Presidential Candidates Speak to the National Guard Association in Las Vegas
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
JIM LEHRER: Now, the campaign speeches before the National Guard Association meeting this week in Las Vegas. First, President Bush. He spoke to the group on Tuesday.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You are a vital part of our strategy to defend America. You’re fighting terrorist enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and across the globe, so we do not have to face them here at home. (Applause) America is safer because of your service, and we are grateful.
I know this time of call-ups and alerts and mobilizations and deployments has been difficult for guard members and their families and employers. And when our nation must call on you, we owe you some things in return. We’re working to give you as much certainty as possible about the length of your mobilization. You deserve to know when you can expect to resume civilian life.
Since that terrible morning three years ago, America has been at war. We fought the terrorists across the earth not for pride, not for power, but because the lives of our citizens are at stake. And our strategy is clear: We’re defending the homeland; we’re transforming our military; we’re strengthening our intelligence services; we’re staying on the offensive.
We will strike the terrorists abroad so they can’t come here and hurt us. Our strategy is succeeding. The army of a free Iraq is fighting for freedom, and more than three-quarters of al-Qaida’s key members and associates have been detained or killed. We have led, many have joined, and America and the world are safer. So our mission in Afghanistan and Iraq is clear.
We’ll help new leaders to train their armies, move toward elections, and get on the path of stability and democracy as quickly as possible. And then our troops will return home with the honor they deserve.
I have made a pledge to those who wear the uniform that they will have the resources and the tools they need to do their jobs. My opponent questioned the cost of our operations in Iraq, and said the money could have been better spent elsewhere.
The problem is, just last summer he had a completely different view. Asked whether he believed we should reduce funding for operations in Iraq, my opponent at the time replied, “no, I think we should increase it.” Asked by how much, he said, “by whatever number of billion dollars it takes to win.” It is critical that the United States of America be successful in Iraq.
What’s critical is that the president of the United States speak clearly and consistently at this time of great threat in our world, and not change positions because of expediency or pressure.
Our troops, our friends and allies, our enemies, must know where America stands, and that America will stand firm. (Applause) We cannot waver. We cannot waver because our enemies will not waver.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Kerry spoke to the National Guard Association this afternoon.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Gone are the days when you could just tell your family, well, it’s just going to be a little old six months, or maybe nine months, just a year. Today we’ve got people doing multiple deployments, serving 18, 20, even 22 months.
We’ve got young kids in families here at home sending letters to their parents asking: “When are you coming home? When will I see you again?” And week after week, those mothers and fathers can only write back the same frustrating answer: “I just don’t know.”
Common sense, which is an American value, says that we are overstretched and overextended, and the guard and reserve have been called on to fill the gap. As president, I pledge to you that I will end the backdoor draft of people in the National Guard. I believe it’s wrong. True leadership is about looking people in the eye and telling them the truth even when it’s hard to hear.
Two days ago, President Bush came before you and you received him well, as you should. And I’m grateful for your reception here today. But I believe that the president failed that fundamental test of leadership. He failed to tell you the truth. You deserve better. The commander-in-chief has to level with the troops and the nation.
And as president, I will always be straight with you on the good days and on the bad days. The president stood right here where I’m standing and he didn’t acknowledge that more than 1,000 men and women have lost their lives in Iraq. He did not tell you that with each passing day we’re seeing more chaos, more violence, indiscriminate killings. He did not tell you that with each passing week our enemies are actually getting bolder.
That is the truth, hard as it is to bear. I believe you deserve a president who isn’t going to guild that truth or guild our national security with politics, who is not going to ignore his own intelligence, who isn’t going to live in a different world of spin who will give the American people the truth, not a fantasy world of spin, but a world where we challenge our brave men and women to be able to meet the test of our times.
And today, three years after Sept. 11, al-Qaida is operating in 60 countries and gaining a whole new generation of recruits. And again and again, on the evening news, we see videotapes from bin Laden or his top lieutenants.
This administration has said to you bluntly to all Americans, “it is not a matter of if al-Qaida attacks here at home, it is a question of when.” I believe deeply in every respect that America can do better than we’re doing today. We need a stronger, more modern, better prepared military to meet the challenges of the post-9/11 world.