FULTON — Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry on Friday told a crowd at Westminster College that the world today is as perilous as it was nearly 60 years ago, when Winston Churchill warned that the “iron curtain” of communism was descending upon Europe.
Speaking in the same gymnasium where Churchill spoke in 1946, and just four days after Vice President Dick Cheney lambasted Kerry’s foreign policy stances, the Massachusetts senator outlined his strategy for bringing peace and stability to Iraq.
“The common foe we face today is different in every way, but fully as dangerous, as the one that Churchill so famously and honorably described here,” Kerry said to an audience of mostly supporters.
“What was true in 1946 is still true today,” Kerry added. “America must lead a broad coalition against our adversaries, and we must be a beacon of values as well as strength in order to succeed.”
Kerry noted last year on May 1 was “the day that major combat operations were declared over in Iraq and the president declared, ‘Mission Accomplished.’ ” He said Americans should use this time to reflect on what might have been possible and on the “hard truths” the country has been left with.
Kerry said international cooperation is crucial in dealing with Iraq.
“This moment in Iraq is a moment of truth,” Kerry said. “Not just for this administration, the country, the Iraqi people, but for the world. This may be our last chance to get it 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.”
Kerry outlined three major components to his plan for dealing with Iraq. First, he said, the president should forge a coalition with the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and others to share political and military responsibility in Iraq. NATO, he said, should also become involved because the Iraqi situation has global impact.
“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,” Kerry said. “That is the only way to succeed in the mission while ending the sense of an American occupation.”
Second, Kerry said, an international high commissioner should be appointed to oversee reconstruction of the Iraqi government. And third, the United States should train an Iraqi security force.
“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,” Kerry said.
Reaction to the speech was split along party lines.
April Whitney is a Fulton resident and one of 15 to 20 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees who came out to support Kerry and his stance on Iraq.
“Bush is over there, he’s just killing everyone, and he don’t care,” Whitney said. “He sent everybody to war without any notice of what’s going on or anything. ... Here I am — lost a brother and (have) three more over there. I’ve got cousins over there, and he just don’t care.”
John Bradshaw of Independence called Kerry’s speech “one of the best he’s ever given” and said America needs a more defined role in Iraq and more defined leadership. Bradshaw has attended three other Kerry speeches with fellow Vietnam veterans from the Kansas City area.
Although slightly discouraged by the rain, a group of about 20 College Republicans gathered outside the Westminster gym to show their support for President Bush. The group chanted slogans and handed out waffles, as a symbol of how they say Kerry “waffles” on the issues.
“John Kerry gave a very good speech, and it was good campaign rhetoric, but talk is very cheap, and the Bush administration has been acting and been doing a great job in Iraq,” said Joshua Harlow, vice chairman of the group.
Harlow also said Kerry’s voting record shows a lack of support for troops in Iraq. He compared the two speeches given at Westminster this week.
“The Cheney speech was very particular in what they were doing to root out the rebels in Iraq and what they were doing to stay the course in Iraq. They were very particular in their examples. John Kerry today was very vague, he didn’t give many examples today besides to internationalize the world.”