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President Bush and Senator Kerry Raise Defense and Economy Issues

August 18, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Now, another pair of snapshots from the presidential race. First, Sen. John Kerry speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Annual Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. President Bush addressed the same crowd on Monday, and announced his plan to withdraw 70,000 U.S. troops from bases in Europe and Asia. Kerry responded to that plan today.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: Nobody wants to bring troops home more than those of us who have fought in foreign wars. But it needs to be done at the right time and in a sensible way; this is not that time or that way. Let’s be clear — the president’s vaguely stated plan does not strengthen our hand in the war on terror. It in no way relieves the strain on our overextended military personnel. It doesn’t even begin until 2006 and it takes ten years to achieve.

And this hastily announced plan raises more doubts about our intentions and our commitment than it provides real answers. For example, why are we withdrawing unilaterally 12,000 troops from the Korean Peninsula at the very time that we are negotiating with North Korea, a country that really has nuclear weapons. (Applause) As Sen. John McCain said, “I’m particularly concerned about moving troops out of South Korea when North Korea has probably never been more dangerous at any time since the end of the Korean War.” This is clearly the wrong signal to send at the wrong time.

With Al-Qaida operating in 60 countries, we need closer alliances in every part of the world to fight and win the war on terrorism. So as president, I will be a commander in chief who renews our alliances based on shared interests and a common vision for a safer world. For more than 50 years, our allies have joined with us to say clearly the future doesn’t belong to fear. It belongs to freedom. (Applause)

And so whether the issue is standing by our vets and their families or whether it’s standing up for our principles, our values and our freedom, the big question before us is not just who will lead America. It is whether America will continue to lead world. I am running for president because I believe that if we honor our highest values, if we do right by our men and women in uniform, America will always continue to be a beacon of hope and of freedom for all in the world. America’s promise is there. America’s hope is there. Our best days are ahead of us. Thank you for your service to our country. God bless you all and God bless the United States of America.

JIM LEHRER: Now President Bush, speaking today about his plans to improve benefits for National Guard and reserve troops. He appeared outside a container company in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’ve had the largest increases in defense spending since Ronald Reagan was the president. Military pay has gone up by 21 percent since I’ve been the president. The housing conditions are better for those who wear our uniform. Today I’m going to announce a new proposal to help our men and women activated for duty in the National Guard and reserves. These brave Americans put their jobs on hold and leave their family behind when we called. Yet, under the current rules their education benefits don’t reflect the high value of service we place on their time and duty. My proposal will help correct that by substantially increasing education benefits for all guard members and reservists on active duty for more than 90 consecutive days. (Applause)

As well, we’ll help our children and military families meet the challenges of a life on the move. People going from base to base and these moves often conflict with school rules from state to state. So we are going to put out grant money to help states ease the burden so it is more seamless for families to go from one state to the next so their kids get a great education. What I’m telling you is we will continue to stand side by side with the people who wear the uniform and the family members of those who wear the uniform. (Applause)

In the long run, our security is not guaranteed by force alone. We will work to change the conditions that give rise to terror, poverty and hopelessness and resentment. You see, a free and peaceful Iraq and a free and peaceful Afghanistan will be powerful examples in a part of the world that is desperate for freedom. Freedom, free countries do not export terror. Free countries do not stifle the dreams of their citizen.

I know we have a mom here whose son is overseas. Your son is serving during historic times. By serving the cause of liberty, we are helping others realize their dreams and we’re making America more secure. By serving the cause of liberty, we’re spreading peace. By serving the cause of liberty we’re serving the deepest ideals of our own country. Americans understand freedom is not America’s gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty God’s gift to each man and woman in this world. Thank you for your son’s service. You know, when I campaigned in Wisconsin four years ago, I said if you give me the high honor of holding this office, I would uphold the dignity and honor of the presidency.

GROUP: And you have!

GROUP: And you have! ( Applause )

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: And with your help, and with your hard work, I will do so for four more years. God bless. Thank you all for coming.