For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
November 1, 2007
Vice Presidents Remarks to the American Legion
Indiana War Memorial
11:17 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Marty. And let me thank all of you for that warm welcome. It's almost enough to make me want to run for office again. (Laughter.) Almost, almost. But I'm delighted to be here today. I want to thank Brigadier General Stewart Goodwin, the director of the Indiana War Memorials Commission, for hosting us today in this tremendous facility. I recognize my friend and former colleague, Congressman Mike Sodrel. And I've had the chance to speak, of course, to the American Legion gathering over the years, and it's always been a very special privilege.
I'm pleased, as well, to visit this great state of Indiana. On a recent visit here I went to Camp Atterbury, one of the finest military training facilities in the country. I remember it as a huge, enthusiastic crowd -- not because of me, but because we were joined by the Colts and the Pacers cheerleaders. (Laughter.) But as always, it's a pleasure to be in your state, and I bring all of you the respect and good wishes from our President, George W. Bush. (Applause.)
I want to thank the community leaders and other distinguished guests who've joined us today. And in particular, I want to thank the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who are here -- it's good to be with all of you, and we thank you for what you've done for all of us. (Applause.)
Marion County is a fine, hardworking, patriotic part of the country. The same can be said of the entire state, which has made so many historic contributions to the life of our nation. Abraham Lincoln spent his formative years here. Indiana's Governor William Henry Harrison was elected President. And of course, your state has produced five vice presidents and many current statesmen -- including a good friend of mine and fine public servant, Governor Mitch Daniels. (Applause.)
In every generation, citizens of Indiana have stepped forward to serve America in times of peace and times of war. This capital city is second only to Washington, D.C. in the number of memorials dedicated to military service. Construction of the Indiana War Memorial which we -- where -- in which we gather began some 80 ago, the cornerstone laid in person by General John J. Pershing. And standing at the very heart of Indianapolis is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument -- a reminder of the struggles of history and a symbol of Indiana values. The Hoosier State never forgets the bravery of those who heard duty's call, and bore the battle, and kept this country free.
Here and across America, the values of faith in God and pride in country are embodied in the members of the American Legion. The Legion and the Auxiliary provide a daily example of good citizenship, generosity and decency. You speak out for honorable principles, and you live by them. The American Legion serves the nation by leading on a range of important issues, such as health care and education, employment opportunities and homeland security, military readiness and the quality of life for service families. Members of the American Legion stand firm for protecting our country's flag and for defending the right of every American to pledge allegiance to one nation under God. (Applause.)
As most of you know, our nation has 125 national cemeteries operated by the VA. Burials conducted in those cemeteries should honor the wishes of the families, including those that relate to religious observances. And despite the confusing order that recently came out of the federal bureaucracy, I want you to know that honor guards at military funerals will give the 13-fold recitation at any service where the family requests it. (Applause.)
Members of the American Legion are voices of influence on public policy. President Bush and I hope we can count on your support for two Cabinet nominees, Judge Michael Mukasey for Attorney General, and General James Peake to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. These are outstanding public servants, and they deserve prompt confirmation by the United States Senate.
Congress is also long overdue in appropriating the money we need to care for veterans and to fund our military. It's time to pass these measures in clean, separate bills. That's Congress's job, and they should not waste any more time before they move those important measures to the President's desk. On these and other priorities, we need the clear thinking and common sense of the American Legion. And today I want to underscore the important work yet to be done in defense of this country, and the need to keep our focus on the war that we began fighting September 11th, 2001.
This struggle will, of course, concern America for the remainder of our administration, and well into the future. On 9/11 we suffered a heavy blow, right here at home, at the hands of extremists who plotted the attacks from outposts thousands of miles from our shores. Since that terrible morning, Americans have properly called this a war. For their part, the terrorists agree. The difference is that they began calling it a war a good many years before 9/11. And they've been waging that war with clear objectives, aggressive tactics, and a strategy they want to carry at any cost.
They've stated their objectives. The terrorists want to end all American and Western influence in the Middle East. Their goal in that region is to seize control of a country, so they have a base from which to launch attacks and to wage war against governments that do not meet their demands. Ultimately they seek to establish a totalitarian empire through the Middle East, and outward from there. They want to arm themselves with chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons; they want to destroy Israel; intimidate all Western countries; and to cause mass death here in the United States.
The tactics, of course, are familiar to all the world -- suicide attacks, car bombs, beheadings, messages of violence and hatred on the Internet, and the hijackings of 9/11. And the strategy is clear, as well: Through acts of stealth and murder and spectacular violence, they intend to frighten us and break our will -- to hit us again and again until we run away.
They've chosen this method because they believe it works, and because they believe the history of the late 20th century proves their point. During the 1980s and '90s, as terror networks began to wage attacks against Americans, we usually responded, if at all, with subpoenas, indictments and the occasional cruise missile.
Not surprisingly, the terrorists became more ambitious in their strikes against American interests, choosing bigger targets and racking up a higher body count. In Beirut in 1983, terrorists killed 241 of our servicemen -- thereafter, the U.S. withdrew from Lebanon. In Mogadishu in 1993, terrorists killed 19 Americans -- and thereafter, the U.S. withdrew from Somalia. This emboldened them still further, confirming their belief that they could strike America without paying a price -- and more than that, they concluded that by violence they could even change American policy. We had the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993; the attack on U.S. facilities in Riyadh in 1995; the murder of servicemen at Khobar Towers in 1996; the attack on our embassies in East Africa in 1998; and of course the attack on the USS Cole in 2000; and then finally on September 11th, the loss of nearly 3,000 American lives, here at home, in the space of a few hours.
In a violent world, the safety of distance was suddenly gone. And with grave new dangers directly in view, the strategic situation changed fundamentally. From the morning of 9/11, we have assumed, correctly, that more strikes would be attempted against us. So we've made enormous changes to harden the target and to better prepare the nation to face this kind of emergency.
But we cannot protect the nation, much less win a war, by simply bracing for another attack. The President made a decision to marshal all the elements of strategic power to confront the extremists, to deny them safe haven, and above all to deny them the means to wage catastrophic attacks against us. We've also made clear that in the post-9/11 era, regimes that harbor terror and defy the demands of the civilized world should be held to account.
One of the best weapons against terrorism is good intelligence -- information that helps us figure out the movements of the enemy, the extent of the network, the location of their cells, the plans they're making, the methods they use, and the targets they want to strike. Information of this kind is the hardest to obtain, but it's worth the effort in terms of the plots averted and the lives that are saved.
So our government has taken careful but urgent steps to monitor the communications of enemies at large, and to get information from the ones that we have apprehended. We've respected civil liberties and upheld the high standards of this great country. And because we've been focused, because we've refused to let down our guard, we've done -- gone more now than six years without another 9/11.
No one can promise that there won't be another attack; the terrorists hit us first, and they're hell-bent on doing it again. We know this because of their public declarations, and because of the intelligence that we've gathered through monitoring and, yes, through interrogation. There's been a good deal of misinformation about the CIA detainee program, and unfair comments have been made about America's intentions and the conduct of American intelligence officers. Many of the details are, understandably, classified. Yet the basic facts are these. A small number of high-value detainees have gone through the special program run by the CIA. This is different from Guantanamo Bay. It's very important to keep those separate. Guantanamo Bay's select captured terrorists are sent and interrogated by the Department of Defense according to the Army Field Manual.
The CIA program is different. It involves tougher customers -- men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11 -- and it involves tougher interrogation. The procedures are designed to be safe, to be legal, and they are in full compliance with the nation's laws and treaty obligations. They've been carefully reviewed by the Department of Justice and are very carefully monitored. The program is run by highly trained professionals who understand their obligations under the law. And the program has uncovered a wealth of information that has foiled attacks against the United States; information that has on numerous occasions made all the difference between life and death.
The United States is a country that takes human rights seriously. We do not torture. We're proud of our country and what it stands for. We expect all who serve America to conduct themselves with honor. And we enforce those rules. Some years ago, when abuses were committed at Abu Ghraib prison -- again, a facility that had nothing to do with the detainee program run by the CIA -- the abuses that came to light rightfully outraged many people. The wrongdoers were arrested and prosecuted, and justice was demanded.
America is a fair and a decent country. President Bush has made it clear, both publicly and privately, that our duty to uphold the laws and standards of this nation admit no exceptions in wartime. As he put it, "We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them."
The war on terror is, after all, more than a contest of arms and more than a test of will. It is also a battle of ideas. To prevail in the long run, we have to remove the conditions that inspire such blind, prideful hatred that drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and to come kill us on 9/11. Many have noted that we're in a struggle for the "hearts and minds" of people in a troubled region of the world. That is true and it should give us confidence. Outside a small and cruel circle, it's hard to imagine anybody being won over, intellectually or emotionally, by random violence, the beheading of bound men, children's television programs that exalt suicide bombing, and the desecration of mosques. The extremists in the Middle East are not really trying to win the hearts and minds, but to paralyze them, to seize power by force, to keep power by intimidation, and to build an empire by fear.
We offer a nobler alternative. We know from history that when people live in freedom, when they have their rights respected and have real hope for the future, they will not be drawn in by ideologies that stir up hatred and incite violence. We know, as well, that when men and women are given the chance, most by far will choose to live in freedom. That is the cause we serve today in Afghanistan and Iraq -- helping the people of those two nations to achieve security, peace and the right to chart their own destiny. Both people face attack from violent extremists who want to end democratic progress and pull them back toward tyranny. We are helping them fight back because it's the right thing to do -- and because the outcome is vitally important to our own long-term security.
When historians look back on the especially difficult struggle in Iraq, I think they'll regard recent events in Anbar province to have been deeply significant to the broader effort. Local residents and tribal leaders -- Sunni Muslims -- are rising up against al Qaeda, sick of the violence, repulsed by the mindless brutality and the bullying of al Qaeda. Proud of their local traditions and culture, serious about their Islamic faith, the people of Anbar now see al Qaeda as the enemy, and they've worked with Iraqi and American forces to drive the terrorists out of their cities. It's still dangerous in the province. The terrorists recently killed one of the sheikhs who had been a leader in the fight against al Qaeda. But that fight goes on, and America's support will not waver.
Our new offensive strategy in Iraq -- led by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker and backed up by a surge in forces -- is producing good results. Even though we have more troops carrying out more perilous missions, our casualty rates are down. And while General Petraeus has made clear that al Qaeda remains a lethal enemy, many al Qaeda sanctuaries have been wiped out. Our military seized the initiative, and conditions in Iraq are getting better.
President Bush has made clear that America's word is good, and our nation will do its part to keep Iraq on the road to freedom, to security, and to progress. And we expect Iraq's national government to press hard in the work of national reconciliation, to match the kind of cooperation now taking place at local and provincial levels. We will continue, as well, our intensive effort to train Iraqi security forces, so that over time Iraqis can take the lead in protecting their own people. Progress has been uneven at times and the National Police still need improvement. But Iraq's army is becoming more capable. And because there's now a greater degree of cooperation from local populations, Iraqi forces are better able to keep the peace in areas that have been cleared of the extremists.
We have no illusions about the road ahead in Iraq. It won't become a perfect democracy overnight, but success will have an enormous positive impact on the future of the Middle East, and will have a direct effect on our own security, as well. The only illusion to guard against is the notion that we don't have to care about what happens in that part of the world, or to think that when we took down Saddam Hussein, our job was done. America has no intention of abandoning our friends, of permitting the overthrow of a democracy, and allowing a country of 170,000 square miles to become a staging area for further attacks against us. Tyranny in Iraq was worth defeating. Democracy in Iraq is worth defending. (Applause.)
In the words of General James Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps, "All our guys need is a chance to finish what has been started." End quote. Every member of the military and their family members and veterans, like all of you, can be certain: We are going to complete the mission so that another generation of Americans does not have to go back and do it again. (Applause.)
We don't know and we cannot predict every turn that lies ahead. As General Petraeus has put it, "The way ahead will be neither quick nor easy, and there will undoubtedly be tough days. We face a determined, adaptable, barbaric enemy. He will try to wait us out. In fact, any such endeavor is a test of wills, and there are no guarantees."
The General has it exactly right. And I know he would agree that the single most reliable fact of this war is the skill and the courage of our men and women who are fighting it. (Applause.) In the war on terror we've again seen patience, precision and determination among our forces. We've seen the finest traditions of the United States military. And in this time of challenge for our country, all Americans need to know about the bravery that has been shown. They need to know the names of America's heroes -- heroes like Staff Sergeant Richard Blakley from Avon, Indiana.
Last year, Sergeant Blakley was hit by sniper fire in Iraq. He survived and, in fact, returned to active duty that very day. Not long afterward, the sergeant was wounded once again, but this time he did not survive. He had already served over 17 years in the Indiana National Guard. And he had already shown his bravery in times of danger. As Governor Daniels put it, Sergeant Blakley "literally had nothing left to prove." But he gave his life for his country, and his country will always honor him. (Applause.) Let me note that Sergeant Blakley's wife, Patty, their children and other family members are here today, and I want to thank them for honoring us with their presence. (Applause.)
Of course, our highest military decoration of all is the Medal of Honor -- and it's been awarded three times in the current conflict. Americans need to know this. They need to know about Paul Ray Smith, a sergeant in the United States Army, who led the fight against a large unit of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard who had ambushed a much smaller American force. In the process he lost his own life -- but he saved the lives of hundreds of American soldiers.
We should all know about Marine Corporal Jason Dunham. When an insurgent threw a live grenade at him and his buddies, Corporal Dunham threw himself on top of it. He absorbed the blast with his own body, and held on for eight days before he died of his injuries. Both of these men -- Sergeant Smith and Corporal Dunham -- received the Medal of Honor, posthumously.
The National Medal of Honor Memorial, located right here in the city of Indianapolis, will soon bear the names of these two heroes, and another: Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy. Two years ago in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Murphy and three other Navy SEALS came under sudden attack by a much larger force. They were surrounded and pinned down in a ravine, unable to call for reinforcements. Facing a nearly hopeless situation, Lieutenant Murphy left his cover, went out into the open in order to get a radio signal. While calling for help he was shot and wounded, but he completed the call, picked up his rifle, and began fighting again. Soon a Chinook helicopter flew in, carrying an American rescue force. It was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, and all 16 aboard were killed.
In the firefight, Lieutenant Murphy and two other members of his team were also killed by the enemy. When that day was over, only one member of the SEAL team had survived. And last week in the East Room of the White House, President Bush presented the Medal of Honor to the mother and father of Michael Patrick Murphy, a Navy SEAL, and one of the bravest citizens this nation has ever produced. (Applause.)
War is an unpleasant business. It tires the soul of a nation and tests the will of its people. But as the President told Congress and the country after 9/11, we need patience for a long struggle. And the day will come when the threat hanging over the civilized world has been lifted. Because all of you are leaders in your communities, your very help is important as we remind fellow citizens of the nature of our broader war on terror, the stakes for our country, and the need for a systematic effort to win decisive victory.
Above all, you can remind your fellow citizens that the purposes America serves are good purposes. The United States is decent, honorable and generous -- and so are the people who wear its uniform. Right now, members of America's Armed Forces are serving in countries around the globe -- from the broader Middle East, to Europe, to Southeast Asia, to Latin America, to Africa. Every day they confront the violent, protect the weak, heal the sick, and bring hope to the oppressed. We live in a dangerous world -- but it's a world made far better by the active, committed presence of the United States. Our cause is freedom. That cause is right. And by the valor of those who serve it, that cause will prevail.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 11:43 A.M. EDT