First Bush-Kerry debate: on Foreign Policy


George W. Bush: Take preemptive action in order to make America secure

KERRY: Iran & North Korea are now more dangerous. Whether preemption is ultimately what has to happen, I don't know yet. But as president, I'll never take my eye off that ball. I've been fighting for proliferation the entire time-anti-proliferation the entire time I've been in the Congress. And we've watched Bush actually turn away from some of the treaties that were on the table. You don't help yourself with other nations when you turn away from the global warming treaty, for instance.

BUSH: My attitude is you take preemptive action in order to protect the American people, that you act in order to make this country secure. My opponent talks about me not signing certain treaties. Let me tell you one thing I didn't sign, and I think it shows the difference of our opinion-the difference of opinions. And that is, I wouldn't join the International Criminal Court. It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial.

Source: [X-ref Kerry] First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

George W. Bush: The six-party talks will unwind when we have bilateral talks

KERRY: I want both bilateral and multinational talks which put all of the issues, from the armistice of 1952, the economic issues, the human rights issues, the artillery disposal issues, the DMZ issues and the nuclear issues on the table.

BUSH: The minute we have bilateral talks, the six-party talks will unwind. That's exactly what Kim Jong Il wants. And by the way, the breach on the agreement was not through plutonium. The breach on the agreement is highly enriched uranium. That's what we caught him doing. That's where he was breaking the agreement. Secondly, Kerry said where he worked to put sanctions on Iran-we've already sanctioned Iran. Finally, we were a party to the convention-to working with Germany, France and Great Britain to send their foreign ministers into Iran.

KERRY: In order for the sanctions to be effective, we should have been working with the British, French and Germans and other countries. That's the difference between Bush and me. Again, Bush sort of slid by the question.

Source: [X-ref Kerry] First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

George W. Bush: We ought to be working with the African Union

KERRY: I intend to double the number of special forces so that we can do the job we need to do with respect fighting the terrorists around the world. And if we do that, then we have the ability to be able to respond more rapidly. If it took American forces to some degree to coalesce the African Union, I'd be prepared to do it because we could never allow another Rwanda.

BUSH: I agree with Kerry that we shouldn't be committing troops. We ought to be working with the African Union to do so-precisely what we did in Liberia. We helped stabilize the situation with some troops, and when the African Union came, we moved them out. My hope is that the African Union moves rapidly to help save lives. And fortunately the rainy season will be ending shortly, which will make it easier to get aid there and help the long-suffering people there.

Source: [X-ref Kerry] First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

George W. Bush: Free nations will help us achieve the peace we all want

We're pursuing a strategy of freedom around the world, because I understand free nations will reject terror. Free nations will answer the hopes and aspirations of their people. Free nations will help us achieve the peace we all want.
Source: First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

George W. Bush: Hope we never have to take preemptive military action

I was hopeful diplomacy would work in Iraq. It was falling apart. There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was hoping that the world would turn a blind eye. And if he had been in power, in other words, if we would have said, "Let the inspectors work, or let's hope to talk him out. Maybe an 18th resolution would work," he would have been stronger and tougher, and the world would have been a lot worse off. There's just no doubt in my mind we would rue the day, had Saddam Hussein been in power. So we use diplomacy every chance we get, believe me. By speaking clearly and sending messages that we mean what we say, we've affected the world in a positive way. Libya was a threat. Libya is now peacefully dismantling its weapons programs. Libya understood that America and others will enforce doctrine and that the world is better for it. I would hope we never have to take preemptive military action. By acting firmly and decisively, it will mean it is less likely we have to use force.
Source: First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

George W. Bush: I just know how this world works

You cannot lead if you send mixed messages. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to our troops and our allies. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to the Iraqi citizens. And that's my biggest concern about Kerry. I admire his service. But I just know how this world works, and that in the councils of government, there must be certainty from the US president. We change tactics when need to, but we never change our beliefs, the strategic beliefs that are necessary to protect this country in the world.
Source: First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

George W. Bush: Six-party talks are better than taking on North Korea alone

BUSH: We signed an agreement with North Korea that my administration found out that was not being honored by the North Koreans. And so I decided that a better way to approach the issue was to get other nations involved, just besides us. And China's a got a lot of influence over North Korea, some ways more than we do. As well, we included South Korea, Japan and Russia. So now there are five voices speaking to Kim Jong Il, not just one.

KERRY: We had inspectors and television cameras in the nuclear reactor in North Korea. Secretary Bill Perry negotiated that under Clinton. And we knew where the fuel rods were. And we knew the limits on their nuclear power. Colin Powell announced one day that we were going to continue the dialog of working with the North Koreans. Bush reversed it publicly while the president of South Korea was here. And the president of South Korea went back to South Korea bewildered and embarrassed because it went against his policy.

Source: First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

George W. Bush: Continue working with Putin in the future

BUSH: I look forward to discussing it more with Putin, as time goes on. Russia is a country in transition. Vladimir is going to have to make some hard choices. And I think it's very important for the American president, as well as other Western leaders, to remind him of the great benefits of democracy, that democracy will best help the people realize their hopes and aspirations and dreams. And I will continue working with him over the next four years.

KERRY: I've had an extraordinary experience of watching up close and personal that transition in Russia, because I was there right after the transformation. I regret what's happened in these past months. And I think it goes beyond just the response to terror. Mr. Putin now controls all the television stations. His political opposition is being put in jail. It's very important to the US, obviously, to have a working relationship that is good. This is a very important country to us. We want a partnership. But we always have to stand up for democracy.

Source: First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

George W. Bush: Must have China's leverage on Kim Jong Il

BUSH: I can't tell you how big a mistake I think that is, to have bilateral talks with North Korea. It's precisely what Kim Jong Il wants. It will cause the six-party talks to evaporate. It will mean that China no longer is involved in convincing, along with us, for Kim Jong Il to get rid of his weapons. It's a big mistake to do that. We must have China's leverage on Kim Jong Il, besides ourselves. If you enter bilateral talks, they'll be happy to walk away from the table. I don't think that'll work.

KERRY: Just because Bush says it can't be done, that you'd lose China, doesn't mean it can't be done. I mean, this is Bush who said "There were weapons of mass destruction," said "Mission accomplished," said we could fight the war on the cheap -none of which were true. We could have bilateral talks with Kim Jong Il. And we can get those weapons at the same time as we get China. Because China has an interest in the outcome, too.

Source: First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

George W. Bush: No ďglobal testĒ: protect Americans even if unpopular abroad

KERRY: No president has ever ceded, nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the US. But if and when you do it, you have to do it in a way that passes the global test where your people understand fully what youíre doing & you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

BUSH: Iím not exactly sure what you mean, "passes the global test." My attitude is you take preemptive action in order to protect the American people, that you act in order to make this country secure. [For example] I wouldnít join the International Criminal Court. Itís a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial. I understand that in certain capitals around the world that that wasnít a popular move. Trying to be popular, in the global sense, if itís not in our best interest, makes no sense. Iím interested in working with our nations and do a lot of it. But Iím not going to make decisions that I think are wrong for America.

Source: First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

John Kerry: Bush is sending mixed messages to South Korea

BUSH: We signed an agreement with North Korea that my administration found out that was not being honored by the North Koreans. And so I decided that a better way to approach the issue was to get other nations involved, just besides us. And China's a got a lot of influence over North Korea, some ways more than we do. As well, we included South Korea, Japan and Russia. So now there are five voices speaking to Kim Jong Il, not just one.

KERRY: We had inspectors and television cameras in the nuclear reactor in North Korea. Secretary Bill Perry negotiated that under Clinton. And we knew where the fuel rods were. And we knew the limits on their nuclear power. Colin Powell announced one day that we were going to continue the dialog of working with the North Koreans. Bush reversed it publicly while the president of South Korea was here. And the president of South Korea went back to South Korea bewildered and embarrassed because it went against his policy.

Source: [X-ref Bush] First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

John Kerry: Take notice of political oppression in Russia

BUSH: I look forward to discussing it more with Putin, as time goes on. Russia is a country in transition. Vladimir is going to have to make some hard choices. And I think it's very important for the American president, as well as other Western leaders, to remind him of the great benefits of democracy, that democracy will best help the people realize their hopes and aspirations and dreams. And I will continue working with him over the next four years.

KERRY: I've had an extraordinary experience of watching up close and personal that transition in Russia, because I was there right after the transformation. I regret what's happened in these past months. And I think it goes beyond just the response to terror. Mr. Putin now controls all the television stations. His political opposition is being put in jail. It's very important to the US, obviously, to have a working relationship that is good. This is a very important country to us. We want a partnership. But we always have to stand up for democracy.

Source: [X-ref Bush] First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

John Kerry: China is involved with North Korea no matter what

BUSH: I can't tell you how big a mistake I think that is, to have bilateral talks with North Korea. It's precisely what Kim Jong Il wants. It will cause the six-party talks to evaporate. It will mean that China no longer is involved in convincing, along with us, for Kim Jong Il to get rid of his weapons. It's a big mistake to do that. We must have China's leverage on Kim Jong Il, besides ourselves. If you enter bilateral talks, they'll be happy to walk away from the table. I don't think that'll work.

KERRY: Just because Bush says it can't be done, that you'd lose China, doesn't mean it can't be done. I mean, this is Bush who said "There were weapons of mass destruction," said "Mission accomplished," said we could fight the war on the cheap -none of which were true. We could have bilateral talks with Kim Jong Il. And we can get those weapons at the same time as we get China. Because China has an interest in the outcome, too.

Source: [X-ref Bush] First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

John Kerry: Preemptive strike must pass a global test

The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for preemptive strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War. It was always one of the things we argued about with respect to arms control. No president, though all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the US. But if and when you do it, you have to do it in a way that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons. Here we have our own secretary of state who has had to apologize to the world for the presentation he made to the UN. When Pres. Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis sent his secretary of state to Paris to meet with DeGaulle to tell them about the missiles in Cuba, he said, "Here, let me show you the photos." DeGaulle waved them off and said, "No, no, no. The word of the president of the US is good enough for me."
Source: First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

John Kerry: Will never take my eye off the real dangerous threats

KERRY: Iran & North Korea are now more dangerous. Whether preemption is ultimately what has to happen, I don't know yet. But as president, I'll never take my eye off that ball. I've been fighting for proliferation the entire time-anti-proliferation the entire time I've been in the Congress. And we've watched Bush actually turn away from some of the treaties that were on the table. You don't help yourself with other nations when you turn away from the global warming treaty, for instance.

BUSH: My attitude is you take preemptive action in order to protect the American people, that you act in order to make this country secure. My opponent talks about me not signing certain treaties. Let me tell you one thing I didn't sign, and I think it shows the difference of our opinion-the difference of opinions. And that is, I wouldn't join the International Criminal Court. It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial.

Source: First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

John Kerry: Want both bilateral and multinational talks with North Korea

KERRY: I want both bilateral and multinational talks which put all of the issues, from the armistice of 1952, the economic issues, the human rights issues, the artillery disposal issues, the DMZ issues and the nuclear issues on the table.

BUSH: The minute we have bilateral talks, the six-party talks will unwind. That's exactly what Kim Jong Il wants. And by the way, the breach on the agreement was not through plutonium. The breach on the agreement is highly enriched uranium. That's what we caught him doing. That's where he was breaking the agreement. Secondly, Kerry said where he worked to put sanctions on Iran-we've already sanctioned Iran. Finally, we were a party to the convention-to working with Germany, France and Great Britain to send their foreign ministers into Iran.

KERRY: In order for the sanctions to be effective, we should have been working with the British, French and Germans and other countries. That's the difference between Bush and me. Again, Bush sort of slid by the question.

Source: First Bush-Kerry debate, Miami FL

  • The above quotations are from First Bush-Kerry debate, on foreign policy and homeland security, Sept. 30, 2004 in Miami, Florida.
  • Click here for definitions & background information on Foreign Policy.
  • Click here for more quotes by John Kerry on Foreign Policy.
  • Click here for more quotes by George W. Bush on Foreign Policy.
Other candidates on Foreign Policy:
George W. Bush
Dick Cheney
John Edwards
John Kerry

Third Party Candidates:
Michael Baradnik
Peter Camejo
David Cobb
Ralph Nader
Michael Peroutka


Democratic Primaries:
Carol Moseley Braun
Wesley Clark
Howard Dean
Dick Gephardt
Bob Graham
Dennis Kucinich
Joe Lieberman
Al Sharpton
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