Transcript: When should troops come home?
CORAL GABLES, Florida (CNN) -- The following is a partial transcript of the debate between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry held Thursday night at the University of Miami. The topic of the debate is foreign affairs, and the moderator is Jim Lehrer of PBS:
LEHRER: New question, Mr. President. Two minutes.
What criteria would you use to determine when to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq?
BUSH: Let me first tell you that the best way for Iraq to be safe and secure is for Iraqi citizens to be trained to do the job.
And that's what we're doing.
We've got 100,000 trained now, 125,000 by the end of this year, 200,000 by the end of next year.
That is the best way.
We'll never succeed in Iraq if the Iraqi citizens do not want to take matters into their own hands to protect themselves.
I believe they want to. [Interim] Prime Minister [Ayad] Allawi believes they want to.
And so the best indication about when we can bring our troops home -- which I really want to do, but I don't want to do so for the sake of bringing them home; I want to do so because we've achieved an objective -- is to see the Iraqis perform and to see the Iraqis step up and take responsibility.
And so, the answer to your question is: When our general is on the ground and Ambassador [John] Negroponte tells me that Iraq is ready to defend herself from these terrorists, that elections will have been held by then, that their stability and that they're on their way to, you know, a nation that's free; that's when.
And I hope it's as soon as possible.
But I know putting artificial deadlines won't work.
My opponent at one time said, "Well, get me elected, I'll have them out of there in six months." You can't do that and expect to win the war on terror.
My message to our troops is, "Thank you for what you're doing. We're standing with you strong. We'll give you all the equipment you need. And we'll get you home as soon as the mission's done, because this is a vital mission."
A free Iraq will be an ally in the war on terror, and that's essential.
A free Iraq will set a powerful example in the part of the world that is desperate for freedom.
A free Iraq will help secure Israel.
A free Iraq will enforce the hopes and aspirations of the reformers in places like Iran.
A free Iraq is essential for the security of this country.
LEHRER: Ninety seconds, Senator Kerry.
KERRY: Thank you, Jim.
My message to the troops is also: Thank you for what they're doing, but it's also 'help is on the way.'
I believe those troops deserve better than what they are getting today.
You know, it's interesting. When I was in a rope line just the other day, coming out here from Wisconsin, a couple of young returnees were in the line, one active duty, one from the Guard. And they both looked at me and said: We need you. You've got to help us over there.
Now I believe there's a better way to do this.
You know, the president's father did not go into Iraq, into Baghdad, beyond Basra. And the reason he didn't is, he said -- he wrote in his book -- because there was no viable exit strategy.
And he said our troops would be occupiers in a bitterly hostile land.
That's exactly where we find ourselves today. There's a sense of American occupation.
The only building that was guarded when the troops went into Baghdad was the oil ministry. We didn't guard the nuclear facilities.
We didn't guard the foreign office, where you might have found information about weapons of mass destruction. We didn't guard the borders.
Almost every step of the way, our troops have been left on these extraordinarily difficult missions.
I know what it's like to go out on one of those missions when you don't know what's around the corner.
And I believe our troops need other allies helping. I'm going to hold that summit. I will bring fresh credibility, a new start, and we will get the job done right.
LEHRER: All right, go ahead. Yes, sir?
BUSH: I think it's worthy for a follow-up.
LEHRER: We can do 30 second each here. All right.
BUSH: My opponent says help is on the way, but what kind of message does it say to our troops in harm's way, "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time?"
Not a message a commander in chief gives, or [that] this is a "great diversion."
As well, help is on the way, but it's certainly hard to tell it when he voted against the $87 billion supplemental [bill] to provide equipment for our troops, and then said he actually did vote for it before he voted against it.
Not what a commander in chief does when you're trying to lead troops.
LEHRER: Senator Kerry, 30 seconds.
KERRY: Well, you know, when I talked about the $87 billion, I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq.
Which is worse?
I believe that when you know something's going wrong, you make it right. That's what I learned in Vietnam.
When I came back from that war I saw that it was wrong. Some people don't like the fact that I stood up to say no, but I did.
And that's what I did with that vote. And I'm going to lead those troops to victory.
Next question: Are U.S. soldiers dying for a mistake?