WASHINGTON - Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said he would be willing to launch a pre-emptive strike against terrorists if he had adequate intelligence of a threat.
Kerry on Friday offered some support for one of the most controversial aspects of President Bush's national security policy, even as he criticized the president for not reforming intelligence agencies after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"Am I prepared as president to go get them before they get us if we locate them and have the sufficient intelligence? You bet I am," he said at a news conference at his Washington headquarters.
The Bush administration laid out the doctrine of pre-emption months before the Iraq war began in March 2003. It argued that the United States cannot rely on its vast arsenal to deter attacks and must be willing to strike first against potential threats. Critics of the policy say the Iraq war shows how the country could be driven to war by flawed intelligence.
Kerry said the intelligence needs to be improved so that the word of a U.S. president "is good enough for people across the world again."
But he added, "I will never allow any other country to veto what we need to do and I will never allow any other institution to veto what we need to do to protect our nation."
Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt complained that Kerry proposed cuts in intelligence spending while in the Senate. "John Kerry's attack is another example of his flailing efforts to defend a record that is out of the mainstream," Schmidt said.
Kerry spoke one week after the Senate Intelligence Committee sharply criticized prewar intelligence on whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The report did not address Bush's role, but Kerry said, "as commander in chief, the president of the United States must take responsibility for what happens on his or her watch."
The four-term Massachusetts senator said that nearly three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, "this president has not taken action sufficient to fix the intelligence problems that have plagued us."
Outlining his own proposals, Kerry repeated his call for creating a director of central intelligence who would oversee all facets of the nation's intelligence operations. He also proposed at least doubling spending for clandestine operations, improving interagency coordination and accelerating reforms at the FBI to improve its handling of domestic intelligence.
But Kerry stopped short of supporting a proposal by his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, to create a new domestic intelligence agency similar to the British MI5 agency. Supporters of a new agency say the FBI has been more concerned historically about criminal investigations than intelligence; opponents fear a domestic spy agency threatening Americans' privacy.
Edwards made it clear later at a Democratic fund-raiser in Los Angeles that he had backed away from that approach, proposed during last winter's primary elections, and that Kerry's plan was "our plan."
He said the plan was "just plain common sense."
"It's been almost three hears since 9/11. It won't take us three years to put the reforms in place," Edwards vowed.
© Copyright 2004 Associated Press