"I've Been in Worse Situations"

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TIME
As President, who would be the first person you would phone?

KERRY
I'm not going to say one, two, three. I will tell you that I have 20 years of experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I have personal relationships with leaders around the world. I will not cede our security to any other country. I won't cede our security to any institution, but I know how to reach out to countries and leaders and build bipartisan-support structures necessary to strengthen the country.

TIME
You can't be more specific?

KERRY
I know exactly what I'm going to do, but I'm not the President today. I've already laid out the international conference, the shared responsibilities between European and Arab countries, the more rapid training of Iraqi police and military. I think it's almost pathetic the rate at which we have done that. They [the Bush Administration]are hardly behaving like we're truly a country at war. It's pathetic that they left ammunition dumps and nuclear facilities unprotected.

They disbanded the Iraqi military. They didn't protect the borders. It's one of the most catastrophic jobs of management that I've ever seen.

TIME
Will you be more specific about timetables for getting troops out?

KERRY
I have said that I have a goal to be able to bring our troops out of there within my first term, and I hope to be able to bring out some troops within the first year. But what's important here is that I can fight a more effective war on terror. George Bush diverted the focus from Afghanistan. The 9/11 commission makes it clear that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, nothing to do with al-Qaeda. The war was against al-Qaeda and for getting justice for 9/11. George Bush diverted attention from that. And we're spending $200 billion over there [in Iraq] now that could have gone to schools in America, could have gone to after-school programs, could have gone to health care, could have gone to infrastructure.

TIME
Do you think President Bush shirked his duties during the Vietnam era?

KERRY
I'm focused on the issues of now and today. The White House can answer questions they need to answer. I've answered all the questions I'll answer.

TIME
How would you go about winning the war of ideas in the Middle East?

KERRY
What I intend to do is to put in play the economic power, the values and principles, the public diplomacy, so we're isolating the radical Islamic extremists and not having the radical extremists isolate the United States. It means bringing religious leaders together, including moderate mullahs, clerics, imams—pulling the world together in a dialogue about who these extremists really are and how they are hijacking the legitimacy of Islam itself. That takes leadership, and that leadership has not been put on the table.

You have almost 60% of the populations of Egypt and Saudi Arabia under 30, and 50% under 18. We have to engage in a way that offers them some alternative to the radical madrasahs that are educating them to hate and to go out and strap explosives around themselves.

They [the Bush Administration] haven't even engaged in a legitimate effort to try to really transform the ability of Israel to find a legitimate entity to negotiate with. The only thing they do is rattle the saber.

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