KWAME HOLMAN: When Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at Missouri's Westminster College on Monday, he directly challenged john Kerry's capacity to lead U.S. military forces as commander in chief.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: From the beginning of his career in the U.S. Senate 20 years ago, Senator Kerry has repeatedly called for major reductions or outright cancellations of many of our most important weapons systems. Had the decision belonged to Senator Kerry, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today in Iraq. In fact, Saddam Hussein would almost certainly still be in control of Kuwait, as well.
KWAME HOLMAN: Cheney's criticism of Kerry took 13 of the 35 minutes he spoke. The rest of the speech was dedicated to a review of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq and its fight against terrorism.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: More than two-and-a-half years have passed now since 9/11. Yet it would be a grave mistake to assume the threat to our country and the world has gone away. As we saw in Madrid just weeks ago, terrorists are determined to intimidate free countries and even try to influence elections. We have to assume they will make further attempts inside the United States, especially in an election year. And every American can be certain: This government is doing everything we can to prevent another terrorist attack on America.
Our national security strategy also recognizes the doctrines of deterrence and containment, which served us well during the Cold War, are not sufficient to meet the threat of terrorism. It's hard to deter an enemy that has no territory to defend, no standing army to counter, no real assets to destroy in order to discourage them from attacking us. Containment is meaningless in the case of al-Qaida. And neither containment nor deterrence offers protection against rogue regimes that develop weapons of mass destruction and are willing to pass along those weapons secretly to a terrorist on a suicide mission.
Given these realities, there can be no waiting until the danger has fully materialized. By then it would be too late. And so we are waging this war in the only way it can be won, by taking the fight directly to the enemy. (Applause)
From the beginning, America has sought and received international support for our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the war on terror, we will always seek cooperation from allies around the world. But as the president has made very clear, there is a difference between leading a coalition of many nations and submitting to the objections of a few. The United States will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country. ( Applause )
We and our coalition partners still face serious challenges in Afghanistan and Iraq, but our progress has been significant. In Afghanistan, there is a new constitution. Free elections will be held later this year. In Iraq, we and the other nations of our coalition are working closely with the United Nations and with Iraqis to determine the exact form of an interim government that will receive sovereignty June 30. The U.N. election supervision team is in Iraq developing plans for elections. We're working with the U.N. Secretary General and our coalition partners to return U.N. teams to Iraq to play an important role there in the months ahead.
In recent weeks, those who fear freedom in Iraq have stepped up their attempts to create chaos and instability. Groups of radicals, former regime supporters and foreign terrorists have used car bombs to murder Iraqi policemen and civilians, including schoolchildren. They have kidnapped the citizens of many countries who have come to Iraq to aid in its reconstruction. And they have launched fresh attacks on our forces. The goal of these killers is clear: To prevent a successful transition to self-government, and to drive out the United States and our partners, and to impose some new form of tyranny on the Iraqi people. This campaign of terror will fail. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: The audience responded enthusiastically to the vice president's remarks. But the president of Westminster College later said he was surprised and disappointed that Cheney had used so much of the speech for what he called "Kerry-bashing." Westminster College is where Winston Churchill delivered his famous "Iron Curtain" speech in 1946, and it's been the site of many important foreign policy speeches since. And so the college's president immediately offered John Kerry the opportunity to come to Westminster to express his views, which Kerry did this afternoon. His remarks dealt specifically with Iraq and new policies he said the Bush administration should embrace.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: This is a moment of truth in Iraq. Not just for this administration, the country, the Iraqi people, but for the world. This may be our last chance to get this right. We need to put pride aside to build a stable Iraq. We must reclaim our country's standing in the world by doing what has kept America safe and made it more secure before leading in a way that brings others to us so that we are respected, not just feared, around the globe.
Mistakes have complicated our mission and jeopardized our objective of a stable, free Iraq with a representative government and secure in its borders. We may have differences about how we went into Iraq, but we do not have the choice just to pick up and leave and leave behind a failed state, a new haven for terrorists, a creator of instability in the region. I believe that failure, not staying the course, is not an option in Iraq. But it is also true that staying the course cannot be an excuse for more of the same.
Here is how we should and must proceed. First, we must create a stable and secure environment in Iraq. To accomplish this, we must do the hard work to get the world's major political powers to join in this mission. And to do so, the president must lead. He must build a political coalition of key countries, including the United Kingdom and, France, Russia and China, the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, to share the political and military responsibilities and burdens of Iraq with the United States.
In parallel, the president must also go to NATO members and others to contribute the additional military forces and to NATO to take on an organizing role. NATO is now a global security organization and Iraq must be one of its global missions because of its global implications. The immediate goal is to internationalize the transformation of Iraq, to get more foreign forces on the ground to share the risk and reduce the burden on our own forces. And that is the only way to succeed in the mission while ending the sense of an American occupation. (Applause) That is imperative.
Will a new approach in Iraq be difficult to achieve? Yes. Is there a guarantee of success? No. In light of all the mistakes that have been made, no one can say that success is certain. But I can say that if we do not try, failure is all too likely and too costly. (Applause) If the president will take the needed steps to share the burden and make progress in Iraq, if he leads, then I will support him on this issue.
KWAME HOLMAN: Only once during his speech did Kerry refer to the presidential campaign, and he made no reference to the comments made earlier in the week by Vice President Cheney.