Yesterday I received an email from Pamela Leavey of The Democratic Daily
, inviting me to attend a foreign policy speech by Senator Kerry today in Los Angeles. The speech was on behalf of the Pacific Council on International Policy, an organization dedicated to the study of the increasing influence of the Pacific Rim on U.S. foreign policy and national security (Warren Christopher, who is Co-Chair of the organizations Board of Directors, was in attendance and introduced Senator Kerry).
The speech was only open to members of the Pacific Council, but I and several other local L.A. bloggers were allowed in as media, and we bloggers were then treated to a private, off-the-record meeting with Senator Kerry after the speech.
The speech itself--as prepared in the written remarks--was essentially an exhortation for a return to traditional policies of war as a last resort, multilateral diplomacy with Iran, and the need for a return to the bargaining table in Iraq beteen Sunni and Shia elements, as well as the need to establish a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
But Kerry was at his best, and his most passionate, when he deviated from his prepared remarks and started speaking off the cuff. Here's a transcript of some relevant sections, inasmuch as I could type them up as he spoke. On Iraq, he suggested setting a withdrawal deadline and forcing Iraqi troops to pick up the slack:
One month of Iraq will pay for port security. Six months will protect our transportation infrastructure. But that $550 million dollars has gone to waste. A war brought around by incompetence rather than indifference. So how do we stablilize Iraq?
The fundamental confrontation that needs to be addressed--they have no defense minister, no interior minister. You have to ask yourself--how can it be that American soldiers are dying each day, losing their limbs or eyesight, while Iraqi politicians are just infighting. The administration ought to get tough and get very clear about getting a government. Our soldiers aren't being killed by other soldiers in uniform. It's IED's and suicide bombers. There is nothing our soldiers can do because that has to resolved politically and diplomatically. That is Sunni versus Shiite, and no length of time will alter that. Where is the diplomacy?
Unless the Sunnis have adequate oil revenue guarantees, unless militias are disbanded, our troops remain in the middle of the civil war. Iraqis have to want and embrace democracy. Our soldiers have done their job. The goal ostensibly was, "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." According to the Pentagon, we've trained 260,000 Iraqi security forces. The goal the Pentagon set? 272,000. So why haven't we had soldiers stand down? Everything that has happened has happened because we set dates. We did that with the transfer of power. We set a deadline. They said they couldn't do it, but it happened. We did that with the constitution. They said they weren't ready, but it happened. Same thing with the election. The Prime Minister said that by the end of this year they can control security in 16 of 18 provinces, and they can control the other two, including Al-Anbar, by the end of next year. So I believe that I am correct and Murtha is correct in saying, set a date by which Iraqis must be in control and stand up for their own security. Move our soldiers into garrison status so we can respond to emergencies. But you can't tell me that we can't find Iraqis willing to drive the truck down the road, even though they lost a million lives against Iran? Why aren't the Iraqis getting people out there? Casey said that it's because our troops are there in such large numbers that they're not willing to stand up.
So how do you resolve Sunni v. Shia? How do you resolve Shia winning at the ballot box and getting what they've always wanted? The bargaining table. A Dayton-accord like summit. Bring the UN, the Arab league, Syria and Iran. All the factions. And you have to work out a regional security agreement for not just Iraq, but the whole region. General Anthony Zinni believes we ought to do that. Kofi Annan believes we should do that. Prime Ministers and Presidents in the region believe we should do that. But we don't, and we continue paying $9,000,000,000 a month for our failure to do so.
87% of Iraqis supported endorsing a US timeline for withdrawal--and it would make sense for them to ask us to set that. There are, according to intelligence, less than 1000 Al-Qaeda in Iraq. We're a convenient excuse to be there. And now they're trained in Iraq and moving to Europe. Al-Qaeda, Pakistan and Afghanistan will once again be the center, as they ought to be, of our fight against terrorism.
Kerry also offered his solutions on the situation with Iran and Ahmedinejad:
The withdrawal of troops is not just vital for Iraq, but also for Iran. The Iranians are delighted with America's predicament in Iraq, and we're playing into their hands. It ties us up in a way that reduces our alternative options, and reduces our hand in Darfur and elsewhere. An Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons poses a serious threat to the United States, and Ahmedinejad's threats toward Israel must be taken seriously. But many Americans are concerned that the Adminstration's rhetoric about Iran seems eerily familiar.
This administration--and no one in it, and no one in the congress, should be allowed to play politics with our national security. Congress must play a much larger role in determining policy with regard to Iran. They have already requested a NIE on Iran. We must never again allow the administration to question the patriotism of those who see a different way forward for our national security.
Bombing Iran is a very poor way of dealing with its nuclear ambitions at this time. Our intelligence--best estimates, public estimates--say that it will be 5 to 10 years before Iran has weapons. There is time for diplomacy to work. But the administration has sat on the sidelines for far too long avoiding the obvious.
The overture to Iran has to be more than just an effort to check the box on diplomacy before they decide on war. Negotiations with Iran are an iffy proposition. So we have to be ready for multilateral sanctions, because the example of South Africa proves that multilateral sanctions are far more effective than uni- or bilateral sanctions. We have to work through the security council, and there will be a price to pay--but bombs aren't the only weapons in our arsenal. We have to make China and Russia an integral part of this. We have to do a better job in convincing friendly governments to cooperate, and we need to build those relationships.
To succeed in diplomacy, Iran must understand that there will be significant benefits for abandoning their nuclear program. And those benefits must be pegged to demonstrable progress. If you put other issues of concern on the table simultaneously, you have a better framework for negotiation. Terrorism, Iraq, human rights.
We need to continue to support democratic reform. It would be dangerously naïve to count on a moribund reform movement to overthrow the government. Doing that will strengthen the hardliners and weaken the reform movement further. We have to plug the gaping hole of the non-proliferation treaty, which allows countries to advance illicit nuclear capability under the cover of civilian programs. Many of us have been arguing that we need to strengthen and redo the non-proliferation protocol. With the A.Q. Khan network we learned about how people can take advantage of the duality. We need countries to be able to forsake indigenous capability for fuel provided by the international community.
This is the kind of vision we need on the table. To keep America safe in the 21st century, we need the example of those who have come before us. The principles that have made America the greatest country in the world. We need to work diligently to advance these interests.
After the speech, Kerry held a Q&A on subjects ranging from Islam to global warming (a subject about which he was very engaged and very knowledgeable) to his "future plans." Once again, my transcription is on the fly, but about 95% accurate:
Q: I recall vividly walking down Hollywood Blvd. with 70,000 people, protesting the war. We put that in abeyance in support of Howard Dean. I agree with you, but the Bush people don't credit it with anything. But you have to hit it where it matters, and that's the Pentagon's budget. The Democrats in the Senate haven't done much about cutting the Pentagon's budget. We're being asked to do better in November and take back the congress, but I don't see that that's worth it without budget leadership.
A: The answer, first of all, is thank you for your efforts. We came within 59,000 votes against a wartime president--where every time we did something we had an orange alert in America. And how many of those have there been since? There was a lot of fear in the air. The American people have come to see the reality in Iraq, the reality of Katrina. You sell short so that the climate change--up there too, but politically--they need to see 2006 as a watershed movement. I am personally going to bring an amendment for a date for withdrawal. And I won't get the support of my own caucus, but I'm going to try. The most important change will happen in November, when we can win a house or both. So don't lose faith. We will fight in Congress, but we need you to continue. The bottom line is this. We're running around the world talking about the virtues of democracy, but we need to do better at home. People need to take their issue in the voting booth with them. We did that in the 60s, and that has to do with the nature of American media, how difficult it is to reach people, the 24/7/365 news cycle based on entertainment and not news. But there's something bubbling in America that will be reflected at the polls.
Q: Thank you very much from your visit. I hear a lot of exhortations for negotiations. What's missing in these statements is the specific agenda. And what's the quid pro quo? It doesn't benefit the Iranians. I have an idea for a grand bargain. Iran helps us exit Iraq. Wesley Clark said that we control the airspace, but the Iranians control the ground. The deal is that we can provide technology for nuclear power, under the full scope safeguards of the IAEA. It benefits both sides.
A: Well, any negotiation has to satisfy both sides, and a good negotiator is someone who has a good sense of what somebody's bottom line is. You're all business people, that's how you do it. You ought to put everything on the table. Maybe there's no room for some of it, but you'll find that out in short order. The hope is, you do put it out there. I think it can be achieved.
Q: I think your speech was excellent when it came to how one deals with nation-states. But I don't think you addressed the particular issue that we have with the rise of Muslim fundamentalism and the organizations that go beyond nation states, or just the fundamentalist zeal. How do we deal with that?
A: The question of radical extreme fundamentalism--Muslim fundamentalism, which is fascist fundamentally--is the challenge of our generation. I gave a speech at the CFR in New York about some of the things that we ought to be doing, and that's separate from nation states. Hamas, Al-Aqsa, Hezbollah. Al Qaeda. You don't negotiate with them. Hamas has to recognize the right of Israel to exist, and has to give up violence. In Northern Ireland, we worked through Jerry Adams. We granted him a Visa, and allowed him to travel. And we began a process with Sinn Fein. We need to explore the possibilities of how to open up those, but you can't negotiate directly. As for Islam, there is a struggle going on for the fundamental purpose of Islam itself. Islam has no center of moral authority, like the Vatican. You have this diverse group of Mullahs, Imams, clerics, issuing fatwas, and they're indigenous. But an interesting thing is happening there. People like King Abdullah have come together around the Amman message, which has not received enough coverage. They take their risks trying to isolate the extremists. Abdullah spoke at the national prayer breakfast, and talked about the commonality of fundamental principles of the Koran, Torah and Bible and how we're fundamentally connected. What you're seeing is a hi-jacking of those fundamentals, not withstanding certain paragraphs in the Koran concerning ultimate supremacy of the religion. But there are explanations that don't take you to war. There are leaders, 86 of them, they issued a statement from Mecca. From the Hajj. It was a thoughtful plea for moderation in Islam. I was struck by that. There's a struggle between the Bin Laden's, the Zarqawis, the Zawahiris, who want to use it for power, gain, local interests, but it doesn't necessarily represent the real religion. We shouldn't be chauvinistic. For Christians, we're still living here with the same tensions we had in 1054 over excommunications about an army to deal with the Normans. Or the reformations by Calvin, Zwingli and Luther about Rome granting indulgences. And we still live with that. All of us need to work together to create a dialogue about the true Islam, and our commonality. And then we can begin to defuse it. And here's what's important with regard to my speech--this administration has done the opposite. Not just by labeling this effort a crusaded, which is a fundamental mistake, but by taking the headline on 9/12, which said "we are all Americans now," and changing it to a post-Abu Ghraib, post-Guantanamo--and now with Haditha--seeing us become isolated, which is a great recruitment tool for the fascists and fundamentalists. Empower the moderates, and we will find tolerance that has generally guided us.
Q: Thank you for your comments. My question is--do you see global warming as a national security threat, and where does it fit in to your priorities?
A: It's a gigantic national security threat. It ought to be up there with Islam and non-proliferation. Al Gore and Frank Lautenberg and Chafee went down to Rio in 1990 and my wife was one of the non-governmental delegates appointed by GHW Bush. We set a voluntary goal for reduction of gasses down by 7%. I've followed this for a long time. I led the efforts on the senate floor to deal with it. It is deadly serious. Al has done a wonderful movie. I've met with NASA scientists who have said that at the current melt, the ice sheet over the artic will be gone in 30 years. That will not change sea levels to a large degree because it's sea ice. But Greenland is on rock. And if that melts it's a catastrophe. And scientists will tell you that--what's in the atmosphere has a half-life of 70 years. We'll suffer 70 more years of that. But what you have to avoid is a rise of temperature of 2 to 3 degrees. But you have to reduce 6 or 7 gigatons of carbon dioxide over the next several years to do that. That means nuclear reactors or other sources of energy. But this administration doesn't even call CO2 a pollutant, and if we don't we will be derelict beyond description. And I'm putting a bill up that will help us do that. Brazil declared energy independence. They grow it. We pay our farmers not to grow things, when we could pay them to grow fuel. Then we can get stations built. You could get 500 mpg in a matter of months. You take the biofuel, mix it with gasoline, and you get energy independence. It's a health issue, a national security issue. And the number of jobs that can be created is gigantic, high-level high value jobs.
Q: On the issue of Islam. I'm with the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and that is the issue before us in terms of the muslim world, and how to win the war on terror. The problem is that U.S. isn't talking to the right people. When we're relying on the King of Jordan, he's a political leader, he doesn't have influence on the streets of Cairo or Karachi or Baghdad. We've tried to bring those people here but we have visa problems, so we can't. We'd like to have these people come to the Senate. These are people who are against terrorism, but are critical of U.S. policy. A moderate needs to be rephrased. We also can't call the people in Iraq Jihadis. That gives them legitimacy. We can say that they're exploiting in Islam, that they're terrorists, but you can't call them Jihadis. That's a sacred term, and it gives them legitimacy.
A: I'll follow up on the dialogue issue. I accept your sensitivity, and I think it's a good point.
Q BY WARREN CHRISTOPHER? Any plans for later?
A: Nothing formulated. I'm thinking very hard about whether I will run again, and I'm thinking about it earlier than I'd like to because everyone else is. But I'm mostly focused on 2006. I've traveled to 30+ states, irrelevant to the presidential calendar. But it's so important to translate this to the voting box. But I'd welcome anybody's support, encouragement and input.
After the speech, Kerry hosted a private meeting with the seven bloggers who were in attendance. Kerry wanted it to be a personal conversation and off the public record, so I'm honoring that request and not posting details--suffice it to say that Kerry is actually sync with lots of the issues that concern us here on the blogosphere, including the internal workings of the Democratic Party and its election strategy. What struck me immediately was that Kerry's demeanor in a private setting was so remarkably different from the common stereotypes about him. He was extremely warm, personable and engaging--a far cry from the aloof patrician that most people have come to expect as Kerry's stereotype. Kerry talked with us for nearly an hour, despite warnings from his staff that the conversation would make him late for his subsequent stops in the L.A. region.
I think Kerry has learned a lot of lessons from his 2004 campaign, and can put them to really good use helping out our team in 2006. In closing, here's a picture I took with the Senator after the event. Unfortunately, he looks a little sleepy and my glasses are glaring:
[Cross-posted at Daily Kos]