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Kerry vows to strengthen U.S. military
Updated: 2004-07-30 09:08

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, moving to counter Republican charges he is weak on defense, pledged a stronger US military and unflinching use of force to safeguard the country.

U.S. Presidential nominee John Kerry stresses a point as he rehearses the speech he will give to delegates at the Democratic National Convention later in the day at the FleetCenter in Boston on Thursday, July 29, 2004. [AP Photo]
In advance excerpts of a keynote address, Kerry said he would not hesitate to strike back if the United States were attacked, but added that he would only approve military force if absolutely necessary.

"In these dangerous days there is a right way and a wrong way to be strong," Kerry said in the speech as prepared for delivery at the closing of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

"We need a strong military and we need to lead strong alliances," he said. "And then, with confidence and determination, we will be able to tell the terrorists: You will lose and we will win."

Kerry, who has repeatedly slammed President George W. Bush for squandering international goodwill by rushing to invade Iraq, stressed that there was a "right way and a wrong way" to be strong.

"Strength is more than tough words," he said. "We need to be looked up to and not just feared."

The emphasis on national security reflected the importance Democrats attach to making up some ground on an issue seen as one of Bush's main strengths.

Although a majority of Americans now believe that the war in Iraq was a mistake, polls repeatedly show voters still consider Bush a stronger leader than Kerry.

Thursday's speech, in which Kerry will formally accept the Democratic presidential nomination, has been touted as the senator's best chance to convince voters of his own leadership credentials.

"I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security," said Kerry. "I will build a stronger American military."

Referring to his decorated service in the Vietnam War, Kerry said he had defended his country as a young man, "and I will defend it as president."

The Massachusetts senator also vowed to "ask hard questions and demand hard evidence" -- something the Bush administration has been accused of failing to do prior to the invasion of Iraq.

On the same issue, Kerry said he would reform the intelligence system and move swiftly to implement the recommendations of the bipartisan commission that investigated the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Democrats believe the commission's report, which was released last week, provides useful ammunition against Bush, even though its conclusions cite a lack of preparedness stretching back to former president Bill Clinton's administration.

Describing this election as the "most important of our lifetime," Kerry suggested that not only had Bush dropped the ball in the war on terror, but also on the economy.

"Here at home, wages are falling, health care costs are rising, and our great middle class is shrinking," he said. "We can do better and we will. We're the optimists. For us, this is a country of the future. We're the can do people."

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