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John Kerry: Five Priorities for Keeping America Secure


John Kerry: Five Priorities for Keeping America Secure

Five years after 9/11, we are still nowhere near as safe as we need to be. America deserves a winning strategy to reverse this dangerous course and make our country safer. There are many things we can and must do better, but there are five principal priorities that John Kerry believes we must address – and we can’t do it soon enough: (1) redeploy from Iraq, (2) re-commit to Afghanistan, (3) reduce our dependence on foreign oil, (4) reform our homeland defense, and (5) restore America’s moral authority and leadership in the world.


    We all want democracy to succeed in Iraq, but Iraqis must want it as much as we do. Our soldiers have done an incredible job of giving the Iraqis the opportunity to create a democratic future for their country. But one year after Dick Cheney declared that the insurgency was in its last throes, our troops are still being killed and maimed by IED’s they cannot defend against, in the middle of an escalating civil war they are powerless to end. The bottom line is that our soldiers have done their job. It’s time for the newly-elected Iraqi leaders to do their job. And it’s past the time for America’s political leaders to do theirs. We must change course now.

    • Deadline for Redeployment. This starts by acknowledging that it takes a deadline to get Iraq up on its own two feet and get American troops home. Now that the Iraqis have a permanent government, we must agree with the new leadership on a schedule for leaving, withdrawing American combat forces by July 2007. The only troops that remain should be those critical to finishing the job of standing up Iraqi security forces, conducting counter-terrorism missions, and protecting U.S. personnel and infrastructure. 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.

    • Maintain Over the Horizon Presence. After the bulk of U.S. forces have been withdrawn, we should keep a rapid reaction force over the horizon in Kuwait to strike against terrorist enclaves. Together with our air-power in the region, this will ensure that we always have the ability to bring overwhelming force to bear on any concentration of enemy forces in Iraq.

    • Convene a Summit to Reach a Political Solution. This war in Iraq, in the words of our generals, cannot be won militarily. It must be won politically. A true national compact is still urgently needed to bring about a political solution to the insurgency and end the sectarian violence. To achieve this, we must bring the leaders of the Iraqi factions together at a Dayton-like summit that includes leaders of the countries bordering Iraq, representatives of the Arab League, the Secretary General of NATO, representatives of the European Union, and leaders of the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council. 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 must re-commit to Afghanistan to stave off an impending disaster. While we have diverted crucial resources to Iraq, a Taliban-led insurgency – funded largely by flourishing opium production – is retaking control over entire towns, even as Osama bin Laden and his henchmen still find sanctuary nearby. As President Hamid Karzai said, “The same enemies that blew up themselves in London, the same enemies that blew up the train in Madrid or the train in Bombay or the twin towers in America are still around.” In fact, a British General in Afghanistan said on Friday that, “The intensity and ferocity of the fighting is far greater than in Iraq on a daily basis.” That’s why President Karzai is literally pleading for help – when asked if additional American troops and assistance are needed, he said: “Yes, much more, and we’ll keep asking for more and we will never stop asking.” And last week – just as the President was claiming to be on the offensive against the terrorists – the American NATO commander in Afghanistan made an urgent plea for more troops to stop the offensive by the Taliban. We must provide the resources that are so urgently needed to turn the tide.

    • More Troops. That means sending at least five thousand additional U.S. troops – including more elite Special Forces troops, the best counter-insurgency units in the world – more civil affairs forces, and more experienced intelligence units.

    • More Equipment. It means more predator drones to find the enemy, more helicopters and transport aircraft to allow rapid deployments to confront them, and more heavy combat equipment to make sure we can crush them.

    • More Economic Assistance. It means more reconstruction money to help build support among the local population.


    Energy independence is essential to defeating jihadism and liberating our country from our bondage to tyrannical, hostile, and unstable regimes. We cannot win the war on terror and get serious about global climate change and energy security if we do not take bold steps to break our oil addiction. Talk is not enough. A safer, more secure energy future is well within our reach. The imperative has never been greater to reshape the future of our energy supply and energy use – that’s why taking these steps are so important.

    • Mandates for Reducing Oil Consumption. The United States is saddled with rising gasoline prices, escalating uncertainty in energy markets, and increasing oil imports in the foreseeable future. These stubborn facts will not change without an aggressive policy response that promotes both radically increased energy efficiency in our vehicle fleet and a rapid shift to greater use of alternative renewable fuels. We must set mandatory targets for reducing U.S. oil use by 2.5 million barrels of oil a day by 2015. This goal will be achieved not only by revolutionizing the transportation sector, but also through promoting renewable energy and increasing overall energy efficiency in our homes and buildings.

    • Developing Energy Technologies for the Future. Reducing our dependence on oil and building a future of clean and abundant energy are urgent national priorities. Our political system, however, does not treat them that way. To assure that the nation is on a track to reduce oil dependence, we must create an Energy Security and Conservation Trust Fund capitalized by rolling back tax breaks for big oil. The revenues will be dedicated to accelerating the commercialization of technologies that will reduce America’s dangerous dependence on oil. The Trust Fund will allocate $20 billion over the next decade to reduce oil dependence and create a cleaner and more reliable energy future.
    • Reverse and Stop Emissions that Cause Global Warming. Science tells us that we face a grave risk of potentially devastating impacts if global temperatures increase by even more than a few degrees. We must slow, stop and reverse greenhouse gas emissions through a flexible, economy-wide cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions.


    Here at home, too many things have not changed in the last five years. Hurricane Katrina showed us in the most wrenching way possible that we are woefully unprepared to handle a natural disaster we know is coming a week in advance, let alone a catastrophic terrorist attack that takes our government by surprise. The final 9/11 Commission report card gave C’s, D’s, and F’s to the government because it failed to fully implement common sense measures that would protect us from terrorism. We need to take these basic steps to make our homeland safer.

    • Allocate Homeland Security Funding Based on Risk. Ignoring the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress have failed to reform the homeland security grant programs so that funding is distributed solely according to risk. The final 9/11 Report Card gave the government an “F” for failing to make the common sense changes that will help protect Americans from terrorists. Congress continues to insist on bloated mandatory-minimum funding for every state and the Administration has cut discretionary spending for cities like New York and Washington while states like Wyoming and North Dakota receive the most in per capita spending. The solution is simple: put national security above pork barrel interests and politics as usual and direct homeland security funding to the cities and states at risk from a terrorist attack. Anything less is unacceptable.

    • Fully Implement the 9/11 Commission Recommendations. In addition to distributing funding based on risk, we need to finally develop a passenger pre-screening program to identify terrorists before they board a plane; cut through the bureaucracy and develop a government wide terrorist watch list; improve Congressional oversight of homeland security programs and the intelligence community; and increase non-proliferation efforts to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of Al-Qaeda.

    • Scan All Cargo Containers Bound for the U.S. within 3 years. Five years after 9/11, less than 5 percent of the cargo entering U. S. ports is physically inspected. Only 28 percent of U.S. port terminals are equipped with radiation monitors. Worse, the technology in place is flawed and must be replaced. Only 17.5 percent of “high-risk” cargo is physically inspected overseas by U.S. agents. It’s time to get serious about port security. The nation’s foremost expert on port security, Dr. Steven Flynn, has advocated scanning 100% of the containers bound for the United States, using innovative technology that x-rays and scans containers leaving world ports for nuclear and other illicit material, without bringing commerce to a halt. For $1.5 billion–less than the cost of one week in Iraq–the Administration could deploy this technology to the major world ports and reach a 100 percent scanning rate within 3 years. We need to make that a reality.

    • Enhance Domestic Counter-Terrorism Capabilities. We must ensure that the FBI is prepared to meet the new terrorist challenge, an effort that is still moving far too slowly. We need real leadership from the highest levels of government to expedite this crucial process. We also must reconstitute the Bin Laden unit at the CIA, which the Administration inexplicably disbanded. A Democratic amendment to restore funding for this unit passed the Senate unanimously this week – we need to make sure it becomes the law of the land.

    • Secure our Borders. An important element of securing our homeland is securing our borders to prevent terrorists from gaining entry. Yet, experience teaches us that just building a taller fence will not stem the tide of illegal immigration. We must act to strengthen the border and comprehensively reform our immigration system so that border control agents can hunt for the people who seek to do us harm as opposed to the people who seek opportunity. Unfortunately bipartisan legislation to do just that is being hold hostage in Congress by narrow right-wing political interests.


    We must restore America’s moral authority and global leadership by deploying the full arsenal of our national power with smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances, more effective international institutions – and fidelity to the values we have always stood for as a nation. We must remember the great lesson of the Cold War when we led the world to confront a common threat. Energetic global leadership is a strategic imperative for America, not a favor we do for other countries.

    • Work Through Global Institutions. Working through global institutions doesn’t tie our hands – it invests in our aims with greater legitimacy and dampens the fear and resentment that our preponderant power sometimes inspires in others.

    • Engage in Direct Dialogue. Leadership means talking with countries that aren’t our friends. It means engaging directly when our vital national security interests are at stake – even with countries that we strongly disagree with – because treating dialogue as a means, rather than an end, can help us achieve our goals.

    • Lead By Example. We must start treating our moral authority as a precious national asset, one that does not limit our power but magnifies our influence. We should never engage in or excuse violations of basic human rights. We must uphold the rule of law in our own conduct. And we should never accept official lying by our leaders.

    • Work for Lasting Peace in the Middle East. To defeat the radicals, we must also work to address the impression that we have done too little to achieve real progress in bringing peace to the Middle East. Hamas’ victory at the polls makes a democratic Palestine at peace with Israel that much more distant. But we must not lose sight of the strategic value of a lasting peace that would rob Islamic extremists’ of their primary recruiting tool and deny repressive regimes their age-old excuse not to address problems at home. This will require the active participation of other key players in the region in a major diplomatic effort that will only be possible with serious engagement from the highest levels of our government.

    • Win the War of Ideas. Ultimately, we will prevail by offering a more compelling vision of human potential than our adversaries – and by fulfilling America’s promise to lead the march of human progress. We have always been a force for opportunity, for possibility, for development and for progress – not just in word but in deed. To shape our destiny in the twenty-first century, we must reclaim that role. Only then can we say that we have drawn on the best America has to offer to meet the challenges – and seize the opportunities – to make the best of this new era.


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