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Inside Politics

Kerry calls for 'new direction' in Iraq

Cites 'moment of truth' for world

John Kerry speaks Friday at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.
Stay with CNN for updates and analysis from the campaign trail and for perspectives on the anniversary of President Bush's speech declaring the end of major combat operations in Iraq.
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John F. Kerry
George W. Bush
Westminster College

FULTON, Missouri (CNN) -- Saying it is "time for a new direction in Iraq," Sen. John Kerry called Friday for the United States to internationalize peacekeeping efforts in the turbulent nation and launch a "massive training effort" to build and strengthen Iraq's security force.

"This is a moment of truth in Iraq -- not just for this administration, the country, the Iraqi people, but for the world," the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee told an audience at Westminster College.

While Kerry has called for a broader international effort before, Friday's speech represented the candidate's most detailed vision to date for how the United States should handle Iraq.

"This may be our last chance to get it right," Kerry said.

"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."

But the Bush-Cheney campaign dismissed the speech as lacking in any "credible alternatives."

Kerry's speech comes four days after Vice President Dick Cheney slammed him at Westminster College in Missouri, and just one day before the one-year anniversary of President Bush's declaration that major combat operations were over in Iraq.

"I don't think there's anyone in this room today or 6,000 miles away who doesn't wish that those words had been true," Kerry said. "But we've seen the news. We've seen the pictures. And we know we are living through days of great danger. ...

"What anniversaries give us is the time to reflect -- not about where we have been, but about what might be possible -- possible for our men and women in the military, the Iraqi people and our allies around the world.

"This anniversary is not a time to shout. It is not a time for blame. It is a time for a new direction in Iraq and for America to work together so that once again this nation leads in a way that brings the world to us and with us in our efforts."

Never mentioning Bush by name, Kerry appeared to be contrasting himself with Cheney, who had slammed Kerry by name more than 30 times.

That speech triggered complaints from Westminster College President Fletcher Lamkin, who personally apologized via e-mail to students and faculty for the "Kerry-bashing" and invited Kerry to the school.(Full story)

Kerry did not altogether hold back criticism of the Bush administration, though.

"We now know our military was sent into battle without the right equipment," he said, blaming unarmored vehicles for some troop deaths.

He also said Iraqis need reconstruction efforts that are not "swallowed up by bureaucracy and by no-bid contracts to favored companies." That appeared to be a reference to Halliburton, the oil-services company once headed by Cheney that has secured lucrative contracts in Iraq.

And discussing the need to win respect around the world, the decorated Vietnam veteran said, "This will not be easy, especially now after the decisions of the last year."

Kerry supported a 2002 Senate bill authorizing the use of force as an option in Iraq, but has argued the Bush administration was too quick to take military action and failed to build an international coalition.

Among the steps he laid out for Iraq is building an international force, potentially organized under NATO, that would help bring U.N. support and a broader view of legitimacy to the occupation.

The president must show other countries that Iraq's success is "in their profound self-interest," he said.

Kerry also called on the president to support proposals by U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. And he said there must be a "massive training effort" to build Iraqi security forces in partnership with other nations.

Kerry noted the location of his address -- the same room where Winston Churchill delivered his historic "Iron Curtain" speech in 1946 calling for unprecedented international cooperation.

"What was true in 1946 is still true today," he said. "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."

The speech was criticized as lacking new ideas by the Bush-Cheney campaign.

"John Kerry is right to say that this moment is a moment of truth, but that truth must include John Kerry admitting that he offers no credible alternatives to the policies in Iraq, and admitting that his suggestions are proposals that the administration is already doing: involving NATO, involving the U.N. and training Iraqi security forces," Steve Schmidt, a Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman, said in a written statement.

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