Coral Gables, FL -
What follows is the transcript of the first debate between President Bush and Senator John Kerry. Jim Lehrer, anchor if PBS' "The Newshour" questioned the candidates.
Good evening from the University of Miami Convocation Center in Coral Gables, Florida. I'm Jim Lehrer of "The NewsHour" on PBS.
And I welcome you to the first of the 2004 presidential debates between President George W. Bush, the Republican nominee, and Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee.
These debates are sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Tonight's will last 90 minutes, following detailed rules of engagement worked out by representatives of the candidates. I have agreed to enforce their rules on them.
The umbrella topic is foreign policy and homeland security, but the specific subjects were chosen by me, the questions were composed by me, the candidates have not been told what they are, nor has anyone else.
For each question there can only be a two-minute response, a 90-second rebuttal and, at my discretion, a discussion extension of one minute.
A green light will come on when 30 seconds remain in any given answer, yellow at 15, red at five seconds, and then flashing red means time's up. There is also a backup buzzer system if needed.
Candidates may not direct a question to each other. There will be two-minute closing statements, but no opening statements.
There is an audience here in the hall, but they will remain absolutely silent for the next 90 minutes, except for now, when they join me in welcoming President Bush and Senator Kerry.
Good evening, Mr. President, Senator Kerry.
As determined by a coin toss, the first question goes to you, Senator Kerry. You have two minutes.
Do you believe you could do a better job than President Bush in preventing another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States?
KERRY: Yes, I do.
But before I answer further, let me thank you for moderating. I want to thank the University of Miami for hosting us. And I know the president will join me in welcoming all of Florida to this debate. You've been through the roughest weeks anybody could imagine. Our hearts go out to you. And we admire your pluck and perseverance.
I can make American safer than President Bush has made us.
And I believe President Bush and I both love our country equally. But we just have a different set of convictions about how you make America safe.
I believe America is safest and strongest when we are leading the world and we are leading strong alliances.
I'll never give a veto to any country over our security. But I also know how to lead those alliances.
This president has left them in shatters across the globe, and we're now 90 percent of the casualties in Iraq and 90 percent of the costs.
I think that's wrong, and I think we can do better.
I have a better plan for homeland security. I have a better plan to be able to fight the war on terror by strengthening our military, strengthening our intelligence, by going after the financing more authoritatively, by doing what we need to do to rebuild the alliances, by reaching out to the Muslim world, which the president has almost not done, and beginning to isolate the radical Islamic Muslims, not have them isolate the United States of America.
I know I can do a better job in Iraq. I have a plan to have a summit with all of the allies, something this president has not yet achieved, not yet been able to do to bring people to the table.
We can do a better job of training the Iraqi forces to defend themselves, and I know that we can do a better job of preparing for elections.
All of these, and especially homeland security, which we'll talk about a little bit later.
LEHRER: Mr. President, you have a 90-second rebuttal.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I, too, thank the University of Miami, and say our prayers are with the good people of this state, who've suffered a lot.
September the 11th changed how America must look at the world. And since that day, our nation has been on a multi-pronged strategy to keep our country safer.
We pursued Al Qaeda wherever Al Qaeda tries to hide. Seventy-five percent of known Al Qaeda leaders have been brought to justice. The rest of them know we're after them.
We've upheld the doctrine that said if you harbor a terrorist, you're equally as guilty as the terrorist.
And the Taliban are no longer in power. Ten million people have registered to vote in Afghanistan in the upcoming presidential election.
In Iraq, we saw a threat, and we realized that after September the 11th, we must take threats seriously, before they fully materialize. Saddam Hussein now sits in a prison cell. America and the world are safer for it.
We continue to pursue our policy of disrupting those who proliferate weapons of mass destruction.
Libya has disarmed. The A.Q. Khan network has been brought to justice.
And, as well, we're pursuing a strategy of freedom around the world, because I understand free nations will reject terror. Free nations will answer the hopes and aspirations of their people. Free nations will help us achieve the peace we all want.
LEHRER: New question, Mr. President, two minutes.
Do you believe the election of Senator Kerry on November the 2nd would increase the chances of the U.S. being hit by another 9/11-type terrorist attack?
BUSH: No, I don't believe it's going to happen. I believe I'm going to win, because the American people know I know how to lead. I've shown the American people I know how to lead.
I have -- I understand everybody in this country doesn't agree with the decisions I've made. And I made some tough decisions. But people know where I stand.
People out there listening know what I believe. And that's how best it is to keep the peace.
This nation of ours has got a solemn duty to defeat this ideology of hate. And that's what they are. This is a group of killers who will not only kill here, but kill children in Russia, that'll attack unmercifully in Iraq, hoping to shake our will.
We have a duty to defeat this enemy. We have a duty to protect our children and grandchildren.
The best way to defeat them is to never waver, to be strong, to use every asset at our disposal, is to constantly stay on the offensive and, at the same time, spread liberty.
And that's what people are seeing now is happening in Afghanistan.
Ten million citizens have registered to vote. It's a phenomenal statistic. They're given a chance to be free, and they will show up at the polls. Forty-one percent of those 10 million are women.
In Iraq, no doubt about it, it's tough. It's hard work. It's incredibly hard. You know why? Because an enemy realizes the stakes. The enemy understands a free Iraq will be a major defeat in their ideology of hatred. That's why they're fighting so vociferously.
They showed up in Afghanistan when they were there, because they tried to beat us and they didn't. And they're showing up in Iraq fo're trying to defeat us.
And if we lose our will, we lose. But if we remain strong and resolute, we will defeat this enemy.
LEHRER: Ninety second response, Senator Kerry.
KERRY: I believe in being strong and resolute and determined. And I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, wherever they are.
But we also have to be smart, Jim. And smart means not diverting your attention from the real war on terror in Afghanistan against Usama bin Laden and taking if off to Iraq where the 9/11 Commission confirms there was no connection to 9/11 itself and Saddam Hussein, and where the reason for going to war was weapons of mass destruction, not the removal of Saddam Hussein.
This president has made, I regret to say, a colossal error of judgment. And judgment is what we look for in the president of the United States of America.
I'm proud that important military figures who are supporting me in this race: former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili; just yesterday, General Eisenhower's son, General John Eisenhower, endorsed me; General Admiral William Crown; General Tony McBeak, who ran the Air Force war so effectively for his father -- all believe I would make a stronger commander in chief. And they believe it because they know I would not take my eye off of the goal: Usama bin Laden.
Unfortunately, he escaped in the mountains of Tora Bora. We had him surrounded. But we didn't use American forces, the best trained in the world, to go kill him. The president relied on Afghan warlords and he outsourced that job too. That's wrong.
LEHRER: New question, two minutes, Senator Kerry.
"Colossal misjudgments." What colossal misjudgments, in your opinion, has President Bush made in these areas?
KERRY: Well, where do you want me to begin?
First of all, he made the misjudgment of saying to America that he was going to build a true alliance, that he would exhaust the remedies of the United Nations and go through the inspections.
In fact, he first didn't even want to do that. And it wasn't until former Secretary of State Jim Baker and General Scowcroft and others pushed publicly and said you've got to go to the U.N., that the president finally changed his mind -- his campaign has a word for that -- and went to the United Nations.
Now, once there, we could have continued those inspections.
We had Saddam Hussein trapped.
He also promised America that he would go to war as a last resort.
Those words mean something to me, as somebody who has been in combat. "Last resort." You've got to be able to look in the eyes of families and say to those parents, "I tried to do everything in my power to prevent the loss of your son and daughter."
I don't believe the United States did that.
And we pushed our allies aside.
And so, today, we are 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the cost: $200 billion -- $200 billion that could have been used for health care, for schools, for construction, for prescription drugs for seniors, and it's in Iraq.
And Iraq is not even the center of the focus of the war on terror. The center is Afghanistan, where, incidentally, there were more Americans killed last year than the year before; where the opium production is 75 percent of the world's opium production; where 40 to 60 percent of the economy of Afghanistan is based on opium; where the elections have been postponed three times.
The president moved the troops, so he's got 10 times the number of troops in Iraq than he has in Afghanistan, where Usama bin Laden is. Does that mean that Saddam Hussein was 10 times more important than Usama bin Laden -- than, excuse me, Saddam Hussein more important than Usama bin Laden? I don't think so.
LEHRER: Ninety-second response, Mr. President.
BUSH: My opponent looked at the same intelligence I looked at and declared in 2002 that Saddam Hussein was a grave threat.
He also said in December of 2003 that anyone who doubts that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein does not have the judgment to be president.
I agree with him. The world is better off without Saddam Hussein.
I was hoping diplomacy would work. I understand the serious consequences of committing our troops into harm's way.
It's the hardest decision a president makes. So I went to the United Nations. I didn't need anybody to tell me to go to the United Nations. I decided to go there myself.
And I went there hoping that, once and for all, the free world would act in concert to get Saddam Hussein to listen to our demands. They passed the resolution that said, "Disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences." I believe, when an international body speaks, it must mean what it says.
Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming. Why should he? He had 16 other resolutions and nothing took place. As a matter of fact, my opponent talks about inspectors. The facts are that he was systematically deceiving the inspectors.
That wasn't going to work. That's kind of a pre-September 10th mentality, the hope that somehow resolutions and failed inspections would make this world a more peaceful place.
He was hoping we'd turn away. But there was fortunately others beside himself who believed that we ought to take action.
We did. The world is safer without Saddam Hussein.
LEHRER: New question, Mr. President. Two minutes.
What about Senator Kerry's point, the comparison he drew between the priorities of going after Usama bin Laden and going after Saddam Hussein?
BUSH: Jim, we've got the capability of doing both.
As a matter of fact, this is a global effort.
We're facing a group of folks who have such hatred in their heart, they'll strike anywhere, with any means.
And that's why it's essential that we have strong alliances, and we do.
That's why it's essential that we make sure that we keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of people like Al Qaeda, which we are.
But to say that there's only one focus on the war on terror doesn't really understand the nature of the war on terror.
Of course we're after Saddam Hussein -- I mean bin Laden. He's isolated. Seventy-five percent of his people have been brought to justice. The killer -- the mastermind of the September 11th attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, is in prison.
We're making progress.
But the front on this war is more than just one place. The Philippines -- we've got help -- we're helping them there to bring -- to bring Al Qaeda affiliates to justice there.
And, of course, Iraq is a central part in the war on terror. That's why Zarqawi and his people are trying to fight us. Their hope is that we grow weary and we leave.
The biggest disaster that could happen is that we not succeed in Iraq. We will succeed. We've got a plan to do so. And the main reason we'll succeed is because the Iraqis want to be free.
I had the honor of visiting with Prime Minister Allawi. He's a strong, courageous leader. He believes in the freedom of the Iraqi people.
He doesn't want U.S. leadership, however, to send mixed signals, to not stand with the Iraqi people.
He believes, like I believe, that the Iraqis are ready to fight for their own freedom. They just need the help to be trained.
There will be elections in January. We're spending reconstruction money. And our alliance is strong.
That's the plan for victory.
And when Iraq if free, America will be more secure.
LEHRER: Senator Kerry, 90 seconds.
KERRY: The president just talked about Iraq as a center of the war on terror. Iraq was not even close to the center of the war on terror before the president invaded it.
The president made the judgment to divert forces from under General Tommy Franks from Afghanistan before the Congress even approved it to begin to prepare to go to war in Iraq.
And he rushed the war in Iraq without a plan to win the peace. Now, that is not the judgment that a president of the United States ought to make. You don't take America to war unless have the plan to win the peace. You don't send troops to war without the body armor that they need.
I've met kids in Ohio, parents in Wisconsin places, Iowa, where they're going out on the Internet to get the state-of-the-art body gear to send to their kids. Some of them got them for a birthday present.
I think that's wrong. Humvees -- 10,000 out of 12,000 Humvees that are over there aren't armored. And you go visit some of those kids in the hospitals today who were maimed because they don't have the armament.
This president just -- I don't know if he sees what's really happened on there. But it's getting worse by the day. More soldiers killed in June than before. More in July than June. More in August than July. More in September than in August.
And now we see beheadings. And we got weapons of mass destruction crossing the border every single day, and they're blowing people up. And we don't have enough troops there.
BUSH: Can I respond to that?
LEHRER: Let's do one of these one-minute extensions. You have 30 seconds.
BUSH: Thank you, sir.
First of all, what my opponent wants you to forget is that he voted to authorize the use of force and now says it's the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place.
I don't see how you can lead this country to succeed in Iraq if you say wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. What message does that send our troops? What message does that send to our allies? What message does that send the Iraqis?
No, the way to win this is to be steadfast and resolved and to follow through on the plan that I've just outlined.
LEHRER: Thirty seconds, Senator.
KERRY: Yes, we have to be steadfast and resolved, and I am. And I will succeed for those troops, now that we're there. We have to succeed. We can't leave a failed Iraq. But that doesn't mean it wasn't a mistake of judgment to go there and take the focus off of Usama bin Laden. It was. Now, we can succeed. But I don't believe this president can. I think we need a president who has the credibility to bring the allies back to the table and to do what's necessary to make it so America isn't doing this alone.
LEHRER: We'll come back to Iraq in a moment. But I want to come back to where I began, on homeland security. This is a two-minute new question, Senator Kerry.
As president, what would you do, specifically, in addition to or differently to increase the homeland security of the United States than what President Bush is doing?
KERRY: Jim, let me tell you exactly what I'll do. And there are a long list of thing. First of all, what kind of mixed message does it send when you have $500 million going over to Iraq to put police officers in the streets of Iraq, and the president is cutting the COPS program in America?
What kind of message does it send to be sending money to open firehouses in Iraq, but we're shutting firehouses who are the first- responders here in America.
The president hasn't put one nickel, not one nickel into the effort to fix some of our tunnels and bridges and most exposed subway systems. That's why they had to close down the subway in New York when the Republican Convention was there. We hadn't done the work that ought to be done.
The president -- 95 percent of the containers that come into the ports, right here in Florida, are not inspected.
Civilians get onto aircraft, and their luggage is X- rayed, but the cargo hold is not X-rayed.
Does that make you feel safer in America?
This president thought it was more important to give the wealthiest people in America a tax cut rather than invest in homeland security. Those aren't my values. I believe in protecting America first.
And long before President Bush and I get a tax cut -- and that's who gets it -- long before we do, I'm going to invest in homeland security and I'm going to make sure we're not cutting COPS programs in America and we're fulso unfortunately gave in to the chemical industry, which didn't want to do some of the things necessary to strengthen our chemical plant exposure.
And there's an enormous undone job to protect the loose nuclear materials in the world that are able to get to terrorists. That's a whole other subject, but I see we still have a little bit more time.
Let me just quickly say, at the current pace, the president will not secure the loose material in the Soviet Union -- former Soviet Union for 13 years. I'm going to do it in four years. And we're going to keep it out of the hands of terrorists.
LEHRER: Ninety-second response, Mr. President.
BUSH: I don't think we want to get to how he's going to pay for all these promises. It's like a huge tax gap. Anyway, that's for another debate.
My administration has tripled the amount of money we're spending on homeland security to $30 billion a year.
My administration worked with the Congress to create the Department of Homeland Security so we could better coordinate our borders and ports. We've got 1,000 extra border patrol on the southern border; want 1,000 on the northern border. We're modernizing our borders.
We spent $3.1 billion for fire and police, $3.1 billion.
We're doing our duty to provide the funding.
But the best way to protect this homeland is to stay on the offense.
You know, we have to be right 100 percent of the time. And the enemy only has to be right once to hurt us.
There's a lot of good people working hard.
And by the way, we've also changed the culture of the FBI to have counterterrorism as its number one priority. We're communicating better. We're going to reform our intelligence services to make sure that we get the best intelligence possible.
The Patriot Act is vital -- is vital that the Congress renew the Patriot Act which enables our law enforcement to disrupt terror cells.
But again, I repeat to my fellow citizens, the best way to protection is to stay on the offense.
LEHRER: Yes, let's do a little -- yes, 30 seconds.
KERRY: The president just said the FBI had changed its culture. We just read on the front pages of America's papers that there are over 100,000 hours of tapes, unlistened to. On one of those tapes may be the enemy being right the next time.
And the test is not whether you're spending more money. The test is, are you doing everything possible to make America safe?
We didn't need that tax cut. America needed to be safe.
BUSH: Of course we're doing everything we can to protect America. I wake up every day thinking about how best to protect America. That's my job.
I work with Director Mueller of the FBI; comes in my office when I'm in Washington every morning, talking about how to protect us. There's a lot of really good people working hard to do so.
It's hard work. But, again, I want to tell the American people, we're doing everything we can at home, but you better have a president who chases these terrorists down and bring them to justice before they hurt us again.
LEHRER: New question, Mr. President. Two minutes.
What criteria would you use to determine when to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq?
BUSH: Let me first tell you that the best way for Iraq to be safe and secure is for Iraqi citizens to be trained to do the job.
And that's what we're doing. We've got 100,000 trained now, 125,000 by the end of this year, 200,000 by the end of next year. That is the best way. We'll never succeed in Iraq if the Iraqi citizens do not want to take matters into their own hands to protect themselves. I believe they want to. Prime Minister Allawi believes they want to.
And so the best indication about when we can bring our troops home -- which I really want to do, but I don't want to do so for the sake of bringing them home; I want to do so because we've achieved an objective -- is to see the Iraqis perform and to see the Iraqis step up and take responsibility.
And so, the answer to your question is: When our general is on the ground and Ambassador Negroponte tells me that Iraq is ready to defend herself from these terrorists, that elections will have been held by then, that their stability and that they're on their way to, you know, a nation that's free; that's when.
And I hope it's as soon as possible. But I know putting artificial deadlines won't work. My opponent at one time said, "Well, get me elected, I'll have them out of there in six months." You can't do that and expect to win the war on terror.
My message to our troops is, "Thank you for what you're doing. We're standing with you strong. We'll give you all the equipment you need. And we'll get you home as soon as the mission's done, because this is a vital mission."
A free Iraq will be an ally in the war on terror, and that's essential. A free Iraq will set a powerful example in the part of the world that is desperate for freedom. A free Iraq will help secure Israel. A free Iraq will enforce the hopes and aspirations of the reformers in places like Iran. A free Iraq is essential for the security of this country.
LEHRER: Ninety seconds, Senator Kerry.
KERRY: Thank you, Jim.
My message to the troops is also: Thank you for what they're doing, but it's also help is on the way. I believe those troops deserve better than what they are getting today.
You know, it's interesting. When I was in a rope line just the other day, coming out here from Wisconsin, a couple of young returnees were in the line, one active duty, one from the Guard. And they both looked at me and said: We need you. You've got to help us over there.
Now I believe there's a better way to do this. You know, the president's father did not go into Iraq, into Baghdad, beyond Basra. And the reason he didn't is, he said -- he wrote in his book -- because there was no viable exit strategy. And he said our troops would be occupiers in a bitterly hostile land.
That's exactly where we find ourselves today. There's a sense of American occupation. The only building that was guarded when the troops when into Baghdad was the oil ministry. We didn't guard the nuclear facilities.
We didn't guard the foreign office, where you might have found information about weapons of mass destruction. We didn't guard the borders.
Almost every step of the way, our troops have been left on these extraordinarily difficult missions. I know what it's like to go out on one of those missions when you don't know what's around the corner.
And I believe our troops need other allies helping. I'm going to hold that summit. I will bring fresh credibility, a new start, and we will get the job done right.
LEHRER: All right, go ahead. Yes, sir?
BUSH: I think it's worthy for a follow-up.
LEHRER: Sure, right.
LEHRER: We can do 30 second each here. All right.
BUSH: My opponent says help is on the way, but what kind of message does it say to our troops in harm's way, "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time"? Not a message a commander in chief gives, or this is a "great diversion."
As well, help is on the way, but it's certainly hard to tell it when he voted against the $87-billion supplemental to provide equipment for our troops, and then said he actually did vote for it before he voted against it.
Not what a commander in chief does when you're trying to lead troops.
LEHRER: Senator Kerry, 30 seconds.
KERRY: Well, you know, when I talked about the $87 billion, I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?
I believe that when you know something's going wrong, you make it right. That's what I learned in Vietnam. When I came back from that war I saw that it was wrong. Some people don't like the fact that I stood up to say no, but I did. And that's what I did with that vote. And I'm going to lead those troops to victory.
LEHRER: All right, new question. Two minutes, Senator Kerry.
Speaking of Vietnam, you spoke to Congress in 1971, after you came back from Vietnam, and you said, quote, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
Are Americans now dying in Iraq for a mistake?
KERRY: No, and they don't have to, providing we have the leadership that we put -- that I'm offering.
I believe that we have to win this. The president and I have always agreed on that. And from the beginning, I did vote to give the authority, because I thought Saddam Hussein was a threat, and I did accept that intelligence.
But I also laid out a very strict series of things we needed to do in order to proceed from a position of strength. Then the president, in fact, promised them. He went to Cincinnati and he gave a speech in which he said, "We will plan carefully. We will proceed cautiously. We will not make war inevitable. We will go with our allies."
He didn't do any of those things. They didn't do the planning. They left the planning of the State Department in the State Department desks. They avoided even the advice of their own general. General Shinsheki, the Army chief of staff, said you're going to need several hundred thousand troops. Instead of listening to him, they retired him.
The terrorism czar, who has worked for every president since Ronald Reagan, said, "Invading Iraq in response to 9/11 would be like Franklin Roosevelt invading Mexico in response to Pearl Harbor."
That's what we have here.
And what we need now is a president who understands how to bring these other countries together to recognize their stakes in this. They do have stakes in it. They've always had stakes in it.
The Arab countries have a stake in not having a civil war. The European countries have a stake in not having total disorder on their doorstep.
But this president hasn't even held the kind of statesman-like summits that pull people together and get them to invest in those states. In fact, he's done the opposite. He pushed them away.
When the Secretary General Kofi Annan offered the United Nations, he said, "No, no, we'll go do this alone."
To save for Halliburton the spoils of the war, they actually issued a memorandum from the Defense Department saying, "If you weren't with us in the war, don't bother applying for any construction."
That's not a way to invite people.
LEHRER: Ninety seconds.
BUSH: That's totally absurd. Of course, the U.N. was invited in. And we support the U.N. efforts there. They pulled out after Sergio de Mello got killed. But they're now back in helping with elections.
My opponent says we didn't have any allies in this war. What's he say to Tony Blair? What's he say to Alexander Kwasniewski of Poland? You can't expect to build an alliance when you denigrate the contributions of those who are serving side by side with American troops in Iraq.
Plus, he says the cornerstone of his plan to succeed in Iraq is to call upon nations to serve. So what's the message going to be: "Please join us in Iraq. We're a grand diversion. Join us for a war that is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time?"
I know how these people think. I deal with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone frequently. They're not going to follow somebody who says, "This is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time."
I know how these people think. I deal with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone frequently.
They're not going to follow somebody who says this is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time. They're not going to follow somebody whose core convictions keep changing because of politics in America.
And finally, he says we ought to have a summit. Well, there are summits being held. Japan is going to have a summit for the donors; $14 billion pledged. And Prime Minister Koizumi is going to call countries to account, to get them to contribute.
And there's going to be an Arab summit, of the neighborhood countries. And Colin Powell helped set up that summit.
LEHRER: Forty seconds, Senator.
KERRY: The United Nations, Kofi Annan offered help after Baghdad fell. And we never picked him up on that and did what was necessary to transfer authority and to transfer reconstruction. It was always American-run.
Secondly, when we went in, there were three countries: Great Britain, Australia and the United States. That's not a grand coalition. We can do better.
LEHRER: Thirty seconds, Mr. President.
BUSH: Well, actually, he forgot Poland. And now there's 30 nations involved, standing side by side with our American troops.
And I honor their sacrifices. And I don't appreciate it when candidate for president denigrates the contributions of these brave soldiers.
You cannot lead the world if you do not honor the contributions of those who are with us. He called them coerced and the bribed. That's not how you bring people together.
Our coalition is strong. It will remain strong, so long as I'm the president.
LEHRER: New question, Mr. President, two minutes. You have said there was a, quote, "miscalculation," of what the conditions would be in post-war Iraq. What was the miscalculation, and how did it happen?
BUSH: No, what I said was that, because we achieved such a rapid victory, more of the Saddam loyalists were around. I mean, we thought we'd whip more of them going in.
But because Tommy Franks did such a great job in planning the operation, we moved rapidly, and a lot of the Baathists and Saddam loyalists laid down their arms and disappeared. I thought they would stay and fight, but they didn't.
And now we're fighting them now. And it's hard work. I understand how hard it is. I get the casualty reports every day. I see on the TV screens how hard it is. But it's necessary work.
And I'm optimistic. See, I think you can be realistic and optimistic at the same time. I'm optimistic we'll achieve -- I know we won't achieve if we send mixed signals. I know we're not going to achieve our objective if we send mixed signals to our troops, our friends, the Iraqi citizens.
We've got a plan in place. The plan says there will be elections in January, and there will be. The plan says we'll train Iraqi soldiers so they can do the hard work, and we are.
And it's not only just America, but NATO is now helping, Jordan's helping train police, UAE is helping train police.
We've allocated $7 billion over the next months for reconstruction efforts. And we're making progress there.
And our alliance is strong. And as I just told you, there's going to be a summit of the Arab nations. Japan will be hosting a summit. We're making progress.
It is hard work. It is hard work to go from a tyranny to a democracy. It's hard work to go from a place where people get their hands cut off, or executed, to a place where people are free.
But it's necessary work. And a free Iraq is going to make this world a more peaceful place.
LEHRER: Ninety seconds, Senator Kerry.
KERRY: What I think troubles a lot of people in our country is that the president has just sort of described one kind of mistake. But what he has said is that, even knowing there were no weapons of mass destruction, even knowing there was no imminent threat, even knowing there was no connection with Al Qaeda, he would still have done everything the same way. Those are his words.
Now, I would not. So what I'm trying to do is just talk the truth to the American people and to the world. The truth is what good policy is based on. It's what leadership is based on.
The president says that I'm denigrating these troops. I have nothing but respect for the British, Tony Blair, and for what they've been willing to do.
But you can't tell me that when the most troops any other country has on the ground is Great Britain, with 8,300, and below that the four others are below 4,000, and below that, there isn't anybody out of the hundreds, that we have a genuine coalition to get this job done.
You can't tell me that on the day that we went into that war and it started -- it was principally the United States, the America and Great Britain and one or two others. That's it. And today, we are 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the costs. And meanwhile, North Korea has got nuclear weapons. Talk about mixed messages. The president is the one that said, "We can't allow countries to get nuclear weapons." They have. I'll change that.
LEHRER: New question. Senator Kerry, two minutes. You just -- you've repeatedly accused President Bush -- not here tonight, but elsewhere before -- of not telling the truth about Iraq, essentially of lying to the American people about Iraq. Give us some examples of what you consider to be his not telling the truth.
KERRY: Well, I've never, ever used the harshest word, as you did just then. And I try not to. I've been -- but I'll nevertheless tell you that I think he has not been candid with the American people. And I'll tell you exactly how.
First of all, we all know that in his state of the union message, he told Congress about nuclear materials that didn't exist.
We know that he promised America that he was going to build this coalition. I just described the coalition. It is not the kind of coalition we were described when we were talking about voting for this.
The president said he would exhaust the remedies of the United Nations and go through that full process. He didn't. He cut if off, sort of arbitrarily.
And we know that there were further diplomatic efforts under way. They just decided the time for diplomacy is over and rushed to war without planning for what happens afterwards.
Now, he misled the American people in his speech when he said we will plan carefully. They obviously didn't. He misled the American people when he said we'd go to war as a last resort. We did not go as a last resort. And most Americans know the difference.
Now, this has cost us deeply in the world. I believe that it is important to tell the truth to the American people. I've worked with those leaders the president talks about, I've worked with them for 20 years, for longer than this president. And I know what many of them say today, and I know how to bring them back to the table.
And I believe that a fresh start, new credibility, a president who can understand what we have to do to reach out to the Muslim world to make it clear that this is not, you know -- Usama bin Laden uses the invasion of Iraq in order to go out to people and say that America has declared war on Islam.
We need to be smarter about now we wage a war on terror. We need to deny them the recruits. We need to deny them the safe havens. We need to rebuild our alliances.
I believe that Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy, and the others did that more effectively, and I'm going to try to follow in their footsteps.
LEHRER: Ninety seconds, Mr. President.
BUSH: My opponent just said something amazing. He said Usama bin Laden uses the invasion of Iraq as an excuse to spread hatred for America. Usama bin Laden isn't going to determine how we defend ourselves.
Usama bin Laden doesn't get to decide. The American people decide.
I decided the right action was in Iraq. My opponent calls it a mistake. It wasn't a mistake.
He said I misled on Iraq. I don't think he was misleading when he called Iraq a grave threat in the fall of 2002.
I don't think he was misleading when he said that it was right to disarm Iraq in the spring of 2003.
I don't think he misled you when he said that, you know, anyone who doubted whether the world was better off without Saddam Hussein in power didn't have the judgment to be president. I don't think he was misleading.
I think what is misleading is to say you can lead and succeed in Iraq if you keep changing your positions on this war. And he has. As the politics change, his positions change. And that's not how a commander in chief acts.
Let me finish.
The intelligence I looked at was the same intelligence my opponent looked at, the very same intelligence. And when I stood up there and spoke to the Congress, I was speaking off the same intelligence he looked at to make his decisions to support the authorization of force.
LEHRER: Thirty seconds. We'll do a 30 second here.
KERRY: I wasn't misleading when I said he was a threat. Nor was I misleading on the day that the president decided to go to war when I said that he had made a mistake in not building strong alliances and that I would have preferred that he did more diplomacy.
I've had one position, one consistent position, that Saddam Hussein was a threat. There was a right way to disarm him and a wrong way. And the president chose the wrong way.
LEHRER: Thirty seconds, Mr. President.
BUSH: The only consistent about my opponent's position is that he's been inconsistent. He changes positions. And you cannot change positions in this war on terror if you expect to win.
And I expect to win. It's necessary we win.
We're being challenged like never before. And we have a duty to our country and to future generations of America to achieve a free Iraq, a free Afghanistan, and to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction.
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