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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 28, 2005
President Discusses War on Terror
10:07 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Thank you all very much. Please be seated. Thanks for the warm welcome. Thanks for the chance to get out of Washington. (Laughter.)
It is great to be here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. (Applause.) You had a lot of history in this part of the world. This part of the country was home to the first English-speaking colony on the continent, birthplace of representative government in America, and the site of George Washington's victory in the Revolutionary War. I call him the first George W. (Laughter and applause.)
In the 21st century, the tradition of patriotism and freedom still runs strong here in the Hampton Roads. I know there's a lot of folks here in our military who live here, and I know there's a lot of veterans live here. So the first thing I want to say is to those who wear the uniform, this country is with you, and the Commander-in-Chief is incredibly proud of you. (Applause.) And to the veterans, thanks for setting such a good example. I'm proud of your service. (Applause.)
Dee, thanks for the introduction, and thanks for the invitation. I want to thank Jack Hornbeck, as well. I appreciate so very much the Senator from the great state, or the Commonwealth of Virginia, is here, George Allen. Thanks for coming, George. (Applause.) And Congresswoman Thelma Drake is with us. Thanks for coming. I appreciate you being here, honored you're here. (Applause.)
Mayor, thanks for coming. I appreciate Mayor Fraim. Here's here from the city of Norfolk. He's a -- the only thing I told him is -- he didn't ask for my advice, but I gave it anyway, I said, fill the potholes. (Laughter and applause.) Thanks for serving. I appreciate you're serving, Mayor. Thanks for greeting me today. I want to thank all the local and state officials who've joined us.
I want to thank the military commanders who are here: Lieutenant General Anthony Jones, and Lieutenant General Mark Curran, Lieutenant General Bob Wagner, Major General Jim Soligan. Thank you all for being here.
John McCarthy, Major General McCarthy of the Marine Corps; Rear Admiral John Acton; Rear Admiral Steve Turcotte -- I'm honored you all took time to come.
I appreciate the foreign officers here. I appreciate you being here. I appreciate the jointness that we're working on, and the transformation they're working on together to make sure that we're able to keep the peace. This is an important mission. I want to thank Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope. He's the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of Transformation in the United Kingdom's Royal Navy. I appreciate Lieutenant General Michel Maisonneuve*. She's in the Canadian Air Force. She's NATO Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander Transformation Chief of Staff. Thank you all for being here. Thanks for being such strong allies in the cause of peace. (Applause.)
I appreciate the vibrancy of the community in which you live. This is a good place to live. It's a good place to find work. It's a good place to realize your dreams. It's a place where people understand that in order to make sure that our society stays vibrant and people can realize their dreams, we got to face squarely the threats that our nation deals with. People here, I think, understand this fact -- that America is engaged in the first war of the 21st century, and that the stakes could not be higher.
On the morning of September the 11, 2001, we saw the destruction that terrorists intend for this nation. We know they want to strike again. And our nation has made a clear choice: We will confront this mortal danger to all humanity. And we will not tire and we will not rest until the war on terror is won. (Applause.)
In the four years since September the 11th, the evil that reached our shores has reappeared on other days, in other places -- in Mombasa and Casablanca and Riyadh and Jakarta and Istanbul and Madrid, in Beslan and Taba and Netanya and Baghdad, and elsewhere. In the past few months, we have seen a new terror offensive with attacks on London, and Sharm el-Sheikh, and a deadly bombing in Bali once again.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mr. President, war is terror.
THE PRESIDENT: All these separate images of destruction and suffering that we see on the news can seem like random and isolated acts of madness. Innocent men, women, and children have died simply because they boarded the wrong train, or worked in the wrong building. They have died because they checked into the wrong hotel. Yet while the killers choose their victims indiscriminately, their attacks serve a clear and focused ideology -- a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane.
Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; and still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent and political vision: the establishment, by terrorism, subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Hindus and Jews -- and also against Muslims who do not share their radical vision, whom they regard as heretics.
Many militants are part of a global, borderless terrorist organizations like al Qaeda -- which spreads propaganda and provides financing and technical assistance to local extremists, and conducts dramatic and brutal operations like the attacks of September the 11th. Other militants are found in regional groups, often associated with al Qaeda -- paramilitary insurgencies and separatist movements in places like Somalia, the Philippines and Pakistan and Chechnya and Kashmir and Algeria. Still others spring up in local cells -- inspired by Islamic radicalism, but not centrally controlled or directed. Islamic radicalism is more like a loose network with military branches than an army under a single command. Yet these operatives, fighting on scattered battlefields, share a similar ideology and vision for our world.
First, these extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace, and we stand in the way of their ambitions. Al Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden, has called on Muslims to dedicate, their "resources, sons and money to driving the infidels out of their lands." The tactics of al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists have been consistent for a quarter-century: They hit us, and they expect us to run. Earlier this month, the world learned of a letter written by al Qaeda's number two leader, a man named Zawahiri. He wrote this letter to his chief deputy in Iraq -- the terrorist Zarqawi. In it, Zawahiri points to the Vietnam War as a model for al Qaeda. Zawahiri writes, "The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam -- and how they ran and left their agents -- is noteworthy." The terrorists witnessed a similar response after the attacks on American troops in Beirut in 1983 and Mogadishu in 1993. They believe that America can be made to run again -- only this time on a larger scale, with greater consequences.
Second, the militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country -- a base from which to launch attacks and to conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments. Over the past few decades, radicals have specifically targeted Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and Jordan for potential takeover. They achieved their goal, for a time, in Afghanistan. And now they have set their sights on Iraq. In his recent letter, Zawahiri writes that al Qaeda views Iraq as, "the place for the greatest battle." The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. And we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war against terror.
Third, these militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia. Zawahiri writes that the terrorists, "must not have their mission end with the expulsion of Americans from Iraq." He goes on to say: "[T]he jihad ... requires several incremental goals. ... Expel the Americans from Iraq. ... Establish an Islamic authority over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq... Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq." With the greater economic, military and political power they seek, the terrorists would be able to advance their stated agenda: to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, to assault the American people, and to blackmail our government into isolation.
Some might be tempted to dismiss these goals as fanatical or extreme. They are fanatical and extreme, but they should not be dismissed. Our enemy is utterly committed. As Zawahiri [sic] has vowed, "We will either achieve victory over the human race or we will pass to the eternal life." And the civilized world knows very well that other fanatics in history, from Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot, consumed whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history. Evil men, obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience, must be taken very seriously -- and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply. (Applause.)
Defeating the militant network is difficult, because it thrives, like a parasite, on the suffering and frustration of others. The radicals exploit local conflicts to build a culture of victimization, in which someone else is always to blame and violence is always the solution. They exploit resentful and disillusioned young men and women -- recruiting them through radical mosques as pawns of terror. And they exploit modern technology to multiply their destructive power. Instead of attending far-away training camps, recruits can now access online training libraries to learn how to build a roadside bomb or fire a rocket-propelled grenade -- and this further spreads the threat of violence, even within peaceful democratic societies.
The influence of Islamic radicalism is also magnified by helpers and enablers. They have been sheltered by authoritarian regimes -- allies of convenience like Syria and Iran -- that share the goal of hurting America and moderate Muslim governments, and that use terrorist propaganda to blame their own failures on the West, on America, and on the Jews. The radicals depend on front operations, such as corrupted charities, which direct money to terrorist activity. They are strengthened by those who aggressively fund the spread of radical and intolerant versions of Islam in unstable parts of the world. The militants are aided as well by elements of the Arab news media that incite hatred and anti-Semitism, that feed conspiracy theories, and speak of a so-called American "war on Islam" -- with seldom a word about American action to protect Muslims in Afghanistan, and Bosnia, and Somalia, and Kosovo, and Kuwait, and Iraq, and with seldom a word about our generous assistance to Muslims recovering from natural disasters in places like Indonesia and Pakistan.
Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our Coalition in Iraq -- claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals. I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 -- and al Qaeda attacked us anyway. (Applause.) The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse. The government of Russia did not support Operation Iraqi Freedom -- and yet the militants killed more than 150 Russian schoolchildren in Beslan. Over the years these extremists have used a litany of excuses for violence -- the Israeli presence on the West Bank, or the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia, or the defeat of the Taliban, or the Crusades of a thousand years ago.
In fact, we're not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We're facing a radical ideology with inalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No act of ours invited the rage of killers -- and no consequence, bribe, or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans of murder. On the contrary: they target nations whose behavior they believe they can change through violence. Against such an enemy, there is only one effective response: We will never back down, never give in, and never accept anything less than complete victory. (Applause.)
The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals is the great challenge of our new century. Yet in many ways, this fight resembles the struggle against communism in the last century.
Like the ideology of communism, Islamic radicalism is elitist -- led by a self-appointed vanguard that presumes to speak for the Muslim masses. Bin Laden says his own role is to tell Muslims, "what is good for them and what is not." And what this man who grew up in wealth and privilege considers good for poor Muslims is that they become killers and suicide bombers. He assures them that this is the road to paradise -- though he never offers to go along for the ride. (Laughter.)
Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy teaches that innocent individuals can be sacrificed to serve a political vision. And this explains their cold-blooded contempt for human life. We have seen it in the murders of Daniel Pearl, Nicholas Berg, and Margaret Hassan, and many others. In a courtroom in the Netherlands, the killer of Theo Van Gogh turned to the victim's grieving mother and said, "I don't feel your pain, because I believe you are an infidel." And in spite of this veneer of religious rhetoric, most of the victims claimed by the militants are fellow Muslims. In an al Qaeda attack on two Baghdad hotels this week, the targets were journalists and innocent Iraqis. When unsuspecting hotel guests are blown up in their rooms, or 25 Iraqi children are killed in a bombing, or Iraqi teachers are executed at their schools, or hospital workers are killed caring for the wounded, this is murder, pure and simple -- the total rejection of justice and honor and morality and religion. (Applause.) These militants are not just the enemies of America or the enemies of Iraq, they are the enemies of Islam and the enemies of humanity. And we have seen this kind of shameless cruelty before -- in the heartless zealotry that led to the gulags, the Cultural Revolution, and the killing fields.
Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy pursues totalitarian aims. Its leaders pretend to be an aggrieved party, representing the powerless against imperial enemies. In truth, they have endless ambitions of imperial domination -- and they wish to make everyone powerless except themselves. Under their rule, they have banned books, and desecrated historical monuments, and brutalized women. They seek to end dissent in every form, to control every aspect of life, and to rule the soul itself. While promising a future of justice and holiness, the terrorists are preparing a future of oppression and misery.
Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy is dismissive of free peoples -- claiming that men and women who live in liberty are weak and decadent. Zarqawi has said that Americans are, "the most cowardly of God's creatures." But let us be clear. It is cowardice that seeks to kill children and the elderly with car bombs, and cuts the throat of a bound captive, and targets worshipers leaving a mosque. It is courage that liberated more than 50 million people from tyranny. It is courage that keeps an untiring vigil against the enemies of a rising democracy. And it is courage in the cause of freedom that will once again destroy the enemies of freedom. (Applause.)
And Islamic radicalism, like the ideology of communism, contains inherent contradictions that doom it to failure. By fearing freedom -- by distrusting human creativity, and punishing change, and limiting the contributions of half of the population -- this ideology undermines the very qualities that make human progress possible, and human societies successful. The only thing modern about the militants' vision is the weapons they want to use against us. The rest of their grim vision is defined by a warped image of the past -- a declaration of war on the idea of progress itself. And whatever lies ahead in the war against this ideology, the outcome is not in doubt: those who despise freedom and progress have condemned themselves to isolation, decline, and collapse. Because free peoples believe in the future, free peoples will own the future. (Applause.)
We didn't ask for this global struggle, but we are answering history's call with confidence, and a comprehensive strategy. Defeating a broad and adaptive network requires patience and constant pressure and strong partners in Europe, in the Middle East, and North Africa, and Asia and beyond. Working with these partners, we are disrupting militant conspiracies, destroying their ability to make war, and are working to give millions in a troubled region of the world a hopeful alternative to resentment and violence.
First, we're determined to prevent the attacks of terrorist networks before they occur. We are reorganizing the government to give this nation a broad and coordinated homeland defense. We are reforming our intelligence agencies for the incredibly difficult task of tracking enemy activity -- based on information that often comes in small fragments from widely scattered sources, both here and abroad. And we're acting, along with governments from many countries, to destroy the terrorist networks and incapacitate their leaders.
Together with our coalition partners, we have disrupted a number of serious al Qaeda plots since September the 11th -- including several al Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States. Our coalition against terror has killed or captured nearly all those directly responsible for the September the 11th attacks; we've killed or captured most of bin Laden's most senior deputies; al Qaeda's managers and operatives in more than 24 countries; the mastermind of the U.S.S. Cole bombing, who was the chief al Qaeda operations -- chief of al Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf; we captured the mastermind of the bombings in Jakarta and Bali; a senior Zarqawi terrorist planner, who was planning attacks in Turkey; and many of al Qaeda's senior leaders in Saudi Arabia. Because of this steady progress, the enemy is wounded, but the enemy is still capable of global operations. Our commitment is clear: We will not relent until the organized international terror networks are exposed and broken, and until their leaders are held to account for their murder. (Applause.)
Secondly, we're determined to deny weapons of mass destruction to outlaw regimes, and to their terrorist allies who would use them without hesitation. The United States, working with Great Britain and Pakistan and other nations, has exposed and disrupted a major black-market operation in nuclear technology led by A.Q. Khan. Libya has abandoned its chemical and nuclear weapons programs, as well as its long-range ballistic missiles. And in the last year, America and our partners in the Proliferation Security Initiative have stopped more than a dozen shipments of suspected weapons technology -- including equipment for Iran's ballistic missile program. This progress has reduced the danger to free nations, but it has not removed it. Evil men who want to use horrendous weapons against us are working in deadly earnest to gain them. And we are working urgently to keep weapons of mass murder out of the hands of the fanatics.
Third, we're determined to deny radical groups the support and sanctuary of outlaw regimes. State sponsors like Syria and Iran have a long history of collaboration with terrorists -- and they deserve no patience from the victims of terror. The United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and those who support and harbor them -- because they are equally guilty of murder. (Applause.)
Fourth, we're determined to deny the militants control of any nation, which they would use as a home base and a launching pad for terror. This mission has brought new and urgent responsibilities to our Armed Forces -- and to all of you. American troops are fighting beside Afghan partners with [sic] remnants of the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies. We are working with President Musharraf to oppose and isolate the militants in Pakistan. We're fighting the regime remnants and terrorists in Iraq. The terrorist goal is to overthrow a rising democracy, claim a strategic country as a haven for terror, destabilize the Middle East, and strike America and free nations with ever-increasing violence. That's their goal. Our goal is to defeat the terrorists and their allies at the heart of their power -- so we will defeat the enemy in Iraq. (Applause.)
Our coalition, along with our Iraqi allies, is moving forward with a comprehensive plan. As Secretary Rice explained last week, our strategy is to clear, hold, and build. We are working to clear areas from terrorist control, to hold those areas securely, and to build lasting and democratic Iraqi institutions. In recent weeks, American and Iraqi troops have conducted several major assaults to clear out enemy fighters in Western Iraq, and to help shut down terrorist entry routes from Syria. During one raid, our forces killed a Zarqawi henchman named Abu Abdullah, who was responsible for attacks on American troops and innocent Iraqis. We also killed a terrorist named Abu Dua, who had been helping terrorists enter Iraq from Syria. Thousands of Iraqi forces have been participating in our operations, and many have remained in the cities along with coalition forces to hold onto our gains and prevent the enemy from returning. Iraqi forces are using their local expertise to maintain security, and make tangible improvements in the lives of their fellow Iraqis.
At the same time, Iraqis are making inspiring progress toward building a lasting democracy. Earlier this month, millions of Iraqis turned out to vote on a constitution that guarantees fundamental freedoms and lays the foundation for lasting democracy. And this week the Iraqi elections commission certified passage of that constitution. Many more Sunnis participated in this vote than in January's historic elections, and the level of violence was dramatically lower. With their courageous vote, the Iraqis have once again proved their determination to build a democracy united against extremism and violence. An 85-year-old Iraqi woman cast a ballot in favor of the constitution after her son carried her to the polls on his back. And here's what she said, "I went out to vote for it because I want the future to be safe and peaceful for my sons and my grandchildren."
The work ahead involves great risk for Iraqis and for American and coalition forces. We have lost some of the nation's finest men and women in the war on terror. Each of these men and women left grieving families and left loved ones back home. Each of these patriots left a legacy that will allow generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty. Each loss is heartbreaking. And the best way to honor the sacrifices of our fallen troops is to complete the mission and lay the foundation of peace by spreading freedom. (Applause.)
Wars are not won without sacrifice -- and this war will require more sacrifice, more time, and more resolve. The terrorists are as brutal an enemy as we have ever faced -- unconstrained by any notion of common humanity or by the rules of warfare. No one should underestimate the difficulties ahead -- nor should they overlook the advantages we bring to this fight.
Some observers look at the job ahead and adopt a self-defeating pessimism. It is not justified. With every random bombing and with every funeral of a child, it becomes more clear that the extremists are not patriots or resistance fighters -- they are murderers at war with the Iraqi people themselves. In contrast, the elected leaders of Iraq are proving to be strong and steadfast. By any standard or precedent of history, Iraq has made incredible political progress -- from tyranny, to liberation, to national elections, to the ratification of a constitution -- in the space of two-and-a-half years. With our help, the Iraqi military is gaining new capabilities and new confidence with every passing month. At the time of our Fallujah operations nearly a year ago, there were only a few Iraqi army battalions in combat. Today there are nearly 90 Iraqi army battalions fighting the terrorists alongside our forces. General David Petraeus says, "Iraqis are in the fight. They are fighting and dying for their country, and they are fighting increasingly well," he says. The progress isn't easy, but it is steady. And no fair-minded person should ignore or deny or dismiss the achievements of the Iraqi people. (Applause.)
Some observers question the durability of democracy in Iraq. They underestimate the power and appeal of freedom. We've heard it suggested that Iraq's democracy must be on shaky ground, because Iraqis are arguing with each other. (Laughter.) But that's the essence of democracy: you make your case, you debate with those you disagree with, you build a consensus by persuasion, and you answer to the will of the people. (Applause.) We've heard it said that the Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds of Iraq are too divided to form a lasting democracy. In fact, democratic federalism is the best hope for unifying a diverse population -- because a federal constitutional system respects the rights and religious traditions of all citizens, while giving all minorities, including the Sunnis, a stake and a voice in the future of their country. (Applause.) It is true that the seeds of freedom have only recently been planted in Iraq, but democracy, when it grows, is not a fragile flower, it's a healthy, sturdy tree. As Americans, we believe that people everywhere prefer freedom to slavery, and that liberty, once chosen, improves the lives of all. And so we're confident: As our coalition and the Iraqi people each do their part, Iraqi democracy will succeed. (Applause.)
Some observers also claim that America would be better off by cutting our losses and leaving Iraq now. This is a dangerous illusion, refuted with a simple question: Would the United States and other free nations be more safe, or less safe, with Zarqawi and bin Laden in control of Iraq, its people, and its resources? Having removed a dictator who hated free peoples, we will not stand by as a new set of killers -- dedicated to the destruction of our country -- seizes control of Iraq by violence. (Applause.) There is always a temptation, in the middle of a long struggle, to seek the quiet life, to escape the duties and problems in the world, and to hope the enemy grows weary of fanaticism and tired of murder. That would be a pleasant world -- but it's not the world we live in. The enemy is never tired, never sated, never content with yesterday's brutality. This enemy considers every retreat of the civilized world as an invitation to greater violence. In Iraq, there is no peace without victory -- and so we will keep our nerve and win that victory. (Applause.)
The fifth element of our strategy in the war on terror is to deny the militants future recruits by replacing hatred and resentment with democracy and hope across the broader Middle East. This is a difficult and long-term project, yet there is no alternative to it. Our future and the future of that region are linked. If the broader Middle East is left to grow in bitterness -- if countries remain in misery, while radicals stir the resentments of millions -- then that part of the world will be a source of endless conflict and mounting danger, in our generation and for the next. If the peoples of that region are permitted to choose their own destiny, and advance by their own energy and participation as free men and women, then the extremists will be marginalized, and the flow of violent radicalism to the rest of the world will slow, and eventually end. By standing for the hope and freedom of others, we make our own freedom more secure. (Applause.)
America is making this stand in practical ways. We are encouraging our friends in the Middle East, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to take the path of reform -- to strengthen their own societies in the fight against terror by respecting the rights and choices of their people. We are standing with dissidents and exiles against oppressive regimes, because we know that the dissidents of today will be the democratic leaders of tomorrow. We are making our case through public diplomacy -- stating clearly and confidently our belief in self-determination, and the rule of law, and religious freedom, and equal rights for women -- beliefs that are right and true in every land, and in every culture.
And as we do our part to confront radicalism, we know that the most vital work will be done within the Islamic world itself. And this work has begun. Many Muslim scholars have publicly condemned terrorism, often citing chapter 5, verse 32 of the Koran, which states that killing an innocent human being is like killing all of humanity, and saving the life of one person is like saving all of humanity. After the attacks in London on July the 7th, an imam in the United Arab Emirates declared, "Whoever does such a thing is not a Muslim, nor a religious person." The time has come for all responsible Islamic leaders to join in denouncing an ideology that exploits Islam for political ends, and defiles a noble faith.
Many people of the Muslim faith are proving their commitment at great personal risk. Everywhere we have engaged the fight against extremism, Muslim allies have stood up and joined the fight, becoming partners in a vital cause. Afghan troops are in combat against Taliban remnants. Iraqi soldiers are sacrificing to defeat al Qaeda in their country. These brave citizens know the stakes -- the survival of their own liberty, the future of their own region, the justice and humanity of their own tradition -- and we are proud to stand beside them. (Applause.)
With the rise of a deadly enemy and the unfolding of a global ideological struggle, our time in history will be remembered for new challenges and unprecedented dangers. And yet the fight we have joined is also the current expression of an ancient struggle -- between those who put their faith in dictators, and those who put their faith in the people. Throughout history, tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that murder is justified to serve their grand vision -- and they end up alienating decent people across the globe. Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that regimented societies are strong and pure -- until those societies collapse in corruption and decay. And tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that free men and women are weak and decadent --until the day that free men and women defeat them.
We don't know the course of our own struggle, where it will take us, or the sacrifices that might lie ahead. But we do know, however, that the defense of freedom is worth our sacrifice. We do know the love of freedom is the mightiest force of history. And we do know the cause of freedom will once again prevail. (Applause.)
Thank you for having me. May God bless you all.
END 10:52 A.M. EDT