Transcript Part I: Candidates tackle Iraq
ST. LOUIS, Missouri (CNN) -- The following is a transcript of the debate between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry held Friday night at Washington University. The second debate took a town hall style format.
The questions are from undecided voters and the debate was moderated by Charles Gibson of ABC News.
All answers are linked to the questions in the box to the right.
Question 1: Sen. Kerry, Are you wishy-washy?
QUESTIONER: Senator Kerry, after talking with several co-workers and family and friends, I asked the ones who said they were not voting for you, "Why?" They said that you were too wishy-washy. Do you have a reply for them?
KERRY: Yes, I certainly do. But let me just first, Cheryl, if you will, I want to thank Charlie for moderating. I want to thank Washington University for hosting us here this evening. Mr. President, it's good to be with you again this evening, sir. Cheryl, the president didn't find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so he's really turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception.
And the result is that you've been bombarded with advertisements suggesting that I've changed a position on this or that or the other. Now, the three things they try to say I've changed position on are the Patriot Act; I haven't. I support it. I just don't like the way John Ashcroft has applied it, and we're going to change a few things. The chairman of the Republican Party thinks we ought to change a few things.
No Child Left Behind Act, I voted for it. I support it. I support the goals. But the president has underfunded it by $28 billion. Right here in St. Louis, you've laid off 350 teachers. You're 150 -- excuse me, I think it's a little more, about $100 million shy of what you ought to be under the No Child Left Behind Act to help your education system here.
So I complain about that. I've argued that we should fully funded it. The president says I've changed my mind. I haven't changed my mind: I'm going to fully fund it. So these are the differences. Now, the president has presided over an economy where we've lost 1.6 million jobs. The first president in 72 years to lose jobs. I have a plan to put people back to work. That's not wishy- washy. I'm going to close the loopholes that actually encourage companies to go overseas. The president wants to keep them open. I think I'm right. I think he's wrong.
I'm going to give you a tax cut. The president gave the top 1 percent of income-earners in America, got $89 billion last year, more than the 80 percent of people who earn $100,000 or less all put together. I think that's wrong. That's not wishy-washy, and that's what I'm fighting for, you.
GIBSON: Mr. President, a minute and a half.
BUSH: Charlie, thank you, and thank our panelists.
And, Senator, thank you. I can -- and thanks, Washington U. as well. I can see why people at your workplace think he changes positions a lot, because he does. He said he voted for the $87 billion, and voted against it right before he voted for it. And that sends a confusing signal to people. He said he thought Saddam Hussein was a grave threat, and now he said it was a mistake to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
No, I can see why people think that he changes position quite often, because he does. You know, for a while he was a strong supporter of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He saw the wisdom -- until the Democrat primary came along and Howard Dean, the anti-war candidate, began to gain on him, and he changed positions. I don't see how you can lead this country in a time of war, in a time of uncertainty, if you change your mind because of politics. He just brought up the tax cut.
You remember we increased that child credit by $1,000, reduced the marriage penalty, created a 10 percent tax bracket for the lower-income Americans. That's right at the middle class.
He voted against it. And yet he tells you he's for a middle-class tax cut. It's -- you've got to be consistent when you're the president. There's a lot of pressures. And you've got to be firm and consistent.
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Question 2: Mr. President, do you sincerely believe you had a reasonable justification for invading Iraq?
GIBSON: Mr. President, I would follow up, but we have a series of questions on Iraq, and so I will turn to the next questioner. The question is for President Bush, and the questioner is Robin Dahle.
QUESTIONER: Mr. President, yesterday in a statement you admitted that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, but justified the invasion by stating, I quote, "He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction and could have passed this knowledge to our terrorist enemies." Do you sincerely believe this to be a reasonable justification for invasion when this statement applies to so many other countries, including North Korea?
BUSH: Each situation is different, Robin. And obviously we hope that diplomacy works before you ever use force. The hardest decision a president makes is ever to use force. After 9/11, we had to look at the world differently. After 9/11, we had to recognize that when we saw a threat, we must take it seriously before it comes to hurt us. In the old days we'd see a threat, and we could deal with it if we felt like it or not. But 9/11 changed it all.
I vowed to our countrymen that I would do everything I could to protect the American people. That's why we're bringing al Qaeda to justice. Seventy-five percent of them have been brought to justice. That's why I said to Afghanistan: If you harbor a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist. And the Taliban is no longer in power, and al Qaeda no longer has a place to plan. And I saw a unique threat in Saddam Hussein, as did my opponent, because we thought he had weapons of mass destruction.
And the unique threat was that he could give weapons of mass destruction to an organization like al Qaeda, and the harm they inflicted on us with airplanes would be multiplied greatly by weapons of mass destruction. And that was the serious, serious threat. So I tried diplomacy, went to the United Nations. But as we learned in the same report I quoted, Saddam Hussein was gaming the oil-for-food program to get rid of sanctions.
He was trying to get rid of sanctions for a reason: He wanted to restart his weapons programs. We all thought there was weapons there, Robin. My opponent thought there was weapons there. That's why he called him a grave threat. I wasn't happy when we found out there wasn't weapons, and we've got an intelligence group together to figure out why. But Saddam Hussein was a unique threat. And the world is better off without him in power. And my opponent's plans lead me to conclude that Saddam Hussein would still be in power, and the world would be more dangerous. Thank you, sir.
GIBSON: Senator Kerry, a minute and a half.
KERRY: Robin, I'm going to answer your question. I'm also going to talk -- respond to what you asked, Cheryl, at the same time. The world is more dangerous today. The world is more dangerous today because the president didn't make the right judgments. Now, the president wishes that I had changed my mind. He wants you to believe that because he can't come here and tell you that he's created new jobs for America. He's lost jobs. He can't come here and tell you that he's created health care for Americans because, what, we've got 5 million Americans who have lost their health care, 96,000 of them right here in Missouri.
He can't come here and tell you that he's left no child behind because he didn't fund No Child Left Behind. So what does he do? He's trying to attack me. He wants you to believe that I can't be president. And he's trying to make you believe it because he wants you to think I change my mind. Well, let me tell you straight up: I've never changed my mind about Iraq. I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat. I always believed he was a threat. Believed it in 1998 when Clinton was president. I wanted to give Clinton the power to use force if necessary.
But I would have used that force wisely, I would have used that authority wisely, not rushed to war without a plan to win the peace. I would have brought our allies to our side. I would have fought to make certain our troops had everybody possible to help them win the mission. This president rushed to war, pushed our allies aside. And Iran now is more dangerous, and so is North Korea, with nuclear weapons. He took his eye off the ball, off of Osama bin Laden.
GIBSON: Mr. President, I do want to follow up on this one, because there were several questions from the audience along this line.
GIBSON: Go ahead. Go ahead.
GIBSON: Well, I was going to have you do the rebuttal on it, but you go ahead. (LAUGHTER) You're up.
BUSH: You remember the last debate? My opponent said that America must pass a global test before we used force to protect ourselves. That's the kind of mindset that says sanctions were working. That's the kind of mindset that said, "Let's keep it at the United Nations and hope things go well." Saddam Hussein was a threat because he could have given weapons of mass destruction to terrorist enemies. Sanctions were not working. The United Nations was not effective at removing Saddam Hussein.
KERRY: The goal of the sanctions was not to remove Saddam Hussein, it was to remove the weapons of mass destruction. And, Mr. President, just yesterday the Duelfer report told you and the whole world they worked. He didn't have weapons of mass destruction, Mr. President. That was the objective. And if we'd used smart diplomacy, we could have saved $200 billion and an invasion of Iraq. And right now, Osama bin Laden might be in jail or dead. That's the war against terror.
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Question 3: Sen. Kerry, would you have a different plan than the president for Iraq?
GIBSON: We're going to have another question now on the subject of Iraq. And I'm going to turn to Anthony Baldi with a question for Sen. Kerry. Mr. Baldi?
QUESTIONER: Sen. Kerry, the U.S. is preparing a new Iraq government and will proceed to withdraw U.S. troops. Would you proceed with the same plans as President Bush?
KERRY: Anthony, I would not. I have laid out a different plan, because the president's plan is not working. You see that every night on television. There's chaos in Iraq. King Abdullah of Jordan said just yesterday or the day before you can't hold elections in Iraq with the chaos that's going on today. Sen. Richard Lugar, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that the handling of the reconstruction aid in Iraq by this administration has been incompetent.
Those are the Republican chairman's words. Sen. Hagel of Nebraska said that the handling of Iraq is beyond pitiful, beyond embarrassing; it's in the zone of dangerous. Those are the words of two Republicans, respected, both on the Foreign Relations Committee. Now, I have to tell you, I would do something different. I would reach out to our allies in a way that this president hasn't. He pushed them away time and again, pushed them away at the U.N., pushed them away individually.
Two weeks ago, there was a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, which is the political arm of NATO. They discussed the possibility of a small training unit or having a total takeover of the training in Iraq. Did our administration push for the total training of Iraq? No. Were they silent? Yes.
Was there an effort to bring all the allies together around that? No, because they've always wanted this to be an American effort. You know, they even had the Defense Department issue a memorandum saying, "Don't bother applying for assistance or for being part of the reconstruction if you weren't part of our original coalition." Now, that's not a good way to build support and reduce the risk for our troops and make America safer. I'm going to get the training done for our troops. I'm going to get the training of Iraqis done faster. And I'm going to get our allies back to the table.
BUSH: Two days ago in the Oval Office, I met with the finance minister from Iraq. He came to see me. And he talked about how optimistic he was and the country was about heading toward elections. Think about it: They're going from tyranny to elections. He talked about the reconstruction efforts that are beginning to take hold. He talked about the fact that Iraqis love to be free. He said he was optimistic when he came here, then he turned on the TV and listened to the political rhetoric and all of a sudden he was pessimistic. Now, this is guy a who, along with others, has taken great risk for great freedom. And we need to stand with him.
My opponent says he has a plan; it sounds familiar, because it's called the Bush plan. We're going to train troops, and we are. We'll have 125,000 trained by the end of December. We're spending about $7 billion. He talks about a grand idea: Let's have a summit; we're going to solve the problem in Iraq by holding a summit. And what is he going to say to those people that show up at the summit? Join me in the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place. Risk your troops in a war you've called a mistake.
Nobody is going to follow somebody who doesn't believe we can succeed and with somebody who says that war where we are is a mistake. I know how these people think. I meet with them all the time. I talk to Tony Blair all the time. I talk to Silvio Berlusconi. They're not going to follow an American president who says follow me into a mistake. Our plan is working. We're going to make elections. And Iraq is going to be free, and America will be better off for it.
GIBSON: Do you want to follow up, Senator?
KERRY: Yes, sir, please.
Ladies and gentlemen, the right war was Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan. That was the right place. And the right time was Tora Bora, when we had him cornered in the mountains. Now, everyone in the world knows that there were no weapons of mass destruction. That was the reason Congress gave him the authority to use force, not after excuse to get rid of the regime. Now we have to succeed. I've always said that. I have been consistent. Yes, we have to succeed, and I have a better plan to help us do it.
BUSH: First of all, we didn't find out he didn't have weapons until we got there, and my opponent thought he had weapons and told everybody he thought he had weapons. And secondly, it's a fundamental misunderstanding to say that the war on terror is only Osama bin Laden. The war on terror is to make sure that these terrorist organizations do not end up with weapons of mass destruction. That's what the war on terror is about.
Of course, we're going to find Osama bin Laden. We've already 75 percent of his people. And we're on the hunt for him. But this is a global conflict that requires firm resolve.
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Question 4: President Bush, what is your plan to repair diplomatic relations with other countries?
GIBSON: The next question is for President Bush, and it comes from Nikki Washington.
QUESTIONER: Thank you.
Mr. President, my mother and sister traveled abroad this summer, and when they got back they talked to us about how shocked they were at the intensity of aggravation that other countries had with how we handled the Iraq situation.
Diplomacy is obviously something that we really have to really work on.
What is your plan to repair relations with other countries given the current situation?
BUSH: No, I appreciate that. I -- listen, I -- we've got a great country. I love our values. And I recognize I've made some decisions that have caused people to not understand the great values of our country.
I remember when Ronald Reagan was the president; he stood on principle. Somebody called that stubborn. He stood on principle standing up to the Soviet Union, and we won that conflict. Yet at the same time, he was very -- we were very unpopular in Europe because of the decisions he made. I recognize that taking Saddam Hussein out was unpopular. But I made the decision because I thought it was in the right interests of our security.
You know, I've made some decisions on Israel that's unpopular. I wouldn't deal with Arafat, because I felt like he had let the former president down, and I don't think he's the kind of person that can lead toward a Palestinian state.
And people in Europe didn't like that decision. And that was unpopular, but it was the right thing to do.
I believe Palestinians ought to have a state, but I know they need leadership that's committed to a democracy and freedom, leadership that would be willing to reject terrorism.
I made a decision not to join the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is where our troops could be brought to -- brought in front of a judge, an unaccounted judge.
I don't think we ought to join that. That was unpopular.
And so, what I'm telling you is, is that sometimes in this world you make unpopular decisions because you think they're right.
We'll continue to reach out.
Listen, there is 30 nations involved in Iraq, some 40 nations involved in Afghanistan.
People love America. Sometimes they don't like the decisions made by America, but I don't think you want a president who tries to become popular and does the wrong thing.
You don't want to join the International Criminal Court just because it's popular in certain capitals in Europe.
GIBSON: Sen. Kerry, a minute and a half.
KERRY: Nikki, that's a question that's been raised by a lot of people around the country.
Let me address it but also talk about the weapons the president just talked about, because every part of the president's answer just now promises you more of the same over the next four years.
The president stood right here in this hall four years ago, and he was asked a question by somebody just like you, "Under what circumstances would you send people to war?" And his answer was, "With a viable exit strategy and only with enough forces to get the job done."
He didn't do that. He broke that promise. We didn't have enough forces.
Gen. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, told him he was going to need several hundred thousand. And guess what? They retired Gen. Shinseki for telling him that.
This president hasn't listened.
I went to meet with the members of the Security Council in the week before we voted. I went to New York. I talked to all of them to find out how serious they were about really holding Saddam Hussein accountable.
I came away convinced that, if we worked at it, if we were ready to work and letting Hans Blix do his job and thoroughly go through the inspections, that if push came to shove, they'd be there with us.
But the president just arbitrarily brought the hammer down and said, "Nope. Sorry, time for diplomacy is over. We're going."
He rushed to war without a plan to win the peace.
Ladies and gentleman, he gave you a speech and told you he'd plan carefully, take every precaution, take our allies with us. He didn't. He broke his word.
GIBSON: Mr. President?
BUSH: I remember sitting in the White House looking at those generals, saying, "Do you have what you need in this war? Do you have what it takes?"
I remember going down to the basement of the White House the day we committed our troops as last resort, looking at Tommy Franks and the generals on the ground, asking them, "Do we have the right plan with the right troop level?"
And they looked me in the eye and said, "Yes, sir, Mr. President." Of course, I listen to our generals. That's what a president does. A president sets the strategy and relies upon good military people to execute that strategy.
KERRY: You rely on good military people to execute the military component of the strategy, but winning the peace is larger than just the military component.
Gen. Shinseki had the wisdom to say, "You're going to need several hundred thousand troops to win the peace." The military's job is to win the war.
A president's job is to win the peace.
The president did not do what was necessary. Didn't bring in enough nation. Didn't deliver the help. Didn't close off the borders. Didn't even guard the ammo dumps. And now our kids are being killed with ammos right out of that dump.
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Question 5: Sen. Kerry, what will you do about Iran if the United Nations doesn't take any action?
GIBSON: The next question is for Senator Kerry, and it comes from over here, from Randee Jacobs.
You'll need a microphone.
KERRY: Is it Randee?
QUESTIONER: Yes, Randee.
Iran sponsors terrorism and has missiles capable of hitting Israel and southern Europe. Iran will have nuclear weapons in two to three years time.
In the event that U.N. sanctions don't stop this threat, what will you do as president?
KERRY: I don't think you can just rely on U.N. sanctions, Randee. But you're absolutely correct, it is a threat, it's a huge threat.
And what's interesting is, it's a threat that has grown while the president has been preoccupied with Iraq, where there wasn't a threat. If he'd let the inspectors do their job and go on, we wouldn't have 10 times the numbers of forces in Iraq that we have in Afghanistan chasing Osama bin Laden.
Meanwhile, while Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons, some 37 tons of what they called yellow cake, the stuff they use to make enriched uranium, while they're doing that, North Korea has moved from one bomb maybe, maybe, to four to seven bombs.
For two years, the president didn't even engage with North Korea, did nothing at all, while it was growing more dangerous, despite the warnings of former Secretary of Defense William Perry, who negotiated getting television cameras and inspectors into that reactor.
We were safer before President Bush came to office. Now they have the bombs and we're less safe.
So what do we do? We've got to join with the British and the French, with the Germans, who've been involved, in their initiative. We've got to lead the world now to crack down on proliferation as a whole. But the president's been slow to do that, even in Russia.
At his pace, it's going to take 13 years to reduce and get ahold of all the loose nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. I've proposed a plan that can capture it and contain it and clean it within four years.
And the president is moving to the creation of our own bunker- busting nuclear weapon. It's very hard to get other countries to give up their weapons when you're busy developing a new one.
I'm going to lead the world in the greatest counterproliferation effort. And if we have to get tough with Iran, believe me, we will get tough.
GIBSON: Mr. President, a minute and a half.
BUSH: That answer almost made me want to scowl.
He keeps talking about, "Let the inspectors do their job." It's naive and dangerous to say that. That's what the Duelfer report showed. He was deceiving the inspectors.
Secondly, of course we've been involved with Iran. I fully understand the threat. And that's why we're doing what he suggested we do: Get the Brits, the Germans and the French to go make it very clear to the Iranians that if they expect to be a party to the world to give up their nuclear ambitions. We've been doing that.
Let me talk about North Korea.
It is naive and dangerous to take a policy that he suggested the other day, which is to have bilateral relations with North Korea. Remember, he's the person who's accusing me of not acting multilaterally. He now wants to take the six-party talks we have -- China, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States -- and undermine them by having bilateral talks.
That's what President Clinton did. He had bilateral talks with the North Koreans. And guess what happened? He didn't honor the agreement. He was enriching uranium. That is a bad policy.
Of course, we're paying attention to these. It's a great question about Iran. That's why in my speech to the Congress I said: There's an "Axis of Evil," Iraq, Iran and North Korea, and we're paying attention to it. And we're making progress.
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Question 6 : President Bush, how will you maintain our military strength without a draft?
GIBSON: We're going to move on, Mr. President, with a question for you. And it comes from Daniel Farley.
QUESTIONER: Mr. President, since we continue to police the world, how do you intend to maintain our military presence without reinstituting a draft?
BUSH: Yes, that's a great question. Thanks.
I hear there's rumors on the Internets that we're going to have a draft. We're not going to have a draft, period. The all- volunteer army works. It works particularly when we pay our troops well. It works when we make sure they've got housing, like we have done in the last military budgets.
An all-volunteer army is best suited to fight the new wars of the 21st century, which is to be specialized and to find these people as they hide around the world. We don't need mass armies anymore. One of the things we've done is we've taken the -- we're beginning to transform our military.
And by that I mean we're moving troops out of Korea and replacing them with more effective weapons. We don't need as much manpower on the Korean Peninsula to keep a deterrent.
In Europe, we have massed troops as if the Soviet Union existed and was going to invade into Europe, but those days are over with. And so we're moving troops out of Europe and replacing it with more effective equipment.
So to answer your question is, we're withdrawing, not from the world, we're withdrawing manpower so they can be stationed here in America, so there's less rotation, so life is easier on their families and therefore more likely to be -- we'll be more likely to be able to keep people in the all-volunteer army.
One of the more important things we're doing in this administration is transformation. There are some really interesting technologies. For instance, we're flying unmanned vehicles that can send real-time messages back to stations in the United States. That saves manpower, and it saves equipment.
It also means that we can target things easier and move more quickly, which means we need to be lighter and quicker and more facile and highly trained.
Now, forget all this talk about a draft. We're not going to have a draft so long as I am the president.
GIBSON: Sen. Kerry, a minute and a half.
KERRY: Daniel, I don't support a draft.
But let me tell you where the president's policies have put us.
The president -- and this is one of the reasons why I am very proud in this race to have the support of Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Adm. William Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Tony McPeak, who ran the air war for the president's father and did a brilliant job, supporting me; Gen. Wes Clark, who won the war in Kosovo, supporting me; because they all -- and Gen. Baca, who was the head of the National Guard, supporting me. Why? Because they understand that our military is overextended under the president.
Our Guard and Reserves have been turned into almost active duty. You've got people doing two and three rotations. You've got stop-loss policies, so people can't get out when they were supposed to. You've got a back-door draft right now.
And a lot of our military are underpaid. These are families that get hurt. It hurts the middle class. It hurts communities, because these are our first responders. And they're called up. And they're over there, not over here.
Now, I'm going to add 40,000 active duty forces to the military, and I'm going to make people feel good about being safe in our military, and not overextended, because I'm going to run a foreign policy that actually does what President Reagan did, President Eisenhower did, and others.
We're going to build alliances. We're not going to go unilaterally. We're not going to go alone like this president did.
GIBSON: Mr. President, let's extend for a minute...
BUSH: Let me just -- I've got to answer this.
GIBSON: Exactly. And with Reservists being held on duty...
BUSH: Let me answer what he just said, about around the world.
GIBSON: Well, I want to get into the issue of the back-door draft...
BUSH: You tell Tony Blair we're going alone. Tell Tony Blair we're going alone. Tell Silvio Berlusconi we're going alone. Tell Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland we're going alone.
There are 30 countries there. It denigrates an alliance to say we're going alone, to discount their sacrifices. You cannot lead an alliance if you say, you know, you're going alone. And people listen. They're sacrificing with us.
KERRY: Mr. President, countries are leaving the coalition, not joining. Eight countries have left it.
If Missouri, just given the number of people from Missouri who are in the military over there today, were a country, it would be the third largest country in the coalition, behind Great Britain and the United States. That's not a grand coalition.
Ninety percent of the casualties are American. Ninety percent of the costs are coming out of your pockets.
I could do a better job. My plan does a better job. And that's why I'll be a better commander in chief.
Continued: Question 7 -- Sen. Kerry, why haven't we been attacked since September 11 and how do you propose to assure our safety?