|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
March 17, 2004
Remarks by the Vice President at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
40 Presidential Drive
Simi Valley, California
10:41 A.M. PST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Well, thank you very much, Fred. I appreciate the warm welcome to Simi Valley, and to the library of one of our greatest Presidents.
Today is my first chance to have a look around the Ronald Reagan Library. For me, it's a reminder of what a great privilege it is to know President Reagan, and to have worked with him during my time in the Congress. We're pleased as well to be joined by Nancy Reagan. Mrs. Reagan was a great first lady, and is still one of the most admired women in America. (Applause.) She and I had the privilege last summer of commissioning the new USS Ronald Reagan, the latest addition to our nuclear aircraft carrier fleet. Nancy, I want to thank you for representing your husband here today, for your hospitality to me and Lynne, and for the sizable crowd that showed up with all of us.
I've been to California a number of times as Vice President. Lately, I've enjoyed a chance to get to know your new governor. My first impression has been confirmed: Arnold is off to a tremendous start, and you can feel the state of California coming back. (Applause.)
Last fall, some people with short memories were asking why on Earth California would want to put an actor in the governor's office. (Laughter.) The question brought to mind images of 1966, and all the great events that were set in motion by the election of Governor Ronald Reagan. From his first day in Sacramento to his last day in Washington, Ronald Reagan showed a certain kind of leadership. He had confidence in himself, and even deeper confidence in the United States and our place among nations. His principles were the product of a good heart, a sturdy Midwestern character, and years of disciplined preparation for the work that history gave him. He had a basic awareness of good and evil that made him a champion of human freedom, and the greatest foe of the greatest tyranny of his time. The Cold War ended as it did, not by chance, not by some inevitable progression of events: It ended because Ronald Reagan was President of the United States. (Applause.)
After the fall of Soviet communism, some observers confidently assumed that America would never again face such determined enemies, or an aggressive ideology, or the prospect of catastrophic violence. But standing here in 2004, we can see clearly how a new enemy was organizing and gathering strength over a period of years. And the struggle we are in today, against terrorist enemies intending violence on a massive scale, requires the same qualities of leadership that saw our nation to victory in the Cold War. We must build and maintain military strength capable of operating in different theaters of action with decisive force. We must not only have that power, but be willing to use it when required to defend our freedom and our security. (Applause.)
We must support those around the world who are taking risks to advance freedom, justice, and democracy, just as President Reagan did. American policy must be clear and consistent in its purposes. And American leaders - above all, the Commander-in-Chief - must be confident in our nation's cause, and unwavering until the danger to our people is fully and finally removed. (Applause.)
The attacks of September 11th, 2001, signaled the arrival of an entirely different era. We suffered massive civilian casualties on our own soil. We awakened to dangers even more lethal - the possibility that terrorists could gain chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons from outlaw regimes, and turn those weapons against the United States and our friends. We came to understand that for all the destruction and grief we saw that day, September 11th gave only the merest glimpse of the threat that international terrorism poses to this and other nations. If terrorists ever do acquire weapons of mass destruction - on their own or with help from a terror regime - they will use those weapons without the slightest constraint of reason or morality. Instead of losing thousands of lives, we might lose tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives in a single day of horror. Remembering what we saw on the morning of 9/11, and knowing the nature of these enemies, we have as clear a responsibility as could ever fall to government: We must do everything in our power to protect our people from terrorist attack, and to keep terrorists from ever acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
This great and urgent responsibility has required a shift in national security policy. For many years prior to 9/11, we treated terror attacks against Americans as isolated incidents, and answered - if at all - on an ad hoc basis, and never in a systematic way. Even after an attack inside our own country - the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center, in New York - there was a tendency to treat terrorist incidents as individual criminal acts, to be handled primarily through law enforcement. The man who perpetrated that attack in New York was tracked down, arrested, convicted, and sent off to serve a 240-year sentence. Yet behind that one man was a growing network with operatives inside and outside the United States, waging war against our country. For us, that war started on 9/11. For them, it started years before. After the World Trade Center attack in 1993 came the murders at the Saudi Arabia National Guard Training Center in Riyadh, in 1995; the simultaneous bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in 1998; the attack on the USS Cole, in 2000. In 1996, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad - the mastermind of 9/11 - first proposed to Osama bin Laden that they use hijacked airliners to attack targets in the U.S. During this period, thousands of terrorists were trained at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. And we have seen the work of terrorists in many attacks since 9/11 - in Riyadh, Casablanca, Istanbul, Mombasa, Bali, Jakarta, Najaf, Baghdad, and most recently, Madrid.
Against this kind of determined, organized, ruthless enemy, America requires a new strategy - not merely to prosecute a series of crimes, but to fight and win a global campaign against the terror network. Our strategy has several key elements. We have strengthened our defenses here at home, organizing the government to protect the homeland. But a good defense is not enough. The terrorist enemy holds no territory, defends no population, is unconstrained by rules of warfare, and respects no law of morality. Such an enemy cannot be deterred, contained, appeased, or negotiated with. It can only be destroyed - and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the business at hand. (Applause.)
We are dismantling the financial networks that have funded terror; we are going after the terrorists themselves wherever they plot and plan. Of those known to be directly involved in organizing the attacks of 9/11, most are now in custody or confirmed dead. The leadership of al-Qaeda has sustained heavy losses, and they will sustain more.
America is also working closely with intelligence services all over the globe. The best intelligence is necessary - not just to win the war on terror, but also to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. So we have enhanced our intelligence capabilities, in order to trace dangerous weapons activity. We have organized a proliferation security initiative, to interdict lethal materials and technologies in transit. We are aggressively pursuing another dangerous source of proliferation: black-market operatives who sell equipment and expertise related to weapons of mass destruction. The world recently learned of the network led by A.Q. Khan, the former head of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. Khan and his associates sold nuclear technology and know-how to outlaw regimes around the world, including Iran and North Korea. Thanks to the tireless work of intelligence officers from the United States, the UK, Pakistan, and other nations, the Khan network is now being dismantled piece by piece.
And we are applying the Bush doctrine: Any person or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent, and will be held to account. (Applause.)
The first to see this application were the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan by violence while turning that country into a training camp for terrorists. America and our coalition took down the regime in a matter of weeks because of our superior technology, the unmatched skill of our armed forces, and, above all, because we came not as conquerors but as liberators. The Taliban are gone from the scene. The terrorist camps are closed. And our coalition's work there continues - confronting terrorist remnants, training a new Afghan army, and providing security as the new government takes shape. Under President Karzai's leadership, and with a new constitution, the Afghan people are reclaiming their own country and building a nation that is secure, independent, and free.
In Iraq, we took another essential step in the war on terror. Before using force, we tried every possible option to address the threat from Saddam Hussein. Despite 12 years of diplomacy, more than a dozen U.N. Security Council resolutions, hundreds of U.N. weapons inspectors, thousands of flights to enforce the no-fly zones, and even strikes against military targets in Iraq - Saddam Hussein refused to comply with the terms of the 1991 Gulf War cease-fire. All of these measures failed. In October of 2002, the United States Congress voted overwhelmingly to authorize the use of force in Iraq. The next month, the U.N. Security Council passed a unanimous resolution finding Iraq in material breach of its obligations, and vowing serious consequences in the event Saddam Hussein did not fully and immediately comply. When Saddam failed even then to comply, President Bush gave an ultimatum to the dictator -- to leave Iraq or be forcibly removed from power.
That ultimatum came one year ago today - twelve months in which Saddam went from palace, to bunker, to spider hole, to jail. (Applause.) A year ago, he was the all-powerful dictator of Iraq, controlling the lives and the future of almost 25 million people. Today, the people of Iraq know that the dictator and his sons will never torment them again. And we can be certain that they will never again threaten Iraq's neighbors or the United States of America.
From the beginning, America has sought - and received - international support for our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the war on terror, we will always seek cooperation from our allies around the world. But as the President has made very clear, there is a difference between leading a coalition of many nations and submitting to the objections of a few. The United States will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country. (Applause.)
We still have work to do in Iraq, and we will see it through. Our forces are conducting swift, precision raids against the terrorists and regime holdouts who still remain. The thugs and assassins in Iraq are desperately trying to shake our will. Just this morning, they conducted a murderous attack on a hotel in Baghdad. Their goal is to prevent the rise of a democracy - but they will fail. Just last week, the Iraqi Governing Council approved a new fundamental law, an essential step toward building a free constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East. This great work is part of a forward strategy of freedom that we are pursuing throughout the greater Middle East. By helping nations to build the institutions of freedom, and turning the energies of men and women away from violence, we not only make that region more peaceful, we add to the security of our own region.
The recent bombing in Spain may well be evidence of how fearful the terrorists are of a free and democratic Iraq. But if the murderers of Madrid intended to undermine the transition to democracy in Iraq, they will ultimately fail. Our determination is unshakable. We will stand with the people of Iraq as they build a government based on democracy, tolerance, and freedom. (Applause.)
Our steady course has not escaped the attention of the leaders in other countries. Three months ago, after initiating talks with America and Britain, and five days after the capture of Saddam Hussein, the leader of Libya voluntarily committed to disclose and dismantle all of his weapons of mass destruction programs. (Applause.) As we meet today, the dismantling of those programs is underway. I do not believe that Colonel Ghadafi just happened to make this very wise decision after many years of pursuing secretive, intensive efforts to develop the world's most dangerous weapons. He was responding to the new realities of the world. Leaders elsewhere are learning that weapons of mass destruction do not bring influence, or prestige, or security - they only invite isolation, and carry other costs. In the post-9/11 world, the United States and our allies will not live at the mercy of terrorists or regimes that could arm them with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. By whatever means are necessary - whether diplomatic or military - we will act to protect the lives and security of the American people. (Applause.)
These past three years, as our country experienced war and national emergency, I have watched our Commander-in-Chief make the decisions and set the strategy. I have seen a man who is calm and deliberate - comfortable with responsibility - consistent in his objectives, and resolute in his actions. These times have tested the character of our nation, and they have tested the character of our nation's leader. When he makes a commitment, there is no doubt he will follow through. As a result, America's friends know they can trust - and America's enemies know they can fear - the decisive leadership of President George W. Bush. (Applause.)
The President's conduct in leading America through a time of unprecedented danger - his ability to make decisions and stand by them - is a measure that must be applied to the candidate who now opposes him in the election of 2004.
In one of Senator Kerry's recent observations about foreign policy, he informed his listeners that his ideas have gained strong support, at least among unnamed foreigners he's been spending time with. (Laughter.) Senator Kerry said that he has met with foreign leaders, and I quote, " who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy they look at you and say, 'You've got to win this, you've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy,' things like that." End quote.
A few days ago in Pennsylvania, a voter asked Senator Kerry directly who these foreign leaders are. Senator Kerry said, "That's none of your business." (Laughter.) But it is our business when a candidate for President claims the political endorsement of foreign leaders. At the very least, we have a right to know what he is saying to foreign leaders that makes them so supportive of his candidacy. American voters are the ones charged with determining the outcome of this election - not unnamed foreign leaders. (Applause.)
Senator Kerry's voting record on national security raises some important questions all by itself. Let's begin with the matter of how Iraq and Saddam Hussein should have been dealt with. Senator Kerry was in the minority of senators who voted against the Persian Gulf War in 1991. At the time, he expressed the view that our international coalition consisted of " shadow battlefield allies who barely carry a burden." Last year, as we prepared to liberate Iraq, he recalled the Persian Gulf coalition a little differently. He said it was a "strong coalition," and a model to be followed.
Six years after the Gulf War, in 1997, Saddam Hussein was still defying the terms of the cease-fire. And as President Bill Clinton considered military action against Iraq, he found a true believer in John Kerry. The Senator from Massachusetts said, quote, "Should the resolve of our allies wane, the United States must not lose its resolve to take action." He further warned that if Saddam Hussein were not held to account for violation of U.N. resolutions, some future conflict would have " greater consequence." In 1998, Senator Kerry indicated his support for regime change, with ground troops if necessary. And, of course, when Congress voted in October of 2002, Senator Kerry voted to authorize military action if Saddam refused to comply with U.N. demands.
A neutral observer, looking at these elements of Senator Kerry's record, would assume that Senator Kerry supported military action against Saddam Hussein. The Senator himself now tells us otherwise. In January he was asked on TV if he was, quote, "one of the anti-war candidates." He replied, "I am." He now says he was voting only to, quote, "threaten the use of force," not actually to use force.
Even if we set aside these inconsistencies and changing rationales, at least this much is clear: Had the decision belonged to Senator Kerry, Saddam Hussein would still be in power, today, in Iraq. In fact, Saddam Hussein would almost certainly still be in control of Kuwait. (Laughter.)
Senator Kerry speaks often about the need for international cooperation, and has vowed to usher in a "golden age of American diplomacy." He is fond of mentioning that some countries did not support America's actions in Iraq. Yet of the many nations that have joined our coalition - allies and friends of the United States - Senator Kerry speaks with open contempt. Great Britain, Australia, Italy, Spain, Poland, and more than 20 other nations have contributed and sacrificed for the freedom of the Iraqi people. Senator Kerry calls these countries, quote, "window dressing." They are, in his words, "a coalition of the coerced and the bribed."
Many questions come to mind, but the first is this: How would Senator Kerry describe Great Britain - coerced, or bribed? Or Italy - which recently lost 19 citizens, killed by terrorists in Najaf - was Italy's contribution just window dressing? If such dismissive terms are the vernacular of the golden age of diplomacy Senator Kerry promises, we are left to wonder which nations would care to join any future coalition. He speaks as if only those who openly oppose America's objectives have a chance of earning his respect. Senator Kerry's characterization of our good allies is ungrateful to nations that have withstood danger, hardship, and insult for standing with America in the cause of freedom.
Senator Kerry has also had a few things to say about support for our troops now on the ground in Iraq. Among other criticisms, he has asserted that those troops are not receiving the materiel support they need. Just this morning, he again gave the example of body armor, which he said our administration failed to supply. May I remind the Senator that last November, at the President's request, Congress passed an $87 billion supplemental appropriation. This legislation was essential to our ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - providing funding for body armor and other vital equipment; hazard pay; health benefits; ammunition; fuel, and spare parts for our military. The legislation passed overwhelmingly, with a vote in the Senate of 87 to 12. Senator Kerry voted no. I note that yesterday, attempting to clarify the matter, Senator Kerry said, quote, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." (Laughter.) It's a true fact. (Laughter.)
On national security, the Senator has shown at least one measure of consistency. Over the years, he has repeatedly voted against weapons systems for the military. He voted against the Apache helicopter, against the Tomahawk cruise missile, against even the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. He has also been a reliable vote against military pay increases - opposing them no fewer than 12 times.
Many of these very weapons systems have been used by our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are proving to be valuable assets in the war on terror. In his defense, of course, Senator Kerry has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all. Recently he said, and I quote, "I don't want to use that terminology." In his view, opposing terrorism is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement operation. As we have seen, however, that approach was tried before, and proved entirely inadequate to protecting the American people from the terrorists who are quite certain they are at war with us - and are comfortable using that terminology.
I leave it for Senator Kerry to explain, or explain away his votes and his statements about the war on terror, our cause in Iraq, the allies who serve with us, and the needs of our military. Whatever the explanation, whatever nuances he might fault us for neglecting, it is not an impressive record for someone who aspires to become Commander-in-Chief in this time of testing for our country. In his years in Washington, Senator Kerry has been one vote of a hundred in the United States Senate - and fortunately on matters of national security, he was very often in the minority. But the presidency is an entirely different proposition. The President always casts the deciding vote. And the Senator from Massachusetts has given us ample doubts about his judgment and the attitude he brings to bear on vital issues of national security.
The American people will have a clear choice in the election of 2004, at least as clear as any since the election of 1984. In more than three years as President, George W. Bush has built a national security record of his own. America has come to know the President after one of the worst days in our history. He saw America through tragedy. He has kept the nation's enemies in desperate flight, and under his leadership, our country has once again led the armies of liberation, freeing 50 million souls from tyranny, and making our nation and the world more secure. (Applause.)
All Americans, regardless of political party, can be proud of what our nation has achieved in this historic time, when so many depended on us, and all the world was watching. And I have been very proud to work with a President who - like other Presidents we have known - has shown, in his own conduct, the optimism, and strength, and decency of the great nation he serves.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 11:08 A.M. PST