Senator John Edwards
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Washington, DC
October 7, 2002
Remarks as prepared for delivery

This is the first of three speeches outlining ways to strengthen America at home and abroad. In the coming weeks, I will talk about what kind of leadership we need to get our economy back on track and focus on ways to strengthen education in America.

Today I want to focus on America's role in the world, and especially, how the exercise of American leadership around the world is critical to protecting the security of Americans here at home.

How America exercises its leadership will be key to how we meet the many challenges and opportunities before us: whether it's transforming our relationship with a changing Russia or China or a unifying Europe, helping African countries deal with their problems and realize their great potential, keeping countries like India and Pakistan at peace, or fighting diseases like AIDS that ravage societies.

But the first responsibility of any government is the safety and security of its citizens. I believe that, today, that responsibility imposes three challenges above all others: first, to eliminate the threat of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons; second, to win the war on terrorism; and third, to promote democracy and freedom around the world, especially the Middle East.

I believe that the successful pursuit of these goals can only come through American leadership of the world—not American disregard for it. Leadership is one of those words that is used so often it sometimes loses its meaning. But sometime soon, if our men and women in uniform are sent into battle into Iraq, we will see very clearly what leadership means. Because if we lead properly, others will join us, adding moral and military strength to our cause, sharing the dangers of war and the burdens of peace that will follow. But if we fail to lead, we will bear those risks and costs alone.

American leadership is about more than our ability to dominate others. It is about convincing others that our power serves their interests as well as our own. We inspire others to stand with us when we show that we are willing to stand with them, to listen to them, to take their views and contributions into account instead of taking them for granted. Too often, this administration seems to confuse leadership with going it alone and engagement with the compromise of principle – but real leadership is about setting principles and rallying others around them.

That kind of leadership rallied the free world to contain the threat of communism and built the transatlantic alliance that won the Cold War. That kind of leadership under President Bush's father turned back Iraq's aggression against Kuwait, not just by force of arms but by force of argument that brought the world to our side. Under President Clinton, that kind of American leadership rallied the world to end ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo. And it inspired the world when we dedicated ourselves, despite all the risks and frustrations, to bring peace to the Middle East.

Over half a century, that kind of American leadership created institutions like NATO; it earned us allies; it won us true and enduring friends. And when America was attacked on September 11, the legacy of that leadership could be seen in the solidarity of friends in every part of the world.

How then is it that one year later, what could and should be the world's fight against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction is seen as our fight alone?

It is not a cultural problem. Recent public opinion polls show how closely aligned European and American people are when it comes to security. We both regard terrorism and an Iraq armed with weapons of mass destruction as the two top threats.

The problem is that in word and deed, the administration frequently sends the message that others don't matter. It rightly demands that our allies back efforts vital to America's interests, but then shows disdain for cooperative endeavors and agreements important to theirs. Indeed, it often treats allies as an afterthought, gratuitously rubbing in its contempt with statements like the one Secretary Rumsfeld recently made in Europe, when he said it never even occurred to him to use NATO to aid the war in Afghanistan.

Instead of demonstrating "purpose without arrogance" as the President promised in his inaugural address, the administration's foreign policy projects the opposite: arrogance without purpose. We seem determined to act alone for the sake of acting alone, which may be the easy way to achieve our short-term ends, but will never result in long-term security.

Our greatest challenges require the active commitment of our friends, allies, partners, and in fact, the world. Unilateral action will not win the war against terrorism. It will not stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

It will not produce thriving new democracies from the wreckage of failed or crushed totalitarian regimes. And it certainly won't protect the global environment, win the fight against HIV/AIDS, or address the scourge of deep poverty around the world.

This doesn't mean we will never have differences with our friends and allies. We will. But what's important is how we resolve those differences – or agree not to. We should always stick to our principles, do our very best to bring others to our way of thinking, and remain committed to resolving disputes in a respectful way. Picking up and walking away is not an exercise of leadership – it is an abdication of it. A leader who has to go it alone is no longer leading anybody.

In that context, let me say a few things about the administration's so-called preemption doctrine. Let's begin here: if we believe the United States is about to be attacked, or faces an imminent threat, then we have an absolute right to protect ourselves. It's called self-defense – it isn't new; it isn't controversial; and it doesn't need a fancy new name.

But this administration did not just reassert our right to self-defense. That would have been fine, especially when our security requires us to act before terrorists strike. Instead, they asserted a new doctrine that suggests a uniquely American right to use force wherever and whenever we decide it's appropriate. Some in the administration seem to believe that military force can be used as first resort to meet our legitimate foreign policy goals. The result has been distracting and damaging.

At a time when we should be working to lead the world towards a solution on the specific problem of Iraq, it is completely counter-productive for the administration to pronounce a doctrine that is not only unnecessary to justify action, but that alienates most of our friends and makes it harder for countries to cooperate with us.

This week, the U.S. Senate will have an historic debate on the most difficult decision a country ever makes: whether to send American soldiers into harm's way to defend our nation. The President will address these issues in his speech tonight.

My position is very clear: The time has come for decisive action to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. I am a co-sponsor of the bipartisan resolution we're currently considering.

Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave threat to America and our allies -- including our vital ally, Israel. For more than 20 years, Saddam has obsessively sought weapons of mass destruction through every possible means. We know that he has chemical and biological weapons today, that he has used them in the past, and that he is doing everything he can to build more. Every day he gets closer to his longtime goal of nuclear capability. We must not allow him to get nuclear weapons.

As I've said before, I believe the Iraqi threat demands action by the U.S. together with our allies if the United Nations Security Council is prevented from acting to enforce its own resolutions. But I also believe that this is a very good example of how American leadership in the world will produce a better result than American disregard.

The administration was wrong not to try to build an international consensus from the beginning. And after a summer of ill-disciplined leaks and mixed signals about its policy, the administration finally started to get serious. Within 24 hours of President Bush's speech at the United Nations, we saw movement towards cooperation from France to Russia to Saudi Arabia. No one can doubt that disarming Iraq under the mandate of the Security Council and with the cooperation of the entire global community is preferable to disarming Iraq alone.

Nothing must undermine the central goal of disarming Iraq. That is why, as we work with the Security Council to establish the parameters for weapons inspections, we must insist that inspections are airtight, watertight, and Saddam-tight. Anytime, anywhere, without warning, and without delay. After 11 years of watching Saddam play shell games with his weapons programs, there is no reason to believe he has any real intention to disarm.

At the end of the day, there must be no question that America and our allies are willing to use force to eliminate the threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction once and for all. And I believe if America leads, the world will join us.

Eliminating Iraq's destructive capacity is only part one of our responsibility, however.

We must make a genuine commitment to help build a democratic Iraq after the fall of Saddam. And let's be clear: a genuine commitment means a real commitment of time, resources, and yes, leadership. Democracy will not spring up by itself or overnight in a multi-ethnic, complicated, society that has suffered under one repressive regime after another for generations. The Iraqi people deserve and need our help to rebuild their lives and to create a prosperous, thriving, open society. All Iraqis — including Sunnis, Shia and Kurds — deserve to be represented.

This is not just a moral imperative. It is a security imperative. It is in America's national interest to help build an Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbors, because a democratic, tolerant and accountable Iraq will be a peaceful regional partner. And such an Iraq could serve as a model for the entire Arab world.

We know that military planning is in high gear, and that's good; but democracy planning needs to be in high gear as well. For example, we should be asking NATO now to start planning for a post-conflict peacekeeping role, and we need to start consulting with others now about sharing the financial burden of reconstruction.

We must also remember why disarming Saddam is critical to American security – because halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and ensuring they don't fall into the wrong hands, including terrorist hands, is critical to American security. This is a problem much bigger than Iraq.

We must lead our allies to greater collaboration, we must lead our friends to greater vigilance, we must lead our partners to greater participation – and we must lead problem states into adherence with the international agreements and programs to prevent proliferation.

If we're serious about dealing with this problem once and for all – and if we want to prevent future threats like Iraq from arising – then the United States must see non-proliferation for what it is: a strategic imperative, vital to our national interests.

Unfortunately, the administration's policies have moved the U.S. in the opposite direction. So far, the administration has spent far more diplomatic energy to weaken international consensus against proliferation than it has to strengthen it. Since coming into office, the administration has blocked efforts to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In its 31-page National Security Strategy, there is only one paragraph that says anything about strengthening preventive measures like non-proliferation.

This gratuitous unilateralism is coupled with neglect of programs that will make America safer over the long-term. Right now, the administration spends four times more on developing missile defense than on supporting programs to safeguard nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union. It spends five times more on programs to resume nuclear testing than it does to prevent nuclear weapons from spreading.

These are the wrong priorities at exactly the wrong moment. The world needs more U.S. leadership on these issues, not less. Just as the U.S. must lead a global coalition against Iraq, it must forge a global coalition against the larger threat from weapons of mass destruction.

We must address the most insidious threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, the threat posed by terrorists. We must do much more to support the many disarmament programs already in place to dismantle weapons and prevent access to weapons-grade materials in Russia and the former Soviet states; we must devote the maximum resources necessary to support cooperative threat reduction programs, including Nunn-Lugar.

Even as we lead the world to eliminate the Iraqi weapons threat in particular and global proliferation in general, we must maintain our resolve in the long-term fight against terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.

I reject the notion that this is an either-or choice. Our national security requires us to do both, and we are up to the challenge. We fought World War II on four continents simultaneously. America worked to rebuild Germany and Japan at the same time, under the Marshall Plan. We waged the Cold War in every corner of the globe, and we won. To meet each of these challenges, America relied on the commitment and strength of our partners. Even though we were strong, we looked to our allies to help shoulder the costs and carry the burden.

The first thing we need to do with regard to the war on terror is to recognize that, like the fight against weapons of mass destruction, it will never be won through unilateral American action. As powerful as we are, we cannot be everywhere and learn everything without cooperation from our friends and allies. Al-Qaeda alone is known to operate in more than 60 countries. We need the cooperation of intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world to cast a global net for terrorists, to infiltrate their cells, learn their plans, disrupt their operations, cut off their funds, and stop them cold.

Second, the Bush Administration must rethink its visceral rejection of greater leadership in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Our military brilliantly routed the Taliban and disrupted al-Qaeda. Since that time, the administration's leadership in helping to provide security and stability in Afghanistan has been sorely lacking.

As of now, the international peacekeeping force is still confined to the area around Kabul, leaving most of Afghanistan in lawless disarray. That is a mistake, and we will pay for it when the unguarded fields of chaos in Afghanistan produce the next Osama bin Laden.

To be fair, the administration's position on whether to expand the international security presence outside of Kabul has recently shifted from active opposition to simple indifference. But that obviously isn't good enough. The security needs in Afghanistan are urgent. I saw that first-hand when I visited Afghanistan earlier this year. And last month's assassination attempt against President Karzai only underscores this.

Since returning from Afghanistan, I have consistently called for a sustained international presence throughout the country to fill the security vacuum, promote stability, and create the conditions democracy needs to take root and flourish.

We cannot do this alone; indeed – and again – we should not. But American leadership and American engagement are necessary. We have the finest military in the world, and should be willing to put troops on the ground. But real leadership here does not have to mean a commitment of enormous additional American resources.

We should be prepared to do what we do best, such as logistical, communications and intelligence support, and we should make a serious effort to recruit a much larger international force to help keep the peace. We've proved that we have firepower. Now we must show that we have staying power.

Finally, we need to do a much better job defending our security here at home. Since September 11, Americans have recognized an extraordinary threat: a sophisticated, international terrorist organization that is at war with America and present within America. And we have realized that we must respond, and respond strongly.

To make America safe in this new era, we must be willing to do two things that Washington in general and this administration in particular don't like to do: first, be honest with ourselves about what hasn't worked, and second, have the courage to try a new approach that will. As we do those two things, we have to remember who we are, what our values are, and what we stand for as a country: liberty, democracy, the rule of law. We have to commit that our actions today make us strong now and will make our children proud in 50 years.

One of the great disappointments of this past year is that while Americans are more purposeful and pragmatic than ever, Washington is as unproductive and political as ever. Many people in this town are so accustomed to fighting political wars that they lose sight of the real wars we must fight and win.

Look at the debate we just had on homeland security. A lot of good people have put a lot of time into the Department of Homeland Security. I believe it is valuable and ought to pass. But the most urgent priority for our domestic defense today is not moving boxes on an organization chart. Our most urgent priority is stopping the enemy in our midst: identifying the terrorist cells within the United States, penetrating them, using them to gain more information about the larger network, and stopping them before they harm us.

Our duty to America is not to debate who gets the corner office. Our duty is to make every corner safe. That requires work at the core of our homeland security efforts—not in the proposed new Department, but in the key agency left out of that department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

As a member of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, I've had a chance to study the FBI. In recent months, the country has learned about the mistakes made by the FBI before September 11. We may never know whether avoiding those mistakes could have prevented the attacks. What we do know is that we must prevent those mistakes from happening again.

So why has the FBI failed? In large part because the FBI is a law enforcement agency, and it simply doesn't have the right skills, strengths, or staff to be a successful intelligence agency.

It does not hire personnel who want to do intelligence work; it does not train its new officers in the tradecraft of intelligence gathering; it does not promote its officers on the basis of their successes in intelligence; and it does not instill in its officers the desire to collect information that can be shared with other intelligence analysts to create a better, more accurate product for policymakers. At the same time, the FBI lacks the technological capacity to do what intelligence agencies are supposed to do: collect information and get it out the door to those who can take diplomatic, military, law enforcement or other action based on that information.

Whenever we read about the arrest of terrorist suspects, that is a law enforcement triumph. But when we monitor these suspects, appear to befriend them and persuade them to help us, and use them to break into terrorist cells inside our country or abroad — that is an intelligence triumph, and will lead to a greater security triumph as well.

The FBI is trying to address its shortcomings, but we have to face the larger question: is it time to start thinking outside the FBI box?

In my experience, the law enforcement impulses of the FBI consistently trump intelligence needs. Instead of attempting to turn the FBI into something it is not, I believe we should establish a new agency that is focused on gathering intelligence about terrorist threats here at home. Great Britain, Canada, and many other Western democracies already have these agencies. I believe such an agency would prove far more effective than the current FBI at tracking terrorists within America and getting information about their plans and intentions to the officials who need it.

Now as we consider this or any security proposal, we have to recognize potential risks to our liberties and address them squarely. We cannot chill the right to worship in peace or the right to disagree with the government. But today, we have the worst of all worlds: an FBI that has done a poor job of securing vital domestic intelligence, led by an Attorney General who's doing an even worse job of protecting our civil liberties.

His bombastic rhetoric should not stifle honest discussion about how to protect our freedom.

And the new agency can and must be subject to the kinds of strong safeguards against abuses that this administration disdains -- including judicial review, public reporting, and internal auditing.

With the right safeguards, a new agency can do a better job tracking terrorists and a better job protecting our freedoms. This agency would be tightly focused on gathering and sharing the information we need to stop terrorist attacks, but it would also be carefully checked by the devices that have served us for 200 years.

We cannot afford to close our eyes and our ears to critical information just because it must be collected within our own nation's borders. And now is the time to make the needed reforms while the momentum is there.

As you can see, I believe we must do more to guarantee our safety. But when we limit our basic liberty, we should be able to explain why that's necessary to make us safer. That is a simple principle regularly ignored by this Attorney General.

On the detention of enemy combatants, for example, I believe the administration's approach is just plain wrong.

As a matter of law and a matter of common sense, a member of Al-Qaeda is not entitled to all the protections of our criminal justice system. Al-Qaeda is at war with us, and we are at war with them.

But this administration is not simply saying that. They are saying that the government can arrest an American citizen on American soil, deny him access to a lawyer, deny him meaningful access to a judge, and keep him in jail for as long as they want. In other words, they are saying that they have the power to place certain U.S. citizens beyond due process of law, beyond any protection of law.

This is how they do things in dictatorships like Syria and Burma. This is not how we do things in America. But now, because of what this administration is doing, other countries can mimic our arguments to justify practices we have long condemned. In August, Liberia's Charles Taylor labeled three of his jailed critics as "illegal combatants" beyond the reach of civil courts. America should be a model for the world, but not this way.

The truth is, there is no need to abandon our traditions in order to protect our national security.Instead of denying detainees access to lawyers, we can give them lawyers with high-level security clearances, lawyers of unquestioned discretion and loyalty. Instead of denying detainees hearings, we can establish special courts with independent civilian judges. The courts should be open when possible and closed when necessary, hearing evidence from both sides and making their own decisions. Nothing in these courts would threaten our security. They would be a careful response to the threat we face.

In short, this administration would have us believe that we have to choose between security and freedom, even as they let us down on both scores. But the great thing about America is that we are strong and free.

That is what we ought to remember today -- especially because our strength and freedom at home is an indispensable part of America's leadership to promote democracy and liberty around the world. The President's National Security Strategy is right to address that goal. But it is not enough to encourage other countries to protect basic rights unless we support those rights with vigorous action.

In addition to global leadership against Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, and in the war on terror, the United States should lead a global coalition to promote democracy. I say that knowing full well that some of our partners in the war on terrorism are not democracies. But that is a contradiction we will have to confront. Countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan aren't helping us in the long run if they keep denying their people peaceful avenues for expressing dissent. They're just driving their people toward violent alternatives.

Ultimately, there is no greater force for peace, prosperity, and against terrorism than the promotion of democratic regimes that respect human rights and the rule of law, both within and beyond their borders. That's one reason why the administration's lack of leadership planning for post-Saddam Iraq and lack of leadership action in post-Taliban Afghanistan are so troubling for our long-term security interests.

Today, the majority of people in the world choose their governments in democratic elections. But many of the newest democracies are losing popular support, in part because they have been unable to deliver on promises to end corruption and fight poverty. By the same token, many of the poorest countries of the world have been unable to escape the trap of underdevelopment, precisely because they have been unwilling to embrace democracy and good government.

We should therefore launch a far-reaching new effort to build the infrastructure of just and lawful societies – a free press and civil society, open and fair elections, and the legal, political, and regulatory institutions to make government accountable before the law and the people, and create a healthy environment for investment.

This requires more money for democratic assistance. It also requires a new approach to foreign aid. I support the administration's effort to allocate more money to those countries that govern justly and responsibly.

The effort to promote democracy has also stalled at the borders of the Islamic world. No area of the world is more critical to our interests, yet no area of the world is as undemocratic. We have tolerated and in fact supported authoritarian regimes in part because we depend on them for the oil our country needs. This is why a real commitment to energy independence — a commitment this administration lacks – will not only strengthen our own economy, but will also free us to promote the values we believe in.

Getting serious about political reform and human rights in the Middle East requires specific strategies in specific countries: reaching out to moderate and democratic forces in Iran that want a better relationship with the United States; helping the Gulf monarchies to envision a gradual and phased transition to constitutional rule, beginning with greater freedom and power sharing; and making clear to the Egyptian government that future levels of U.S. assistance will be affected by its willingness to permit serious democratic reforms.

In short, we must forge a common approach with our closest allies to give the people of the Greater Middle East the same opportunities we all seek: to live with dignity and liberty; to live with hope and without fear; to live with opportunity and freedom.

We shouldn't pretend that this will be easy. Political change will take time and will have to come primarily from within. But it probably won't come at all unless attitudes about America and its intentions also change. In this respect, a visible American effort to help democracy take root in Iraq and Afghanistan will help.

So will rededicating ourselves to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  We must remember this fundamental fact: America's power make it unique; but its principles and authority make it great. And our greatness comes through the exercise of principled leadership – leadership that sets an example, leadership that inspires others to follow; leadership that will make others stronger and bring more countries by our side. It is the kind of leadership that presidents of both political parties understood and practiced.  It is the kind of leadership we need today.