawal. Prime Minister Maliki understands this, and he’s now saying that Iraqis should be able to take over security for 16 of Iraq’s 18 provinces by the end of this year, and all 18 by the end of next year. In short, this approach will give the new Iraqi government the best chance to succeed in holding the country together while democratic institutions can evolve.

The withdrawal of our troops from Iraq is necessary not only for Iraq: it is also vital to our national security interests elsewhere. Nowhere is this more important than in Iran, where the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism is delighted to see us tied down in Iraq as it defies the international community by moving ahead with its nuclear program. Let’s be perfectly clear: an Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons poses a very grave threat to the United States and our allies, and there’s no question President Ahmadinejad’s threats toward Israel must be taken seriously.

While Iran’s nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism must be addressed, many Americans are increasingly concerned that the Administration’s rhetoric regarding Iran sounds eerily familiar. New White House chief of staff Josh Bolten has reportedly outlined a plan for the Republicans that includes using the Iranian threat to their advantage in the November elections. They must not be allowed to play politics with our national security.

The bottom line is that we simply cannot make the same mistakes we made in rushing to war with Iraq. I accept my share of responsibility — as I said in 2004, knowing what we know now, I would not have gone to war. But it’s clear that the Administration, determined to use force to change the Iraqi regime, misled the country with manipulated intelligence to justify the invasion, used overblown rhetoric to create a climate of fear, rushed to war without giving diplomacy a chance to succeed, and alienated the nations whose support we needed to win the peace.

To make sure this never happens again, Congress must play a much greater role in assessing the threat and determining our response. In fact, Senators have already requested that the intelligence community provide an updated National Intelligence Estimate on Iran so that we can be certain that we have the best available information.

As a nation, we must also learn from past mistakes that sound bites do not make for sound policy. This is not about sounding tough, or creating a policy that fits on a bumper sticker. We must not succumb to the parade of false choices, straw men and rhetoric designed to play to people’s fears. We must never again allow the Administration to question the patriotism of those who see a different way forward for our country. When it comes to our security, we must have an open and honest national dialogue.

This starts with finding the most effective means of addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. While the Administration has talked often about their desire to seek a diplomatic solution, we need much more than rhetoric. As Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert put it when he spoke to Congress last week: “The international community will be judged not by its intentions, but by its results.”

The simple fact is that while using force always remains an option, bombing Iran is a very poor way of dealing with its nuclear ambitions. So the onus is squarely on the Administration to succeed in reaching a diplomatic resolution. And while the potential threat is dire, our intelligence community’s best estimate is that it will be 5-10 years before Iran could have nuclear weapons. Even being cautious, there is time for diplomacy to work.

Secretary Rice’s announcement that the Administration is willing to talk with Iran in the context of multilateral negotiations is a welcome development. Distracted by Iraq and torn by internal divisions, they sat on the sidelines for far too long while the Europeans took charge of the negotiations. It is long overdue for them to start showing some leadership by playing a more direct role in moving this process forward.

Now, we need to see some results. Before the war in Iraq, the Administration made repeated promises to give diplomacy a chance when they had already decided on regime change. This overture to Iran must be more than an effort by the Administration to “check the box” on diplomacy as they move towards confrontation, as one former official described it. By the same token, if Iran is serious about negotiating they must change course and accept this offer.

In any event, history shows that negotiations with Iran are an uncertain proposition, so we must be prepared to move forward with multilateral sanctions if they do not succeed. Flush with petrodollars and emboldened by our compromised position in Iraq, the Iranians have thus far acted with impunity in the face of repeated calls by the international community to forsake its nuclear ambitions. That’s why we must continue working through the UN Security Council to keep the pressure on and demonstrate to the Iranians that there will be a heavy price to pay for pursuing their nuclear ambitions.

To achieve this, we must ensure that the international community presents a united front. That means convincing Russia and China that UN sanctions are key to finding a peaceful solution — rather than a precursor to war. Successful diplomacy is more than changing the behavior of your enemies; equally important can be convincing more friendly governments to follow your lead. If Russia and China have agreed to support sanctions in return for our agreement to talk directly with Iran, we need to hold them to their word. And even if the UN effort fails, we must be prepared to work with a coalition of Europeans and other willing partners to impose meaningful sanctions.

For diplomacy to succeed, we must also make clear to Iran that there will be significant benefits if they abandon their nuclear ambitions. These incentives, which are now being discussed, must be pegged to verifiable progress by Iran in meeting its commitments. My experience with Vietnam shows that we must also address other issues of concern — including terrorism, Iraq, and human rights — as part of a phased process that could ultimately lead to Iran’s integration into the international community. And just as we should not take any military options off the table, we should not rule out any diplomatic incentives that could lead to a comprehensive agreement with Iran.

At the same time, we should also continue to support democratic reform in Iran. While we would all love to see the regime in Iran replaced by a democracy, it would be dangerously naïve to rely on a moribund reform movement to overthrow the government anytime soon. In fact, if our policy is seen as regime change, this will serve to harden Iran’s position, weaken the very reformers we need to empower, and make it more difficult to engender international support.

We must also work to correct the inherent flaw in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that allows nations such as Iran to advance their illicit nuclear weapons capability under the cover of permitted civilian nuclear programs. While Iran has violated the NPT by hiding key aspects of its nuclear program, nothing in the NPT actually prohibits them from mastering the uranium enrichment process that can lead to nuclear weapons capability. That’s why we need to rethink the fundamental bargain of the NPT so that countries forsake indigenous fuel cycle capabilities in return for fuel provided by an international consortium, while also stiffening penalties for withdrawal.

Finally, we should commit to creating a new regional security structure that strengthens the security of the countries in the region. If Iran cooperates, this security alliance could be used to integrate Iran into efforts to deal with regional concerns, including Afghanistan and Iraq; if they do not, it can provide a means of containing the expansion of Iranian influence.

In the end, to keep America safe in the 21st century we need to follow the example set by great statesmen like Warren Christopher. We must return to the core principles that made America the greatest nation in the world and kept us safe for generations. And those of us who care passionately about charting a better course for our country need to work diligently to advance the cause of diplomacy and debate. I look forward to working together with all of you on this critical effort.

12 Responses to “John Kerry Addresses Pacific Council on National Security”

  1. Kerry had a lot to say here, but his words were, as always, well chosen. And as usual, he sounded very Presidential. I especially agreed with this sentiment:

    “…war is the ultimate failure of diplomacy…”

    The US should try to avoid that sort of failure as much as we can — a war of choice is a failure by choice.

  2. This was a good speech highlighting the need for diplomacy and honest talk among all concerned countries. I’m sure Senator Kerry must have been exercising some diplomacy himself, when he praised Bush and Rice for their decision to join in talks with Iran given they are already demanding Iran end their nuclear program before they will even talk with Iran’s leaders.

    I was surprised to read that Josh Bolton is planning to use Iran to promote the Republicands and against the Democrats in the November elections. This is just outragious.

  3. Good remarks–but better off-the-cuff remarks!

  4. hekebolos, nice job on the diary entry. You and Pamela were so lucky!!

  5. Donnie

    There were a few lucky bloggers today… I’m working on the photos now. Unfortunately my zoom did bad things with the speech photos so there’s only a couple that I added to the post.

  6. Hey Pamela,

    Great seeing you today, and yes, we had a wonderful chance to visit with the Senator. He’s quite a guy.

  7. Hey Steve

    Great seeing you today too. He is quite a guy, I won’t argue that. I’m still editing photos and working a post about the Blooger Meeting with John Kerry. 😉

  8. There’s a few photos here – more tomorrow and another post –


  9. Pamela, Thanks for the chance to attend the meeting with John Kerry today. I also really enjoyed meeting you, and the other bloggers. I also gained a new respect for Kerry. Keep up the great work.

  10. Thanks to all of those who have blogged on this issue. It was great to hear what was said in addition of the prepared remarks.

    Pamela, I am waiting for more on the after speech (at least whatever can be shared).

  11. Mass

    I’m slowly getting there – I edited about 30 photos last night and posted them in our photo gallery. Look for a post in an hour or so…

  12. Thanks to the Bloogers that were in on the meeting for posting links to their websites, I’ll be sure to check them out and bookmark.