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Inside Politics

Kerry: Bush 'made America less safe'

GOP says Democrat is 'playing politics'

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CNN's Kelly Wallace on Kerry and security.

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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
John F. Kerry
George W. Bush
America Votes 2004

SEATTLE, Washington -- Sen. John Kerry outlined his plan to improve national security on Thursday, saying President Bush has "made America less safe than it should be in a dangerous world."

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee told an audience in Seattle that the Bush administration has "undermined the legacy of generations of American leadership" by using force before diplomacy was exhausted.

Kerry said that the Bush administration ignored the lesson of former President Theodore Roosevelt, who said that America should "walk softly and carry a big stick."

"That is precisely what this administration has ignored. They looked to force before exhausting diplomacy. They bullied when they should have persuaded. They've gone it alone when they should have assembled a whole team. They have hoped for the best when they should have prepared for the worst. They've made America less safe than it should be in a dangerous world," Kerry said.

Kerry said he would work to restore "an America that listens and leads again, an America that is respected, and not just feared."

Kerry outlined four principles that would guide his national security strategy:

  • Building new alliances to fight terrorism;
  • Modernizing the U.S. military to meet new threats;
  • Using all tools in the U.S. arsenal -- military, diplomatic, economic and the power of American values -- in the terror fight;
  • Freeing the United States from "its dangerous dependence on Middle East oil."
  • Bush campaign aides quickly hit back at Kerry, who supported the October 2002 congressional resolution that authorized the president to go to war with Iraq.

    Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said Kerry's "hate-filled attacks" won't help prevent future terror attacks or help win the guerrilla war that has followed the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

    "John Kerry's insistence on playing politics with the war on terror seems to have prevented him from offering any substantive policy ideas," Mehlman said.

    In his speech, Kerry said that the U.S. military must always be the strongest force in the world, but he said that power could be magnified through alliances.

    "We simply can't go it alone - or rely on a coalition of the few. The threat of terrorism demands alliances on a global scale - to find the extremist groups, to guard ports and stadiums, to share intelligence, and to get the terrorists before they get us," he said. (FBI urges vigilance)

    "We can be strong without being stubborn. Indeed, that is ultimately the only way we can succeed."

    Kerry also promised that the U.S. military would be the best-led, best-equipped force in the world and vowed never to go to war without enough troops or a plan for winning the peace.

    He sharply criticized Bush, saying he did not heed the warnings of military officials about the potential risks of invading Iraq.

    "This administration has disregarded the advice, wisdom, and experience of our professional military officers. And often ended the careers of those who dared to give their honest assessments," Kerry said. "That is not the way to make the most solemn decisions of war and peace."

    Kerry said that failure in Iraq would be a terrible setback and urged Bush to change strategies in response to the situation on the ground. (Bush: 'Difficult days' won't halt Iraq's progress)

    "Over the last year, we've heard from the president that our policy should simply be to stay the course. But one thing I learned in the Navy is that when the course you're on is headed for the shoals, it's pretty smart to shift the rudder," Kerry said. "Staying the course is important, but staying the wrong course is not a sign of strength it is a mark of stubbornness and it ultimately weakens this nation and the world."

    Kerry's speech is the part of a series of addresses he will give over the next few days, leading up to the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion June 6.

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