September 30, 2004
The First Bush-Kerry Presidential Debate
PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES' DEBATE, SPONSORED BY THE MICCOSUKEE TRIBE OF
INDIANS OF FLORIDA, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, CORAL GABLES, FLORIDA
SPEAKERS: GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
U.S. SENATOR JOHN F. KERRY (MA), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE
JIM LEHRER, ANCHOR AND EXECUTIVE EDITOR, PBS'S "THE NEWSHOUR"
LEHRER: 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
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
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.
LEHRER: 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
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
LEHRER: Mr. President, you have a 90-second rebuttal.
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
We pursued Al Qaida wherever Al Qaida tries to hide. Seventy-five percent of
known Al Qaida leaders have been brought to justice. The rest of them know we're
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
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
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
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
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,
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 for the same reason. They'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 Osama 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
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: Osama bin
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.
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
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
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 Osama bin Laden is. Does that mean that
Saddam Hussein was 10 times more important than Osama bin Laden -- than, excuse
me, Saddam Hussein more important than Osama 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
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
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 Osama 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 Qaida, 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
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 Qaida affiliates to
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
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
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
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
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
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 Osama 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
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
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
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 fully staffed in
our firehouses and that we protect the nuclear and chemical plants.
The president also unfortunately gave in to the chemical industry, which didn't
want to do some of the things necessary to strengthen our chemical plant
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
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
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
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
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
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
LEHRER: All right, go ahead. Yes, sir?
BUSH: I think it's worthy for a follow-up.
LEHRER: Sure, right.
(CROSSTALK) LEHRER: We can do 30 seconds 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Qaida,
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
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 -- Osama 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
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 Osama bin Laden uses the
invasion of Iraq as an excuse to spread hatred for America. Osama bin Laden
isn't going to determine how we defend ourselves.
Osama 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.
LEHRER: New question, Mr. President. Two minutes.
Has the war in Iraq been worth the cost of American lives, 1,052 as of today?
BUSH: You know, every life is precious. Every life matters. You know, my hardest
-- the hardest part of the job is to know that I committed the troops in harm's
way and then do the best I can to provide comfort for the loved ones who lost a
son or a daughter or a husband or wife.
You know, I think about Missy Johnson. She's a fantastic lady I met in
Charlotte, North Carolina. She and her son Bryan, they came to see me. Her
husband PJ got killed. He'd been in Afghanistan, went to Iraq.
You know, it's hard work to try to love her as best as I can, knowing full well
that the decision I made caused her loved one to be in harm's way.
I told her after we prayed and teared up and laughed some that I thought her
husband's sacrifice was noble and worthy. Because I understand the stakes of
this war on terror. I understand that we must find Al Qaida wherever they
We must deal with threats before they fully materialize. And Saddam Hussein was
a threat, and that we must spread liberty because in the long run, the way to
defeat hatred and tyranny and oppression is to spread freedom.
Missy understood that. That's what she told me her husband understood. So you
say, "Was it worth it?" Every life is precious. That's what
distinguishes us from the enemy. Everybody matters. But I think it's worth it,
I think it's worth it, because I think -- I know in the long term a free Iraq, a
free Afghanistan, will set such a powerful in a part of the world that's
desperate for freedom. It will help change the world; that we can look back and
say we did our duty.
LEHRER: Senator, 90 seconds.
KERRY: I understand what the president is talking about, because I know what it
means to lose people in combat. And the question, is it worth the cost, reminds
me of my own thinking when I came back from fighting in that war.
And it reminds me that it is vital for us not to confuse the war, ever, with the
warriors. That happened before.
And that's one of the reasons why I believe I can get this job done, because I
am determined for those soldiers and for those families, for those kids who put
their lives on the line.
That is noble. That's the most noble thing that anybody can do. And I want to
make sure the outcome honors that nobility.
Now, we have a choice here. I've laid out a plan by which I think we can be
successful in Iraq: with a summit, by doing better training, faster, by cutting
-- by doing what we need to do with respect to the U.N. and the elections.
There's only 25 percent of the people in there. They can't have an election
The president's not getting the job done.
So the choice for America is, you can have a plan that I've laid out in four
points, each of which I can tell you more about or you can go to johnkerry.com
and see more of it; or you have the president's plan, which is four words: more
of the same.
I think my plan is better.
And my plan has a better chance of standing up and fighting for those
I will never let those troops down, and will hunt and kill the terrorists
wherever they are.
LEHRER: All right, sir, go ahead. Thirty seconds.
BUSH: Yes, I understand what it means to the commander in chief. And if I were
to ever say, "This is the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong
place," the troops would wonder, how can I follow this guy?
You cannot lead the war on terror if you keep changing positions on the war on
terror and say things like, "Well, this is just a grand diversion."
It's not a grand diversion. This is an essential that we get it right.
And so, the plan he talks about simply won't work.
LEHRER: Senator Kerry, you have 30 seconds. You have 30 seconds, right. And then
KERRY: Secretary of State Colin Powell told this president the Pottery Barn
rule: If you break it, you fix it.
Now, if you break it, you made a mistake. It's the wrong thing to do. But you
own it. And then you've got to fix it and do something with it.
Now that's what we have to do. There's no inconsistency. Soldiers know over
there that this isn't being done right yet. I'm going to get it right for those
soldiers, because it's important to Israel, it's important to America, it's
important to the world, it's important to the fight on terror.
But I have a plan to do it. He doesn't.
LEHRER: Speaking of your plan, new question, Senator Kerry. Two minutes.
Can you give us specifics, in terms of a scenario, time lines, et cetera, for
ending major U.S. military involvement in Iraq?
KERRY: The time line that I've set out -- and again, I want to correct the
president, because he's misled again this evening on what I've said. I didn't
say I would bring troops out in six months. I said, if we do the things that
I've set out and we are successful, we could begin to draw the troops down in
And I think a critical component of success in Iraq is being able to convince
the Iraqis and the Arab world that the United States doesn't have long-term
designs on it.
As I understand it, we're building some 14 military bases there now, and some
people say they've got a rather permanent concept to them.
When you guard the oil ministry, but you don't guard the nuclear facilities, the
message to a lot of people is maybe, "Wow, maybe they're interested in our
Now, the problem is that they didn't think these things through properly. And
these are the things you have to think through.
What I want to do is change the dynamics on the ground. And you have to do that
by beginning to not back off of the Fallujahs and other places, and send the
wrong message to the terrorists. You have to close the borders.
You've got to show you're serious in that regard. But you've also got to show
that you are prepared to bring the rest of the world in and share the
I will make a flat statement: The United States of America has no long-term
designs on staying in Iraq.
And our goal in my administration would be to get all of the troops out of there
with a minimal amount you need for training and logistics as we do in some other
countries in the world after a war to be able to sustain the peace.
But that's how we're going to win the peace, by rapidly training the Iraqis
Even the administration has admitted they haven't done the training, because
they came back to Congress a few weeks ago and asked for a complete
reprogramming of the money.
Now what greater admission is there, 16 months afterwards. "Oops, we
haven't done the job. We have to start to spend the money now. Will you guys
give us permission to shift it over into training?"
LEHRER: Ninety seconds.
BUSH: There are 100,000 troops trained, police, guard, special units, border
patrol. There's going to be 125,000 trained by the end of this year. Yes, we're
getting the job done. It's hard work. Everybody knows it's hard work, because
there's a determined enemy that's trying to defeat us.
Now, my opponent says he's going to try to change the dynamics on the ground.
Well, Prime Minister Allawi was here. He is the leader of that country. He's a
brave, brave man. When he came, after giving a speech to the Congress, my
opponent questioned his credibility.
You can't change the dynamics on the ground if you've criticized the brave
leader of Iraq.
One of his campaign people alleged that Prime Minister Allawi was like a puppet.
That's no way to treat somebody who's courageous and brave, that is trying to
lead his country forward.
The way to make sure that we succeed is to send consistent, sound messages to
the Iraqi people that when we give our word, we will keep our word, that we
stand with you, that we believe you want to be free. And I do.
I believe that 25 million people, the vast majority, long to have
I reject this notion -- and I'm suggesting my opponent isn't -- I reject the
notion that some say that if you're Muslim you can't free, you don't desire
freedom. I disagree, strongly disagree with that.
LEHRER: Thirty seconds.
KERRY: I couldn't agree more that the Iraqis want to be free and that they could
But I think the president, again, still hasn't shown how he's going to go about
it the right way. He has more of the same.
Now, Prime Minister Allawi came here, and he said the terrorists are pouring
over the border. That's Allawi's assessment.
The national intelligence assessment that was given to the president in July
said, best-case scenario, more of the same of what we see today; worst-case
scenario, civil war.
I can do better.
BUSH: Yes, let me...
LEHRER: Yes, 30 seconds.
BUSH: The reason why Prime Minister Allawi said they're coming across the border
is because he recognizes that this is a central part of the war on terror.
They're fighting us because they're fighting freedom.
They understand that a free Afghanistan or a free Iraq will be a major defeat
for them. And those are the stakes.
And that's why it is essential we not leave. That's why it's essential we hold
the line. That's why it's essential we win. And we will. Under my leadership
we're going to win this war in Iraq.
LEHRER: Mr. President, new question. Two minutes. Does the Iraq experience make
it more likely or less likely that you would take the United States into another
preemptive military action?
BUSH: I would hope I never have to. I understand how hard it is to commit
troops. Never wanted to commit troops. When I was running -- when we had the
debate in 2000, never dreamt I'd be doing that.
But the enemy attacked us, Jim, and I have a solemn duty to protect the American
people, to do everything I can to protect us.
I think that by speaking clearly and doing what we say and not sending mixed
messages, it is less likely we'll ever have to use troops.
But a president must always be willing to use troops. It must -- as a last
I was hopeful diplomacy would work in Iraq. It was falling apart. There was no
doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was hoping that the world would turn a
And if he had been in power, in other words, if we would have said, "Let
the inspectors work, or let's, you know, hope to talk him out. Maybe an 18th
resolution would work," he would have been stronger and tougher, and the
world would have been a lot worse off. There's just no doubt in my mind we would
rue the day, had Saddam Hussein been in power.
So we use diplomacy every chance we get, believe me. And I would hope to never
have to use force.
But by speaking clearly and sending messages that we mean what we say, we've
affected the world in a positive way.
Look at Libya. Libya was a threat. Libya is now peacefully dismantling its
Libya understood that America and others will enforce doctrine and that the
world is better for it.
So to answer your question, I would hope we never have to. I think by acting
firmly and decisively, it will mean it is less likely we have to use
LEHRER: Senator Kerry, 90 seconds.
KERRY: Jim, the president just said something extraordinarily revealing and
frankly very important in this debate. In answer to your question about Iraq and
sending people into Iraq, he just said, "The enemy attacked us."
Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us. Al Qaida attacked
us. And when we had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora,
1,000 of his cohorts with him in those mountains. With the American military
forces nearby and in the field, we didn't use the best trained troops in the
world to go kill the world's number one criminal and terrorist.
They outsourced the job to Afghan warlords, who only a week earlier had been on
the other side fighting against us, neither of whom trusted each other.
That's the enemy that attacked us. That's the enemy that was allowed to walk out
of those mountains. That's the enemy that is now in 60 countries, with stronger
He also said Saddam Hussein would have been stronger. That is just factually
incorrect. Two-thirds of the country was a no-fly zone when we started this war.
We would have had sanctions. We would have had the U.N. inspectors. Saddam
Hussein would have been continually weakening.
If the president had shown the patience to go through another round of
resolution, to sit down with those leaders, say, "What do you need, what do
you need now, how much more will it take to get you to join us?" we'd be in
a stronger place today.
LEHRER: Thirty seconds.
BUSH: First of all, of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know
And secondly, to think that another round of resolutions would have caused
Saddam Hussein to disarm, disclose, is ludicrous, in my judgment. It just shows
a significant difference of opinion.
We tried diplomacy. We did our best. He was hoping to turn a blind eye. And,
yes, he would have been stronger had we not dealt with him. He had the
capability of making weapons, and he would have made weapons.
LEHRER: Thirty seconds, Senator.
KERRY: Thirty-five to forty countries in the world had a greater capability of
making weapons at the moment the president invaded than Saddam Hussein. And
while he's been diverted, with 9 out of 10 active duty divisions of our Army,
either going to Iraq, coming back from Iraq, or getting ready to go, North
Korea's gotten nuclear weapons and the world is more dangerous. Iran is moving
toward nuclear weapons and the world is more dangerous. Darfur has a
The world is more dangerous. I'd have made a better choice.
LEHRER: New question. Two minutes, Senator Kerry.
What is your position on the whole concept of preemptive war? KERRY: The
president always has the right, and always has had the right, for preemptive
strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War. And it was always one
of the things we argued about with respect to arms control.
No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I,
the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of
But if and when you do it, Jim, you have to do it in a way that passes the test,
that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully
why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did
it for legitimate reasons.
Here we have our own secretary of state who has had to apologize to the world
for the presentation he made to the United Nations.
I mean, we can remember when President Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis sent
his secretary of state to Paris to meet with DeGaulle. And in the middle of the
discussion, to tell them about the missiles in Cuba, he said, "Here, let me
show you the photos." And DeGaulle waved them off and said, "No, no,
no, no. The word of the president of the United States is good enough for
How many leaders in the world today would respond to us, as a result of what
we've done, in that way? So what is at test here is the credibility of the
United States of America and how we lead the world. And Iran and Iraq are now
more dangerous -- Iran and North Korea are now more dangerous.
Now, whether preemption is ultimately what has to happen, I don't know yet. But
I'll tell you this: As president, I'll never take my eye off that ball. I've
been fighting for proliferation the entire time -- anti-proliferation the entire
time I've been in the Congress. And we've watched this president actually turn
away from some of the treaties that were on the table.
You don't help yourself with other nations when you turn away from the global
warming treaty, for instance, or when you refuse to deal at length with the
You have to earn that respect. And I think we have a lot of earning back to
LEHRER: Ninety seconds.
BUSH: Let me -- I'm not exactly sure what you mean, "passes the global
test," you take preemptive action if you pass a global test.
My attitude is you take preemptive action in order to protect the American
people, that you act in order to make this country secure.
My opponent talks about me not signing certain treaties. Let me tell you one
thing I didn't sign, and I think it shows the difference of our opinion -- the
difference of opinions. And that is, I wouldn't join the International Criminal
Court. It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors
can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial.
And I wouldn't join it. And I understand that in certain capitals around the
world that that wasn't a popular move. But it's the right move not to join a
foreign court that could -- where our people could be prosecuted.
My opponent is for joining the International Criminal Court. I just think trying
to be popular, kind of, in the global sense, if it's not in our best interest
makes no sense. I'm interested in working with our nations and do a lot of it.
But I'm not going to make decisions that I think are wrong for America.
LEHRER: New question, Mr. President. Do you believe that diplomacy and sanctions
can resolve the nuclear problems with North Korea and Iran? Take them in any
order you would like.
BUSH: North Korea, first, I do. Let me say -- I certainly hope so. Before I was
sworn in, the policy of this government was to have bilateral negotiations with
And we signed an agreement with North Korea that my administration found out
that was not being honored by the North Koreans.
And so I decided that a better way to approach the issue was to get other
nations involved, just besides us. And in Crawford, Texas, Jiang Zemin and I
agreed that the nuclear-weapons-free peninsula, Korean Peninsula, was in his
interest and our interest and the world's interest.
And so we began a new dialogue with North Korea, one that included not only the
United States, but now China. And China's a got a lot of influence over North
Korea, some ways more than we do.
As well, we included South Korea, Japan and Russia. So now there are five voices
speaking to Kim Jong Il, not just one.
And so if Kim Jong Il decides again to not honor an agreement, he's not only
doing injustice to America, he'd be doing injustice to China, as well.
And I think this will work. It's not going to work if we open up a dialogue with
Kim Jong Il. He wants to unravel the six- party talks, or the five-nation
coalition that's sending him a clear message.
On Iran, I hope we can do the same thing, continue to work with the world to
convince the Iranian mullahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions.
We worked very closely with the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Great
Britain, who have been the folks delivering the message to the mullahs that if
you expect to be part of the world of nations, get rid of your nuclear
The IAEA is involved. There's a special protocol recently been passed that
allows for inspections.
I hope we can do it. And we've got a good strategy.
LEHRER: Senator Kerry, 90 seconds.
KERRY: With respect to Iran, the British, French, and Germans were the ones who
initiated an effort without the United States, regrettably, to begin to try to
move to curb the nuclear possibilities in Iran. I believe we could have done
better. I think the United States should have offered the opportunity to provide
the nuclear fuel, test them, see whether or not they were actually looking for
it for peaceful purposes. If they weren't willing to work a deal, then we could
have put sanctions together. The president did nothing.
With respect to North Korea, the real story: We had inspectors and television
cameras in the nuclear reactor in North Korea. Secretary Bill Perry negotiated
that under President Clinton. And we knew where the fuel rods were. And we knew
the limits on their nuclear power.
Colin Powell, our secretary of state, announced one day that we were going to
continue the dialog of working with the North Koreans. The president reversed it
publicly while the president of South Korea was here.
And the president of South Korea went back to South Korea bewildered and
embarrassed because it went against his policy. And for two years, this
administration didn't talk at all to North Korea.
While they didn't talk at all, the fuel rods came out, the inspectors were
kicked out, the television cameras were kicked out. And today, there are four to
seven nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea.
That happened on this president's watch.
Now, that, I think, is one of the most serious, sort of, reversals or mixed
messages that you could possibly send.
LEHRER: I want to make sure -- yes, sir -- but in this one minute, I want to
make sure that we understand -- the people watching understand the differences
between the two of you on this.
You want to continue the multinational talks, correct?
LEHRER: And you're willing to do it...
KERRY: Both. I want bilateral talks which put all of the issues, from the
armistice of 1952, the economic issues, the human rights issues, the artillery
disposal issues, the DMZ issues and the nuclear issues on the table.
LEHRER: And you're opposed to that. Right?
BUSH: The minute we have bilateral talks, the six-party talks will unwind.
That's exactly what Kim Jong Il wants. And by the way, the breach on the
agreement was not through plutonium. The breach on the agreement is highly
enriched uranium. That's what we caught him doing. That's where he was breaking
Secondly, he said -- my opponent said where he worked to put sanctions on Iran
-- we've already sanctioned Iran. We can't sanction them any more. There are
sanctions in place on Iran.
And finally, we were a party to the convention -- to working with Germany,
France and Great Britain to send their foreign ministers into Iran.
LEHRER: New question, two minutes.
Senator Kerry, you mentioned Darfur, the Darfur region of Sudan. Fifty thousand
people have already died in that area. More than a million are homeless. And
it's been labeled an act of ongoing genocide. Yet neither one of you or anyone
else connected with your campaigns or your administration that I can find has
discussed the possibility of sending in troops.
KERRY: Well, I'll tell you exactly why not, but I first want to say something
about those sanctions on Iran.
Only the United States put the sanctions on alone, and that's exactly what I'm
In order for the sanctions to be effective, we should have been working with the
British, French and Germans and other countries. And that's the difference
between the president and me.
And there, again, he sort of slid by the question.
Now, with respect to Darfur, yes, it is a genocide. And months ago, many of us
were pressing for action.
I think the reason that we're not saying send American troops in at this point
Number one, we can do this through the African Union, providing we give them the
logistical support. Right now all the president is providing is humanitarian
support. We need to do more than that. They've got to have the logistical
capacity to go in and stop the killing. And that's going to require more than is
on the table today.
I also believe that it is -- one of the reasons we can't do it is we're
Ask the people in the armed forces today. We've got Guards and Reserves who are
doing double duties. We've got a backdoor draft taking place in America today:
people with stop-loss programs where they're told you can't get out of the
military; nine out of our 10 active duty divisions committed to Iraq one way or
the other, either going, coming or preparing.
So this is the way the president has overextended the United States.
That's why, in my plan, I add two active duty divisions to the United States
Army, not for Iraq, but for our general demands across the globe. I also intend
to double the number of special forces so that we can do the job we need to do
with respect fighting the terrorists around the world. And if we do that, then
we have the ability to be able to respond more rapidly.
But I'll tell you this, as president, if it took American forces to some degree
to coalesce the African Union, I'd be prepared to do it because we could never
allow another Rwanda.
It's the moral responsibility for us and the world.
LEHRER: Ninety seconds.
BUSH: Back to Iran, just for a second.
It was not my administration that put the sanctions on Iran. That happened long
before I arrived in Washington, D.C.
In terms of Darfur, I agree it's genocide. And Colin Powell so stated.
We have committed $200 million worth of aid. We're the leading donor in the
world to help the suffering people there. We will commit more over time to help.
We were very much involved at the U.N. on the sanction policy of the Bashir
government in the Sudan. Prior to Darfur, Ambassador Jack Danforth had been
negotiating a north-south agreement that we would have hoped would have brought
peace to the Sudan.
I agree with my opponent that we shouldn't be committing troops. We ought to be
working with the African Union to do so -- precisely what we did in Liberia. We
helped stabilize the situation with some troops, and when the African Union
came, we moved them out.
My hope is that the African Union moves rapidly to help save lives. And
fortunately the rainy season will be ending shortly, which will make it easier
to get aid there and help the long-suffering people there.
LEHRER: New question, President Bush. Clearly, as we have heard, major policy
differences between the two of you. Are there also underlying character issues
that you believe, that you believe are serious enough to deny Senator Kerry the
job as commander in chief of the United States?
BUSH: That's a loaded question. Well, first of all, I admire Senator Kerry's
service to our country. I admire the fact that he is a great dad. I appreciate
the fact that his daughters have been so kind to my daughters in what has been a
pretty hard experience for, I guess, young girls, seeing their dads out there
I admirer the fact that he served for 20 years in the Senate. Although I'm not
so sure I admire the record.
I won't hold it against him that he went to Yale. There's nothing wrong with
My concerns about the senator is that, in the course of this campaign, I've been
listening very carefully to what he says, and he changes positions on the war in
Iraq. He changes positions on something as fundamental as what you believe in
your core, in your heart of hearts, is right in Iraq.
You cannot lead if you send mixed messages. Mixed messages send the wrong
signals to our troops. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to our allies.
Mixed messages send the wrong signals to the Iraqi citizens.
And that's my biggest concern about my opponent. I admire his service. But I
just know how this world works, and that in the councils of government, there
must be certainty from the U.S. president.
Of course, we change tactics when need to, but we never change our beliefs, the
strategic beliefs that are necessary to protect this country in the world.
LEHRER: Ninety second response, Senator.
KERRY: Well, first of all, I appreciate enormously the personal comments the
president just made. And I share them with him. I think only if you're doing
this -- and he's done it more than I have in terms of the presidency -- can you
begin to get a sense of what it means to your families. And it's tough. And so I
acknowledge that his daughters -- I've watched them.
I've chuckled a few times at some of their comments.
BUSH: I'm trying to put a leash on them.
KERRY: Well, I know. I've learned not to do that.
And I have great respect and admiration for his wife. I think she's a terrific
BUSH: Thank you.
KERRY: ... and a great first lady.
But we do have differences. I'm not going to talk about a difference of
character. I don't think that's my job or my business.
But let me talk about something that the president just sort of finished up
with. Maybe someone would call it a character trait, maybe somebody wouldn't.
But this issue of certainty. It's one thing to be certain, but you can be
certain and be wrong.
It's another to be certain and be right, or to be certain and be moving in the
right direction, or be certain about a principle and then learn new facts and
take those new facts and put them to use in order to change and get your policy
What I worry about with the president is that he's not acknowledging what's on
the ground, he's not acknowledging the realities of North Korea, he's not
acknowledging the truth of the science of stem-cell research or of global
warming and other issues.
And certainty sometimes can get you in trouble.
LEHRER: Thirty seconds.
BUSH: Well, I think -- listen, I fully agree that one should shift tactics, and
we will, in Iraq. Our commanders have got all the flexibility to do what is
necessary to succeed.
But what I won't do is change my core values because of politics or because of
And it is one of the things I've learned in the White House, is that there's
enormous pressure on the president, and he cannot wilt under that pressure.
Otherwise, the world won't be better off.
LEHRER: Thirty seconds.
KERRY: I have no intention of wilting. I've never wilted in my life. And I've
never wavered in my life.
I know exactly what we need to do in Iraq, and my position has been consistent:
Saddam Hussein is a threat. He needed to be disarmed. We needed to go to the
U.N. The president needed the authority to use force in order to be able to get
him to do something, because he never did it without the threat of force.
But we didn't need to rush to war without a plan to win the peace.
LEHRER: New question, two minutes, Senator Kerry.
If you are elected president, what will you take to that office thinking is the
single most serious threat to the national security to the United States?
KERRY: Nuclear proliferation. Nuclear proliferation. There's some 600-plus tons
of unsecured material still in the former Soviet Union and Russia. At the rate
that the president is currently securing it, it'll take 13 years to get it.
I did a lot of work on this. I wrote a book about it several years ago -- six,
seven years ago -- called "The New War," which saw the difficulties of
this international criminal network. And back then, we intercepted a suitcase in
a Middle Eastern country with nuclear materials in it. And the black market sale
price was about $250 million.
Now, there are terrorists trying to get their hands on that stuff today.
And this president, I regret to say, has secured less nuclear material in the
last two years since 9/11 than we did in the two years preceding 9/11.
We have to do this job. And to do the job, you can't cut the money for it. The
president actually cut the money for it. You have to put the money into it and
the funding and the leadership.
And part of that leadership is sending the right message to places like North
Right now the president is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to research
bunker-busting nuclear weapons. The United States is pursuing a new set of
nuclear weapons. It doesn't make sense.
You talk about mixed messages. We're telling other people, "You can't have
nuclear weapons," but we're pursuing a new nuclear weapon that we might
even contemplate using.
Not this president. I'm going to shut that program down, and we're going to make
it clear to the world we're serious about containing nuclear
And we're going to get the job of containing all of that nuclear material in
Russia done in four years. And we're going to build the strongest international
network to prevent nuclear proliferation.
This is the scale of what President Kennedy set out to do with the nuclear test
ban treaty. It's our generation's equivalent. And I intend to get it done.
LEHRER: Ninety seconds, Mr. President.
BUSH: Actually, we've increased funding for dealing with nuclear proliferation
about 35 percent since I've been the president. Secondly, we've set up what's
called the -- well, first of all, I agree with my opponent that the biggest
threat facing this country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a
terrorist network. And that's why proliferation is one of the centerpieces of a
multi-prong strategy to make the country safer.
My administration started what's called the Proliferation Security Initiative.
Over 60 nations involved with disrupting the trans-shipment of information
and/or weapons of mass destruction materials.
And we've been effective. We busted the A.Q. Khan network. This was a
proliferator out of Pakistan that was selling secrets to places like North Korea
and Libya. We convinced Libya to disarm. It's a central part of dealing with
weapons of mass destruction and proliferation.
I'll tell you another way to help protect America in the long run is to continue
with missile defenses. And we've got a robust research and development program
that has been ongoing during my administration. We'll be implementing a
missile-defense system relatively quickly.
And that is another way to help deal with the threats that we face in the 21st
My opponent opposed the missile defenses.
LEHRER: Just for this one-minute discussion here, just for whatever seconds it
takes: So it's correct to say, that if somebody is listening to this, that both
of you agree, if you're reelected, Mr. President, and if you are elected, the
single most serious threat you believe, both of you believe, is nuclear
BUSH: In the hands of a terrorist enemy.
KERRY: Weapons of mass destruction, nuclear proliferation.
But again, the test or the difference between us, the president has had four
years to try to do something about it, and North Korea has got more weapons;
Iran is moving toward weapons. And at his pace, it will take 13 years to secure
those weapons in Russia.
I'm going to do it in four years, and I'm going to immediately set out to have
bilateral talks with North Korea.
LEHRER: Your response to that?
BUSH: Again, I can't tell you how big a mistake I think that is, to have
bilateral talks with North Korea. It's precisely what Kim Jong Il wants. It will
cause the six-party talks to evaporate. It will mean that China no longer is
involved in convincing, along with us, for Kim Jong Il to get rid of his
weapons. It's a big mistake to do that.
We must have China's leverage on Kim Jong Il, besides ourselves.
And if you enter bilateral talks, they'll be happy to walk away from the table.
I don't think that'll work.
LEHRER: All right. Mr. President, this is the last question. And two minutes.
It's a new subject -- new question, and it has to do with President Putin and
Russia. Did you misjudge him or are you -- do you feel that what he is doing in
the name of antiterrorism by changing some democratic processes is OK?
BUSH: No, I don't think it's OK, and said so publicly. I think that there needs
to be checks and balances in a democracy, and made that very clear that by
consolidating power in the central government, he's sending a signal to the
Western world and United States that perhaps he doesn't believe in checks and
balances, and I told him that.
I mean, he's also a strong ally in the war on terror. He is -- listen, they went
through a horrible situation in Beslan, where these terrorists gunned down young
school kids. That's the nature of the enemy, by the way. That's why we need to
be firm and resolve in bringing them to justice.
That's precisely what Vladimir Putin understands, as well.
I've got a good relation with Vladimir. And it's important that we do have a
good relation, because that enables me to better comment to him, and to better
to discuss with him, some of the decisions he makes. I found that, in this
world, that it's important to establish good personal relationships with people
so that when you have disagreements, you're able to disagree in a way that is
And so I've told him my opinion.
I look forward to discussing it more with him, as time goes on. Russia is a
country in transition. Vladimir is going to have to make some hard choices. And
I think it's very important for the American president, as well as other Western
leaders, to remind him of the great benefits of democracy, that democracy will
best help the people realize their hopes and aspirations and dreams. And I will
continue working with him over the next four years.
LEHRER: Ninety seconds, Senator Kerry.
KERRY: Well, let me just say quickly that I've had an extraordinary experience
of watching up close and personal that transition in Russia, because I was there
right after the transformation. And I was probably one of the first senators,
along with Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, a former senator, go down into
the KGB underneath Treblinka Square and see reams of files with names in
It sort of brought home the transition to democracy that Russia was trying to
I regret what's happened in these past months. And I think it goes beyond just
the response to terror. Mr. Putin now controls all the television stations. His
political opposition is being put in jail.
And I think it's very important to the United States, obviously, to have a
working relationship that is good. This is a very important country to us. We
want a partnership.
But we always have to stand up for democracy. As George Will said the other day,
"Freedom on the march; not in Russia right now."
Now, I'd like to come back for a quick moment, if I can, to that issue about
China and the talks. Because that's one of the most critical issues here: North
Just because the president says it can't be done, that you'd lose China, doesn't
mean it can't be done. I mean, this is the president who said "There were
weapons of mass destruction," said "Mission accomplished," said
we could fight the war on the cheap -- none of which were true.
We could have bilateral talks with Kim Jong Il. And we can get those weapons at
the same time as we get China. Because China has an interest in the outcome,
LEHRER: Thirty seconds, Mr. President.
BUSH: You know my opinion on North Korea. I can't say it any more plainly.
LEHRER: Well, but when he used the word "truth" again...
BUSH: Pardon me?
LEHRER: ... talking about the truth of the matter. He used the word
"truth" again. Did that raise any hackles with you?
BUSH: Oh, I'm a pretty calm guy. I don't take it personally.
LEHRER: OK. All right.
BUSH: You know, we looked at the same intelligence and came to the same
conclusion: that Saddam Hussein was a grave threat.
And I don't hold it against him that he said grave threat. I'm not going to go
around the country saying he didn't tell the truth, when he looked at the same
intelligence I did.
KERRY: It was a threat. That's not the issue. The issue is what you do about
The president said he was going to build a true coalition, exhaust the remedies
of the U.N. and go to war as a last resort.
Those words really have to mean something. And, unfortunately, he didn't go to
war as a last resort.
Now we have this incredible mess in Iraq -- $200 billion. It's not what the
American people thought they were getting when they voted.
LEHRER: All right, that brings us to closing statements.
And, again, as determined by a coin toss, Senator Kerry, you go first, and you
have two minutes.
KERRY: Thank you, Jim, very much.
Thank you very much to the university, again.
Thank you, Mr. President.
My fellow Americans, as I've said at the very beginning of this debate, both
President Bush and I love this country very much. There's no doubt, I think,
But we have a different set of convictions about how we make our country
stronger here at home and respected again in the world.
I know that for many of you sitting at home, parents of kids in Iraq, you want
to know who's the person who could be a commander in chief who could get your
kids home and get the job done and win the peace.
And for all the rest of the parents in America who are wondering about their
kids going to the school or anywhere else in the world, what kind of world
they're going to grow up in, let me look you in the eye and say to you: I
defended this country as a young man at war, and I will defend it as president
of the United States.
But I have a difference with this president. I believe when we're strongest when
we reach out and lead the world and build strong alliances.
I have a plan for Iraq. I believe we can be successful. I'm not talking about
leaving. I'm talking about winning. And we need a fresh start, a new
credibility, a president who can bring allies to our side.
I also have a plan to win the war on terror, funding homeland security,
strengthening our military, cutting our finances, reaching out to the world,
again building strong alliances.
I believe America's best days are ahead of us because I believe that the future
belongs to freedom, not to fear.
That's the country that I'm going to fight for. And I ask you to give me the
opportunity to make you proud. I ask you to give me the opportunity to lead this
great nation, so that we can be stronger here at home, respected again in the
world, and have responsible leadership that we deserve.
Thank you. And God bless America.
LEHRER: Mr. President, two minutes.
BUSH: Thank you very much tonight, Jim. Senator.
If America shows uncertainty or weakness in this decade, the world will drift
toward tragedy. That's not going to happen, so long as I'm your president.
The next four years we will continue to strengthen our homeland defenses. We
will strengthen our intelligence-gathering services. We will reform our
military. The military will be an all-volunteer army.
We will continue to stay on the offense. We will fight the terrorists around the
world so we do not have to face them here at home.
We'll continue to build our alliances. I'll never turn over America's national
security needs to leaders of other countries, as we continue to build those
alliances. And we'll continue to spread freedom. I believe in the
transformational power of liberty. I believe that the free Iraq is in this
nation's interests. I believe a free Afghanistan is in this nation's
And I believe both a free Afghanistan and a free Iraq will serve as a powerful
example for millions who plead in silence for liberty in the broader Middle
We've done a lot of hard work together over the last three and a half years.
We've been challenged, and we've risen to those challenges. We've climbed the
mighty mountain. I see the valley below, and it's a valley of peace.
By being steadfast and resolute and strong, by keeping our word, by supporting
our troops, we can achieve the peace we all want.
I appreciate your listening tonight. I ask for your vote. And may God continue
to bless our great land.
LEHRER: And that ends tonight's debate. A reminder, the second presidential
debate will be a week from tomorrow, October 8th, from Washington University in
St. Louis. Charles Gibson of ABC News will moderate a town hall-type event.
Then, on October 13th, from Arizona State University in Tempe, Bob Schieffer of
CBS News will moderate an exchange on domestic policy that will be similar in
format to tonight's.
Also, this coming Tuesday, at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, the
vice presidential candidates, Vice President Cheney and Senator Edwards, will
debate with my PBS colleague, Gwen Ifill, moderating.
For now, thank you, Senator Kerry, President Bush.
From Coral Gables, Florida, I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night.