- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 15, 2004

Sen. John Kerry delivered the Democratic response to President Bush’s weekly radio address yesterday, telling the nation, “We have a duty to ensure that our troops are sent into battle only as a last resort.”

While Mr. Bush’s likely challenger in November stopped short of openly criticizing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, he seized the chance to remind voters that America “should never go to war because it wants to, but only because it has to.”

The address coincided with Armed Forces Day, and the Massachusetts Democrat delivered praise to U.S. troops, saying, “We honor them for their service and sacrifice.”

The compliments dovetailed with ones offered by Mr. Bush, although that was about the only similarity between the two radio addresses.

With the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal still fresh, Mr. Bush devoted a good portion of his remarks to a point the administration has reiterated throughout the week: “The actions of a few do not reflect the true character of the United States’ armed forces.”

Mr. Bush said he is determined that such abuses never happen again. “Our country has great respect for the Iraqi people, and we are determined to expose and punish the abuse of Iraqi detainees,” he said. He added that charges have been filed against seven soldiers, with the first trial set to begin this week.

Mr. Bush described the “sickening” nature of the terrorist enemy, citing the beheading of American civilian Nicholas Berg at the hands of Muslim extremists.

“The savage execution of this innocent man reminds us of … the stakes in this struggle,” Mr. Bush said. “The terrorists rejoice in the killing of the innocent and have promised similar violence against Americans, against all free peoples and against any Muslims who reject their ideology of murder.”

“There is only one way to deal with terror: We must confront the enemy and stay on the offensive until these killers are defeated,” he said.

That is “precisely” what U.S. and coalition forces are doing in Fallujah, Najaf and Karbala, he said.

U.S. troops are working with Iraqi security forces, Mr. Bush said, noting that such forces were used last week to eject elements of radical cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia “from a mosque in Karbala that was being used to store ammunition.”

Citing recent street demonstrations by ordinary Iraqis calling on the militia to “withdraw from their cities and towns,” Mr. Bush said Shi’ite religious leaders also have asked them to pull out.

Mr. Kerry focused his response on the military holiday.

He said Armed Forces Day is a reminder that military service requires inner strength for leaving loved ones at home “to go far away to the front lines into the choking dust of a desert and into unknown dangers to keep the rest of us secure.”

The nation has a duty to ensure troops sent into harm’s way have the right leadership, training and a clear sense of mission and idea of what “they are — and are not — expected to do,” Mr. Kerry said. The duty is also to “build and lead alliances so that our troops and our country will not have to bear almost alone the burdens of defending freedom and defeating the great dangers that now threaten our national safety and global security.”

Mr. Kerry concluded that “we have a duty to guarantee that, when mistakes are made, those responsible are held accountable, whether they are at the bottom of the chain of command or at the top.”


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