ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Senator John Kerry is one of the leading Democratic advocates of a Senate amendment setting a firm date for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. Like Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, Senator Kerry, who of course was the Democrat presidential candidate two years ago, proposes calling for the redeployment of U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by a deadline certain.
Senator, welcome to the program.
Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): I'm glad to be with you. Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: And I understand that you've accepted language that puts that time certain in next July, although you would have preferred the end of this year. Do you propose that date because you're confident the Iraqi government will be able to stand itself up and provide security by that time, or is it simply more important that the U.S. get its troops out regardless of the condition of the Iraqi government?
Senator KERRY: No, that date is chosen because after lengthy consultations with many people including some generals and others who are watching this very closely, that is a date which gives them an adequate amount of time after putting up the government and really ends any discussion about this being precipitous or too rapid.
Secondly, we do allow in the last moments if there were need to stand up additional troops in order to be able to complete the training a minimal number to be able to remain to do that and also to be able to continue to prosecute al-Qaida, because that's an important objective to the United States security and to protect American personnel.
But basically we are convinced that that is more than enough time for the Iraqis to be able to stand up for themselves if they intend to. It is also, we chose that date because part of our amendment requires the president to set up and begin the process of putting together an international date and accords-like summit, which is the only way to resolve the fundamental differences between Sunni and Shiia and deal with the politics. If you don't resolve those, nothing's going to work for anybody and that's the only way to get out of a quagmire.
SIEGEL: Would the announcement of a U.S. withdrawal next summer be read through much of the world, certainly in Muslim countries, as an acknowledgement of a U.S. defeat in Iraq?
Senator KERRY: Absolutely not. On the contrary, I think it will be welcomed among Sunni and Shiia in Iraq. There was a recent poll that said that 94 percent of the Sunni and 90 percent of the Shiia believe the United States should set a timetable. There are Iraqi politicians who are calling for the United States to set a timetable because they believe that will empower the Iraqi government and strengthen them as well as reduce the causes of the insurgency.
In addition to that it will free us up to focus on the real war on terror. We are not talking about a withdrawal from the region. We're not talking about abandoning the government. We're talking about setting a date by which the Iraqis need to stand up for themselves, which is, after all, the original objective of why we are there.
SIEGEL: When I asked you in September of 2004 when you were running for office about when it would reach the point in Iraq, in your view, of saying this was a misbegotten policy. To me you said, you keep looking for this sort of defeatist, negative end-run here. I'm not. I'm looking for success.
Senator KERRY: I'm still looking for success.
SIEGEL: Do you assume that by July there will be success in Iraq? Would you say mission accomplished come July 2007?
Senator KERRY: I think the definition of success has obviously changed over the course of the last years and that's happened because of the misleading policies of this administration. Many of us who were critics of what was happening had to continually come up with okay, now they've made a mess. How do we fix the mess they've made now?
I laid out any number of times, in Fulton, Missouri, in New York University, what we ought to do in order to try to get this right and be successful. I believe now the only way to get it right is to make clear that Iraqis need to stand up for Iraq, that our soldiers have done their job, this cannot be resolved militarily, it has to resolved politically.
SIEGEL: But your Democratic colleagues in the Senate who, those who don't agree with you about this -
Senator KERRY: Some disagree. We can't always be 100 percent around here. That's what leadership is about. Somebody has a point of view and you stand up and you fight for it. Half the names on the Vietnam Wall were added after our leaders knew we were pursuing a policy that was not going to be successful and our leaders in this country know that what we're doing in Iraq today is a piece by piece, bit by bit, not up to the task approach.
SIEGEL: You just mentioned the Vietnam Memorial. In 2004 I think you were resisting analogies between Iraq and Vietnam at that time, you said it may come to that.
Senator KERRY: That's accurate.
SIEGEL: Today are we there? You used quagmire earlier. Today, this is a rerun of Vietnam for you?
Senator KERRY: Today, we are perilously close. The answer is we're not yet there. I still believe that Iraq may be able to be put up on its own two feet. Let me say this very clearly. It may be that the administration will muddle along and they'll play their stay the course politics and they will go along and slowly withdraw some troops over a period of time over the next year and claim success.
But I'll tell you what, there will be additional lives lost and additional dollars spent and additional costs in the war on terror as a consequence.
SIEGEL: Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, thank you very much for talking with us.
Senator KERRY: Thank you, sir, appreciate it.
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