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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
November 2, 2007
Vice President's Remarks to the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth
12:30 P.M. CDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you all very much. I brought Lynne with me today -- Lynne. (Applause.) And with a reception like that, it's almost enough to make me want to run for office again. (Laughter.) I said, almost, almost. (Laughter.)
Well, we're delighted to be back in Dallas, and have the opportunity to renew old friendships. Lynne and I got here yesterday, of course. It's always great to come back to a place that we used to call home, and where we still have many, many friends. And we're delighted to see so many here today.
This is truly one of the great cities in America, as we know first-hand; a terrific place to live and to work. I enjoyed my time as a businessman in Dallas, and in those years running Halliburton I thought the political life was behind me. Then, as you'll remember, in 2000 Governor Bush asked me to help him find a running mate, and boy, did I deliver. (Laughter.)
Becoming Vice President was an unexpected turn of events for me, but I realize that I'm not the first Vice President with a Texas connection. Others have had even stronger ties to the state, including, of course, George Bush, Lyndon Johnson, and one of the most colorful characters ever to hold the office, one of my heroes, John Nance Garner, who served under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In a long career Garner rose to be Speaker of the House of Representatives, which he loved, and Vice President -- which he did not. The Vice Presidency, he said, wasn't worth a "bucket of warm spit." (Laughter.) I guess they didn't have Air Force Two back then. (Laughter.)
But after two terms presiding over the Senate, Garner came back to Texas and he did a lot more living. In fact he was the longest-living Vice President in history. So far. (Laughter.) He made it almost to one hundred years. And when he reached the age of 90, somebody asked him the secret to his longevity. Garner replied: "Bourbon and water." (Laughter.) A few years later, he announced that the secret to his continued longevity was, "Laying off bourbon and water."
Garner, and perhaps others, might not have fully enjoyed the Vice Presidency. But for my part I can say it's been an experience beyond compare. Lynne and I are humbled by the honor of the office and grateful for the opportunity to serve. And we both count it a privilege to work alongside two distinguished Texans in the White House, George and Laura Bush. (Applause.) And we bring good wishes to each and every one of you from the President and the First Lady.
I want to thank the board and the staff of the World Affairs Council for the invitation to share a few thoughts this afternoon, and then to hear from you your questions. Foreign policy and the state of our world should engage the mind of every concerned citizen. And when we talk about it, the standard ought to be one of intelligence, and candor, and fair-mindedness. On that score, the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth does very well, indeed. The Council this year received the top honor of the World Affairs Councils of America. I want to commend you for the honor, and for creating such an important, vibrant, influential forum right here in Dallas.
As we meet today, President Bush is with our soldiers at the Army Training Center in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. With boots on the ground more than 6,000 miles away, many of them in daily if not hourly combat, we're reminded of how much the Armed Forces really mean to America. From Texas, we've had excellent medical units from Sam Houston, and combat units from Fort Hood, Fort Bliss, and Dyess Air Force Base. The workers at the Red River Army Depot refurbish equipment to keep our deployed units fully equipped. We're grateful to all who serve, and to their families, and to the communities that support them. The military is doing a superb job for this country. We must never take them for granted. (Applause.)
In two theaters of the war on terror -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- American forces continue to fight against enemies that are as ruthless as they are determined. The ideological struggle that's playing out in the broader Middle East -- the struggle against radical extremists who have declared war on us -- will concern America for the remainder of our administration, certainly, and well into the future. Our country's great advantages -- which include military power, the skill of our personnel, and the rightness of our cause -- are necessary, but alone they are not sufficient to achieve victory. We must also maintain the will to see the mission through. And we must maintain a clear understanding in our own minds of the consequences of success versus the consequences of failure.
It's a critical hour in Iraq, as General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, backed up by a surge in American forces, carry out our new offensive strategy. It's an important point to emphasize that we're not just talking about more troops in Iraq, but about a new strategy to secure that country and to set the conditions for political reconciliation.
The strategy is working. Even though we have more troops carrying out more perilous missions -- that is, more engagements involving intense, close-in fighting -- our casualty rates are actually declining. While General Petraeus has made clear that al Qaeda remains a lethal enemy, many al Qaeda sanctuaries have been wiped out. More weapons caches have been seized and destroyed -- and some of these have been quite large. And most all of them would have been used to harm innocent Iraqis, and our own men and women in uniform.
One decisive element is that locals are getting into the fight. Anbar province, for example, was a place that some considered lost just a year ago. But people are sick of the violence, repelled by the mindless and merciless actions of al Qaeda in Iraq. The tribes in Anbar now see al Qaeda as the enemy, and they've worked with Iraqi and American forces to drive the terrorists from their cities.
General Petraeus is using reinforcements from the surge to bring similar progress to other parts of Iraq. In Baghdad, for example, the security environment is far better than it was a year ago. American and Iraqi forces are patrolling and living among the people they protect, and that's helped to build confidence in the neighborhoods. So the locals, in turn, are more willing to provide good intelligence -- telling us where weapons are kept, when attacks are planned, where the bad guys are hiding -- because they know we're there to help and that we won't leave them hung out to dry.
Now, with security improving, we expect Iraq's national government to press harder in the work of national reconciliation to match the kind of cooperation that is now taking place at local and provincial levels. We'll continue, as well, our intensive effort to train Iraqi security forces, so that over time the Iraqis can take the lead in protecting their people. As that happens, we'll be able to transfer ever more security functions from American forces to the Iraqis.
As our commanders will tell you, there are still areas where it's tough going -- and in some of those, it is really tough. So the work goes on in Iraq. And the debate goes on here at home. Five years ago, we debated whether to go into Iraq and take down Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. Congress responded by authorizing the use of force, and we went into that battle united in our convictions and in our assumptions.
This year, the big debate in Congress has been whether to cut off the mission in Iraq, either by de-funding the troops, or by immediate withdrawal, or by withdrawal according to a strict time line. These proposals rest on one of two flawed premises. The first is that the war is over, and, by implication, that America lost it. The second, which probably has more adherents, is the notion that the war is still winnable, but that it simply doesn't matter to America's security whether we succeed or fail. The President and I strongly disagree with both of those propositions. We believe the outcome in Iraq does matter, and we believe the stakes are very high.
History provides its own lessons, and one of those is the example of Afghanistan in the 1980s. During those years, of course, Afghanistan was a major front in the Cold War, as we supported efforts against the Soviets, who had moved into Afghanistan as an occupying force. We were successful. The strategic significance was clear to all, and we were heavily engaged. But when the Soviet Union collapsed and withdrew from Afghanistan, virtually everybody walked away.
From that point forward, we began to see extremist factions vie for power. Civil war followed. The Taliban took control, they offered safe haven to Osama bin Laden in 1996, and opened up terrorist training camps across the country that trained some 20,000 terrorists by the end of the decade, including those who came here on 9/11 and killed 3,000 Americans.
The consequences of walking away from Afghanistan were severe, but it perhaps was possible to understand that nobody foresaw them. But no one now can plead ignorance of the potential consequences of walking away from Iraq, of withdrawing coalition forces before Iraqis can defend themselves or control their own sovereign territory. If we were to do so, moderates would be crushed as extreme groups pushed the country toward chaos. Competing factions -- including al Qaeda and militias backed by outsiders, such as the Iranians -- could unloose an all-out war, with the violence unlikely to be contained within the borders of Iraq. The ensuing carnage would further destabilize the Middle East and magnify the threat to our friends in the region, as well as provide a potential safe haven for terrorists to once again repeat those devastating attacks against the United States and our friends and allies.
Every tyrant -- in that region and well beyond -- would take note of our failed resolve, and friend and foe alike would decide that America's word cannot be trusted. This would only dissipate much of the effort that's already gone into fighting the global war on terror, and the blows would rain down heavily on those who had had the courage to stand with America in this conflict.
We, the people of the United States, would bear the consequences as well, because a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would validate al Qaeda's belief that we lack the stomach for the fight, that we lack the patience to complete this mission; the belief that with enough violence, they can break our will and force us to retreat. It's absolutely, clearly, in our national security interest not to allow that to happen.
As I listen to the arguments, I haven't heard many voices denying these consequences, so much as they ignore the consequences, or downplay them. But those of us in positions of responsibility cannot ignore the plain and foreseeable effects of abandoning this mission, and losing a fight simply by quitting.
Nor should we downplay the consequences of success in Iraq. These, too, are significant, and will have direct impact on our future security. The war on terror is a test of our national will, but it does not have to be an endless war. We will prevail in the long run by holding up an alternative to the ideologies of hatred and resentment. And as President Bush has said, so long as the Middle East "remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export." We have an answer to those ideologies, and that answer is freedom -- the right of men and women to choose their own leaders and to chart their own destiny.
From the very beginning we had confidence that the Iraqi people, like the Afghan people, would, if given the chance, turn out in large numbers to vote, to ratify a constitution, to elect a free government, and to defend their own country. They've done exactly that. We stand with them, as we have with other young democracies in earlier times, to consolidate hard-won gains. A free, democratic Iraq will be a strategic partner in the heart of the Middle East, helping us fight and win the war on terror. (Applause.)
It will send a message, as well, to moderates throughout the region. From Syria to Lebanon to Iran, advocates for democracy and human rights will take heart, and will be reassured that the free world is not indifferent to their fate or to their future. And as hopes rise in the Middle East, a vital and troubled region can move in the direction of peace and stability.
History will hand down its judgments. But right now it is for us to live and to write that history in the choices we make and in the promises we keep. And we can be proud of our country. The world is often untidy and dangerous. But for millions who suffer under tyranny, or who struggle to maintain newly won freedom, there would be little hope without the active involvement of the United States of America. (Applause.)
As much as a nation of influence, we are a nation of character. And that sets us apart from so many of the great powers of history -- from ancient empires to the expansionist regimes of the last century. We're a superpower that has moral commitments and ideals that we not only proclaim, but act upon. Our purposes in this world are good and right. We have confidence in ourselves. We have faith in our cause. And despite all the difficulties, we are turning events toward victory.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Q Why are Russia and China America's allies when both countries hinder the efforts to sanction Iran, support the insurgents in Iraq, and continue to enhance their arsenals, and do not support the war on terror?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I would make a distinction between what we ordinarily think of as allies. There -- it comes to mind, obviously, for example, our friends in NATO. Those nations that have signed on and joined us, creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- that's most of Europe now; it's the Brits and the Germans and the Italians and many, many others -- Poland and the countries of Eastern Europe -- I define those as allies. They're -- we're committed to come to one another's cause in the event that any of us should be attacked.
And when I look at the situation with respect to China and Russia, I would use a different term, in terms of describing those relationships. I don't believe they're allies in the traditional sense. I also don't believe they're enemies, in the traditional sense. We're at a state with respect to both nations where we have very important relationships, where it's important those relationships be well managed to going forward. I'm not always happy with the policy decisions they make. And we work to try to improve their performance. I'm sure they have their disagreements with us, as well, too.
But I think the challenge -- one of the challenge, clearly, moving forward, in the course of the next few administrations, will be to do everything we can to see to it that those relationships work out to our national interest. And part of that test, obviously, is whether or not they're willing to step up and be counted in the efforts to get Iran to give up its aspirations to be able to enrich uranium to produce nuclear weapons.
And both China and Russia have a role to play. They're both members of the U.N. Security Council. They're not the only ones who have a role to play. The entire international community has a stake in seeing to it that we come together and that we persuade the Iranians peacefully to give up their aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons. But clearly a big part of the burden will rest on the Chinese and the Russians because they have those seats on the U.N. Security and have the ability to veto a policy going forward if they don't support it.
Q Critics say our interest in the Middle East is all about oil. Please explain how our national interest is connected to access to oil, not just to benefit the oil companies.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we are -- we're not engaged, in the policies we pursue, to benefit any one particular economic enterprise or company. That's not the way our government works. Other governments do business that way; we don't. But I think it is important for us to recognize that the part of the world where we are engaged with respect to the Middle East, obviously, among other things, is primarily the repository of most of the world's oil reserves. That's just a fact of life.
It's also a fact of life that we consume about 20 million barrels a day, a majority of which we import. So we have a stake, obviously, in being able to continue to get access to that resource. Our economy runs on oil, and that's likely to be true for a considerable, additional period of time to come.
There's nothing wrong with looking at a situation and saying, we've got a variety of interests, one of which is making certain we have adequate supplies of energy to run our economy, as important considerations in forming policy. But we did not go into the Middle East -- we didn't go into Afghanistan, for example, because of oil. Afghanistan hasn't got any oil. We went into Afghanistan and we're heavily involved in the region -- the point I like to remind people -- is because of the threat to the United States.
And before 9/11, we could retreat behind our oceans and believe we were safe and secure here at home, and that was generally true. But what 9/11 taught us was that 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters could come into the United States, having planned and organized their attack in remote parts of Afghanistan, could come into the United States, into Washington and New York, and in a couple of hours on a September morning kill 3,000 Americans. If anybody thought we could continue to operate on the basis that we didn't care what happened in that part of the world I think should have had that notion put to rest by the events of 9/11.
And after 9/11, and given our concerns about the possibility of al Qaeda acquiring deadlier technology, weapons of mass destruction, et cetera, it became more important than ever, we believed, to aggressively go after those terrorists, to go after those who provide sanctuary and safe harbor for terrorists, to go after those who might provide the terrorists with deadlier weapons than they've ever used before, and that meant we had to go be actively and aggressively involved in the Middle East -- in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in other countries out there where we are cooperating with the host governments.
But to suggest that the only reason we're involved is because of oil, I think, is -- simply isn't true.
Q We've had a number of questions along these lines about America's image in the world. In the battle for the hearts and minds of people in the world who do not support al Qaeda, but do not necessarily support the United States, which are the best tools to bring them over to our side: invading countries like Iraq or Iran, or sitting down and talking with leaders and listening to what they have to say?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I would love to have one giant peace conference, to see our adversaries come sit down on the other side of the table, and negotiate a treaty here -- like we did at the end of World War II onboard the USS Missouri -- and have the problem solved. Nobody gets hurt, nobody has to commit military forces any place, no young men and women are put at risk. That would be great.
That's not the kind of enemy we're dealing with. And we ignore the character and the strategy and the objectives of our adversaries -- in this case, al Qaeda -- at our own peril. You know, this is not a group that signed the Geneva Convention. They don't abide by the laws of war. They are involved in a -- an objective, a strategic objective, that is aimed at recreating the old seventh-century caliphate, with its capital in Baghdad and with a purview over the world, from Spain through the Mediterranean, across the Middle East, down around through South Asia, all the way over to Indonesia. They are prepared to use any means necessary in order to achieve that objective, and their preferred option is violence -- and the bloodier the better. The more innocents they can kill, the more successful they consider themselves. And they're obviously perfectly prepared to die in the process.
The idea that if we just sit down and reason together these folks are going to suddenly overnight turn into peace-loving friends -- or not even friends, just competitive adversaries who are willing to give up their evil ways -- I just think is a fallacious notion.
They are absolutely convinced that they can break our will. They don't believe they can beat us in a stand-up fight. They never have. But that's not their strategy. Their strategy is based on past experience. They're convinced, for example, that after they killed 241 Marines in Beirut in 1983, that we gave up and withdrew from Lebanon; or 1993 when we lost 19 soldiers in Mogadishu -- we in turn withdrew from Somalia. They're convinced they can change U.S. policy if they just kill enough of us. They're convinced they can drive us out of the Middle East, that they can destroy Israel, that they can acquire bases of operation from which they can go against all those governments in that part of the world that disagree with them if they just murder enough people. They behead people on television and then put the video of it up on the Internet so that everybody can see what they've done.
Now, for us to operate on the assumption that we don't need to resort to force, that we don't need to use our military and intelligence capabilities to aggressively go after them, is to commit us to a strategy that simply, simply will not work. I'm convinced, and a great many people are, that the only way to end this conflict on our terms is to destroy the enemy. (Applause.) And that means actively and aggressively going after al Qaeda. So that's what we're doing.
Q Sir, how do you feel about the recent implications of a possible Turkish invasion into the Kurdish region of Iraq?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Into Iraq? Well, there's a historic conflict, obviously, between the Turks and the Kurds. We're working aggressively to try to avoid having it any more inflamed than it already is. Secretary Rice is in Istanbul this weekend on another assignment that she'll be actively working on this issue. And Prime Minister Erdogan will be in Washington on Monday for meetings with the President to see if we can't get this resolved so that Turkey is not attacked by PKK terrorists who operate out of Iraq against the government of Turkey inside Turkey. It is a tough, complex problem, but we're working it pretty aggressively. I think we'll get it resolved.
Q We've had several questions about the status of the Middle East peace talks that are scheduled at the end of the month. Could you give us an update on your feelings about that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: There is a conference scheduled to be held in Annapolis later on in November. It'll be an effort to move forward the peace process between Israeli and Palestinians. We hope it will be attended by a member of the Arab nations, as well, in that part of the globe. A lot of work still has to be done to prepare the groundwork, if you will, for that conference. And that effort, too, is being mounted by the State Department, by Secretary Rice. The President has been actively involved, as well, too.
My own personal belief is the conference will go forward, and hopefully it will produce some positive results, in terms of moving us closer to that day when the conflict that's raged for decades between the Israelis and Palestinians can be put to rest.
Q In August of 2002, you spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville about the perils of sending weapons inspectors to Iraq, at the same time that Secretary of State Colin Powell was trying to persuade President Bush to use the United Nations and other diplomatic means to corral Saddam Hussein. Are we watching a repeat of this scenario with Iran?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the situation in 2002 -- what I'd remind everybody is that we did go diplomatically to the United Nations, and sought a U.N. Security Council resolution, which we got, as I recall, in November of '02. The administration supported that. That was about the 16th U.N. Security Council resolution that had been obtained vis- -vis Iraq over the last 12 years -- a major, major diplomatic effort that ultimately failed, and that's why we resorted to military force.
Iran is a situation that is of great concern to us at this point because we have major efforts underway with respect to resolving the matter diplomatically. But Iran is a serious problem, not just for the United States, but especially for people in the area. They are actively seeking to enrich uranium. They are trying to topple the government of Lebanon. They are actively involved in supporting insurgents inside Iraq and Afghanistan. They generally have adopted a fairly aggressive and hostile attitude towards Israel. They've pledged repeatedly to destroy Israel.
We are doing everything we can to resolve this issue diplomatically. We've imposed economic sanctions unilaterally. We've had two major resolutions through the U.N. Security Council, and the third one is pending. We've been working with the EU3, European Union representatives, as well as nations in the region to try to persuade Iran that they should change their course of action. To date, they have not done that.
The President has made it clear that we have taken no options off the table. It's the only responsible position for him to take. Nobody wants to resolve this in any means other than peacefully if it's at all possible -- and that's what we're trying to do. But in the final analysis, the worst outcome would be a situation in which Iran is sort of set loose, if you will, in that part of the world with an inventory of nuclear weapons, prepared to be used against other nations in the region, or to dominate that part of the globe, and to threaten not only the United States but many of our friends and allies out there, as well.
Q Our attention is focused on Iraq, Iran and the wider Middle East. However, much of the world is watching closely Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. How concerned are you about his influence?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We have -- I'm trying to think how to state this diplomatically. (Laughter.) Diplomacy is hard sometimes. (Laughter.) We have refrained from making public pronouncements about Mr. Chavez -- I think for good and legitimate reasons. He's a -- obviously an individual with his own agenda, and he spends a great deal of his time worrying about us and criticizing the United States. My own personal view is that he does not represent the future of Latin America, and the people of Peru* I think deserve better in their leadership. But that's obviously a matter they've got to resolve for themselves.
Q There are frequent calls from the Hill for U.S. energy independence. Is energy independence for the United States achievable?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, if you mean energy independent, that usually means that we don't burn oil, or that we don't import any energy supplies. I think we can work to reduce our dependence on foreign sources, to some extent, to diversify our supply, to develop technologies that will make us more efficient users of energy.
One of the great accomplishments that never gets any attention is what we've done as an economy and as a nation to improve our efficient use of energy in recent years. We use half as much today as we did 10 or 15 years ago per unit of output in our economy. That's a major success story.
But the fact of the matter is, we are the world's leading consumer of energy. That is an absolute cornerstone for what we do in terms of our economy, and I think the likelihood that we'll be to a point where we don't have any imports or we're not at all dependent on foreign sources is extremely remote. I don't expect it to happen, although I do expect, given the way the marketplace works, that we will make adjustments; we will become even more efficient consumers than we already are; that there will be alternatives developed that will diversify supplies. But the fact is, we're part of a global economy; we're integrated with the rest of the world's economy in many, many areas -- in the consumer goods, manufacturing, and information technology, it would be, I think, unreasonable to expect that we would not be integrated with the rest of the world's economy where energy is consumed.
Q Along these lines, when do you think, then, we will see the first megawatt from a new (inaudible) nuclear generating facility in the United States?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: From a --
Q New nuclear facility.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: New nuclear facility? I think we're going to build more nuclear plants. We've seen some actions and activity now. We've got a number of utilities that are seriously pursuing expanding their generating capacity. We've also -- we've got about a hundred -- as I recall, about 106 facilities, plants, nuclear plants operating today. They produce 20 percent of our electricity. A lot of them need to be replaced, and I expect will be replaced. And as we develop new technologies for producing nuclear power, I think there's every incentive in the world for us to move forward and develop that technology. I think it's important from an environmental standpoint. From an energy standpoint it's good, I believe, safe technology, and there's no reason in the world we shouldn't use it.
Q You have been Vice President for nearly seven years. How has your role differed from others who have held the office, and what recommendations might you have for your successor? (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first thing, if you're ever invited to head up the search committee, say, "yes." (Laughter.) I've loved doing the job. It's been a remarkable experience. And a lot of that is because of the President. In the final analysis, the job of the Vice President is really set and determined by him. If you look at the Constitution, and history, the Vice President is a relatively non-consequential job.
When they created the post during the course of the Constitutional Convention, they got down to the end of the convention, and said, well, gee, we've created this position of Vice President, but we didn't give him anything to do. (Laughter.) And that's when they decided to make him the presiding officer of the Senate, to let him have the ability to cast tie-breaking votes, and so forth. Initially they also gave him floor privileges; he was allowed to go down into the well of the Senate and participate in the debate. And my predecessor, John Adams, our first Vice President, did that a couple of times, and they withdrew his floor privileges. (Laughter.) Never been restored. (Laughter.)
I don't want to go on too long here, but a brief history lesson. It wasn't really until the Eisenhower administration that the Vice President even had an office in the executive branch. Harry Truman, when he was Vice President, his office was on Capitol Hill. And he only saw Roosevelt, I believe, twice between the election and when he was sworn in as President of the United States, when Roosevelt died. It just -- it was a job where, except under extraordinary circumstances, Vice Presidents didn't even attend Cabinet meetings.
That's all changed, and it started to change, I think, in the Eisenhower administration, when the Vice President got an office downtown. Presidents Carter and Vice President Mondale changed it, too. I'm not a big Jimmy Carter fan, but the fact is that that's when the Vice President moved into the White House proper, into the West Wing. And Mondale took on fairly significant responsibilities. So it's steadily grown and developed since.
The reason it works the way it has in this administration is because that's what the President wanted -- and because he talked to me as we were going through the process of doing the search, looking for somebody to take the job. I had the benefit of listening to him talk about how he wanted the job to work, and his vision was that he wanted somebody who could be a functioning part of the team, who would be there to be in the major meetings, and to be another set of hands alongside the Cabinet secretaries, and so forth. And he's been true to his word; that's exactly what we've done. And that piece of it has been good.
He clearly did not pick me because he was worried about carrying Wyoming in 2000. (Laughter.) Only three electoral votes, and of course he was going to carry Wyoming anyway. I remind him how important those three electoral votes were in the final analysis. (Laughter.)
But partly it's worked for one other reason, I think, and that's because, from my perspective, I've made it clear that I would not be a candidate in my own right at the end of that term. And what traditionally happens is that a gulf opens as you get down towards the end of an administration, when the number two guy is out actively trying to become the number one guy, and you're worried about how you're going to do in the Iowa caucuses in January of '08, rather than how you carry through and implement the President's agenda and policies.
We've avoided that because I've made it clear from the outset that I was not going to be a candidate. We've been able to integrate our staffs. They work hand-and-glove together. And the President understands, and the people around him understand that my only agenda is to serve him. I get to offer up my advice and my opinions -- he doesn't always accept them; he doesn't always agree with them, but I always get to offer them. And once he's made the decision, then we all salute smartly and carry on. And it's that kind of relationship that's made it work as well as it has, I think.
I can't say that you could institutionalize that in any sense. I don't think you could write a statute that would say, that's how it's always going to be; the next go-round it will depend very much upon a future President and what their requirements are when they pick somebody. The traditional way to do it is to pick somebody who can help you carry the election -- you know, if you're from Texas you get a Californian or a New Yorker and put them on the ballot. And that may well be the way we proceed most of the time in the future. That's been the more conventional route. We didn't operate that way, but as I say, that was all due to the President. He made those decisions. It's been my great good fortune that he asked me to join him.
Q I wish you could stay all afternoon, but we're going to come to the last question, and that is, Americans have great pride in their country. Can you share with us what it is like for you to serve as Vice President -- as you have here -- and has your service changed how you feel as an American?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think it has probably reinforced a lot of views I already held. I'd had the privilege of serving previously, obviously, in a number of different capacities, and sitting as Vice President, you're sort of there as an observer of history, if you will. So you spend a lot of time watching what's going on around you. You're not in charge of anything, but you get to stick your oar in, if you will, in several different capacities, and that's been enjoyable.
The thing that stands out from my service -- and part of this goes back to my time as Secretary of Defense previously, but especially now, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, especially given the way we spend so much of our time focused on the war on terror, Afghanistan and Iraq, the thing that stands out, and it is driven home day in and day out, is the caliber of the men and women in the Armed Forces who put their necks on the line every day for the rest of us, and do it on a volunteer basis. (Applause.)
We're a democracy defended by volunteers. And every time I think about that, and every time I have the opportunity to spend time with the troops or, as happened yesterday, Lynne and I were in Indianapolis, and we had the opportunity to sit down with a family of one of the soldiers we lost last year in Iraq -- it was his wife and young children, his parents, and so forth -- it's just remarkable what so many Americans are prepared to do to step forward. In this case, Sergeant had served 17 years in the Indiana National Guard, was wounded, recovered and went back, and the second time he was wounded he didn't survive. And then you think about the families, and what they have sacrificed, put on the line for the rest of us, it's remarkable.
Two weeks ago we had a Medal of Honor Ceremony at the White House. There have been three Medals of Honor awarded in this conflict, one to a Sergeant -- Army Sergeant who stood off a very large force and saved dozens of American lives at the cost of his own -- he was killed; a Marine, young Marine who threw himself on a live grenade to save the lives of his buddies; and then most recently a Navy Lieutenant, Michael Murphy, commander of a SEAL unit, that was ambushed by a much larger force in Afghanistan.
In the midst of all of this, after he had been seriously wounded, the only way he could get a communication out to ask for assistance was to go out into an area where he was totally exposed to the fire of the enemy, and he did, and made the call on his radio; was hit again while he did all that. After he was hit, he signed off to the commander that he was talking to, and thanked him, and ended the communication, and then picked up his rifle and went back into the fight, and ultimately died.
It's that experience, I think, that you gain as you watch and see what tremendously fortunate people we are to have individuals of that caliber who are willing to risk everything, and of course pay the ultimate price for all of us. And you never get over that sense of deep, deep gratitude that we owe to them. (Applause.)
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