For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
October 7, 2004
Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A at a Roundtable Discussion in Ft. Myers, Florida
Farmers Market Restaurant
Fort Myers, Florida
GENERAL DOZIER: Well, Mr. Vice President and Mrs. Cheney --
MRS. CHENEY: It's an honor to meet you.
GENERAL DOZIER: On behalf of all of these folks here, we certainly want to welcome you, particularly, back to Fort Myers. You've been here a number of times before. And we really appreciate your taking the time to stop by and chat with us. It's really a breath of fresh air to have you here. So, thank you very much.
VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, General. We're delighted to be here this morning. We've had a little trouble getting into Florida the last few weeks. We've been trying to get down, but you guys kept having hurricanes. And I guess Fort Myers got hit. I saw some damage coming in, driving in. How are they doing on the recovery efforts?
GENERAL DOZIER: FEMA has just been great.
VICE PRESIDENT: Have they.
GENERAL DOZIER: We've got a lot of support. And we were organized to use the support, which was great.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I know the House last night passed the supplemental to help the hurricane relief. I think it was 412-0. The Senate should pass it today.
GENERAL DOZIER: Super.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They should -- hopefully they get it out before they adjourn here in a few days. I think we're doing the right thing and coming along and making progress.
GENERAL DOZIER: Well, we've practiced for these things.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You guys are getting good at it. (Laughter.) I'm not sure I'd want that much practice.
MRS. CHENEY: You know, just watching television and seeing how people have responded has been inspiring.
GENERAL DOZIER: It is.
MRS. CHENEY: It's been terrific to see citizens just rise up and just deal with it.
GENERAL DOZIER: It's brought out the best in folks. And people helping people is just the name of the game for the first storm, and it got better as the storms went by.
MRS. CHENEY: And your governor has been doing a pretty good job. (Laughter.)
GENERAL DOZIER: He's gotten us organized early, and we have emergency management organization in the state that's prepared to accept the aid that's coming in. And that's been great.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, that's been remarkable, and it shows how resilient people were, when they bounce back. We kept thinking, what happens to the campaign when you have four hurricanes? (Laughter.) So far, so good.
Well, we're delighted to be here this morning. What we do at these is a chance to sit down and talk with folks. It's a two-way conversation. I've got some remarks I'd kind of like to make up front, and it's an opportunity, though, to open it up and hear from all of you. And I find it very helpful, in terms of getting out. I travel around the country, picking up lots of times on issues that are important. I had a visit the other day with a group of docs in New Mexico on the problem of medical liability reform and rising malpractice insurance and what it was doing to the OB/GYN specialties, and the impact that was having on families and small businesses and educators, school teachers and so forth. It's a great way for me to not make a long-winded speech. You hear plenty of those in this business, but rather have a chance to chat, as well, too.
Let me share a word or two about what I think is the most important issue in this election. Everybody has got their preference, I suppose, but I keep coming back to the proposition of where we're going with our national security strategy over the course of the next few years, we'll make a decision on November 2nd about who the Commander-in-Chief is going to be. And we've had some remarkable developments, obviously, since 9/11, really forced us to think in new ways about what the threat was, about how we can best combat it, what kind of strategy we needed to put in place. So we've been working on all those issues, obviously, since 9/11.
I think the things that strike me about it, more than anything else, the nature of the conflict, dramatically different than any we've ever seen before, where the greatest threat is the possibility of terrorists smuggling into the midst of one of our own cities a deadly biological agent or even a nuclear weapon, and threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans in relatively short order.
The 3,000 people we lost on 9/11 represented the worst attack ever on American soil. It's more than we lost at Pearl Harbor. And we know now, from what we found after 9/11, getting into training camps and so forth in Afghanistan, that they're doing everything they can to get their hands on deadlier technologies to use against us.
And we also, obviously, know now that this is a global problem. This isn't just an attack on the U.S., although we're the number one target, but they've also hit Madrid and Casablanca and Mombassa and Riyadh and Jakarta and Bali and Istanbul and Beslan in Russia, most recently, and that it is going to require a very special effort for us to be able to deal with that.
On the one hand, we clearly have done everything we can, and will continue to do everything we can to stand up robust defenses here at home, with the Patriot Act, Project BioShield we recently put on the books; a lot of people aren't aware of it, gives us a lot of money and authority to aggressively pursue solutions to some of the biological weapons threats that we face -- obviously organizing the Department of Homeland Security, all of those steps are things organized on the basis of defense here at home.
The President also made the decision early on that we also have to go on offense. We have the perfect -- try for a perfect defense here, but if you're successful 99 times out of a hundred, that last time can do enormous damage. You can't simply sit back and assume that you can, in fact, have a perfect defense. There is no such end.
So we've gone on offense, used the force of the United States to go after the terrorists wherever they train and wherever they've found a safe harbor sanctuary. But also, and very importantly, and to some extent generated some controversy, be willing to use the power of the United States to go after those who sponsor terror, after the state sponsors of terror, those who provided them safe harbor or sanctuary. I feel like an amateur here talking to the General, who knows as much about this business as anybody.
But it's that willingness to aggressively go after the states that sponsor terror, and then try to change the circumstances on the ground by the follow through, in terms of establishing democratic governments where once we had either a breeding ground for terror or the development of deadly technologies. And that's obviously what we're doing, both in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
One of the most remarkable things that's going to happen this week is, two days from now there's going to be an election in Afghanistan, the first time in the 5,000-year history of Afghanistan. They've registered 10 million voters. Women represent almost half that. And what happens in two days in Afghanistan is a remarkable event. By the end of the year, they'll have a democratically elected government in place in Afghanistan.
That doesn't mean there won't be some rocky days ahead, there will be. It's sometimes three yards and a cloud of dust. There's no home run -- touchdown, home run is a flawed analogy -- no touchdown pass to be thrown here. But it can be done, and it needs to be done. It's not enough to go in and take down the Taliban and capture or kill a bunch of al Qaeda and close the training camps, you turn your back and walk away. Then, obviously, there's going to be trouble in your wake. And that happened once before in Afghanistan. We saw, of course, after the outside world, the U.S. was involved, as were a number of other countries, in supporting the Afghan mujahadin against the Soviets when they were in there in '80s, and once it was over with, and everybody said, problem solved, and left. But what resulted from that was, first of all, several years of civil war, followed, ultimately, by the Taliban, followed, ultimately, by al Qaeda. The training camps of the late '90s trained 20,000 terrorists, some of whom hit the United States on 9/11. So we have a vested interest in what's left there after we depart, and that's the process we're in the midst of now.
In Iraq, same thing. Tougher problem -- different, slightly different problem. But there we've got an interim government that's been in power just a little over 90 days. It's a little early to pronounce it a failure, as I think John Kerry and John Edwards want to do. Mr. Allawi, who is the Prime Minister, is an interesting, interesting man. He's a man who was threatened by Saddam Hussein in the past. Saddam sent a squad of assassins after him one night, when he was living in London; crept into his bedroom with axes and tried to kill him. He was hospitalized for nearly a year, but he recovered. His wife never really did fully recover from the experience. Pretty tough customer, and willing to put his neck on the line every day to try to get done what needs to be done in Iraq.
They've now got an interim government in place. They control all the agencies and ministries. They'll have elections in January. They'll elect a constituent assembly to write a constitution, and by the end of next year, hopefully they'll have a democratically elected government in place, as well. And both in Afghanistan and Iraq, we're obviously spending a lot of time standing up, training, equipping security forces, so they can take over responsibility for their own security. Our mission will be complete when they've taken on the task of governance successfully and when they're able to deal with their own security situation. That's the mission that's got to be completed.
We're, on November 2nd, going to make a choice about whether or not we continue to pursue what I think has been the successful strategy the President has laid out, followed up to now, or whether we're going to go with whatever it is John Kerry has to offer.
And it's kind of hard to tell some days. We've had some bold talk, but it's -- frankly, it's been all over the lot. Both Kerry and Edwards voted for the authorization of force in Iraq, then they voted against the $87 billion that was needed to provide the resources the troops had to have once they got into combat. Senator Kerry has subsequently said that if he had to do it all over again, he would vote to authorize the operation, and then he'll turn around a few days later and say, wrong war, wrong place, wrong time.
Senator Edwards, in our debate the other night, talks about how they're going to crush the terrorists, and that he and Senator Kerry are absolutely committed to aggressively prosecuting the war on terror. But it's easy to talk tough during a 90-minute debate in the presidential campaign. You have to go back and look at the record, because John Kerry has a long record with respect to these issues: 20 years in the United States Senate.
And one of the things I know was interesting -- I just jotted some notes to myself today, as we were coming over, a Senator can be wrong for 20 years without consequence to the nation. But the President is always making the final decision. He is the one who has got the final decisive power, especially with respect to being Commander-in-Chief. So I thought it was interesting to speculate, this morning, on sort of an alternative universe -- what if, John Kerry, over those last 20 years, had been casting the deciding vote, if he had been President, instead of just the Senator. What would the world look like? What if his position had, in fact, become the policy of the United States government?
And it's interesting. If you look back, for example -- something I'm sure the General will remember, and I do from my days in Congress -- one of the things John Kerry was for was a nuclear freeze. And you may remember back in the '80s the Soviets had put the SS20 intermediate-range nuclear missiles into Eastern Europe. We had no equivalent system. What President Reagan decided to do was redeploy the Pershing II as a deterrent, another intermediate-range missile on our side, and ultimately that led to the negotiation in intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty, INF treaty, and we got all nuclear missiles of that range removed from Europe all together.
We did it because we were willing to deploy the Pershing II, and then the Soviets had no choice but to negotiate. John Kerry was against all that. He was for the nuclear freeze, he was against deploying the Pershing II. If he, in fact, had had his way, or if his position had been the one that held the day, the Soviets would have had the SS20s in Eastern Europe, and there would have been no INF treaty negotiated.
We look at the first time Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait -- I guess the last time he invaded Kuwait, 1990-'91. He, obviously, took some action that President Bush responded to, former President Bush responded to very aggressively -- This was when I was Secretary of Defense -- organized an international coalition, mounted Operation Desert Storm, and sent Saddam Hussein back to Baghdad, having done considerable damage to his forces, as well as gotten in aggressively on the ground ultimately, initially with the United Nations, et cetera. John Kerry was against that. He voted against the use of force to get Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait in 1991, when the Senate voted on that matter. If he had had his way, Saddam Hussein would have had Kuwait. He would have, at that point, controlled a big chunk of the world's supply of oil, about 100 billion barrel reserve, that Kuwait has, roughly equivalent to what Iraq has.
And the other thing that's interesting, of course, was in those days, Saddam Hussein had, everybody agrees now, a robust program for WMD; a nuclear program that had been seriously underestimated by our intelligence services, as well as the chemical and a biological weapons program. So if we had not done Desert Storm, as John Kerry recommended, Saddam Hussein would have, in fact, held Kuwait, and he also would have been free to pursue his weapons of mass destruction program uninterrupted by any U.N. inspectors, by those U.N. Security Council resolutions at the end of the Gulf War.
Now, fast forward again to the present day. We've had Senator Kerry now say that he voted to authorize the President to use force, but he didn't really want him to use it, he just wanted him to have the authorization, I think is what he's saying, although it's hard to tell. (Laughter.) I think what he's saying is, there was a better way; that you didn't have to use force to get rid of Saddam Hussein, which says to me -- I'm sure he'll want to clarify this when he finds out I've mentioned it -- (laughter) -- clarifies that it says to me that he wanted, and I believe he's said as much, that he wanted, in effect, to let the sanctions continue to operate and to organize the international community to pass more resolutions, and that that would have dealt with the problem that Saddam Hussein represented.
But we now know from the Duelfer Report, that was made public yesterday -- Charlie Duelfer, of course, has been running the Iraq Survey Group -- that the sanctions regime was coming apart at the seams, that in fact what Saddam Hussein had done was to take the oil-for-food program that was intended to provide food supplies and medical supplies for the Iraqi people, and to let the government sell a certain amount of oil and use the revenue from that to purchase essential food and medical commodities for the Iraqis.
Saddam perverted that whole thing, corrupted it, in effect, and generated billions of dollars which he used partly to get around the sanctions, by buying weapons of various kinds, conventional weapons in this case, that were in violation of sanctions, but he also used the funds to corrupt other -- including, it looks like, some employees of the United Nations as well as other governments, in the hopes that they would work with him to undermine the sanctions. And according to Duelfer, then, it was his intention once sanctions were lifted to go back into business and resume his pursuit of these deadly technologies. Not a very good outcome.
So given a choice, between what the President has done by the way of his operation with respect to the last several years and dealing with the war on terror, or the record of John Kerry, who has consistently been on the wrong side of these major national security issues throughout his 20-year history in the United States Senate, I think it's a pretty clear choice. I don't see anything in John Kerry's record or background that leads me to believe he would aggressively prosecute the war on terror the way President Bush is. And I think the only way to insure the safety and security of the American people long-term is to aggressively prosecute the war on terror, to use the might of the United States, including our military forces -- and they've done a superb job -- to go after the terrorists, wherever we find them, and to make certain that we confront and hold to account anybody out there who is tempted to get into the business of providing safe harbor for terrorists, for supporting them, or unwisely developing weapons of mass destruction.
One of the great byproducts of what we did in Afghanistan and Iraq is what happened to Libya. Moammar Ghadafi watched this whole operation, and as we launched into Iraq in the spring of '03, he called, and contacted President Bush and Tony Blair. He did not call the United Nations. (Laughter.) He then said that he wanted to begin negotiations to surrender his WMD.
That effort went forward for nine months without a leak. We send technical teams in on the ground into Libya, to make sure we knew all that he had. Five days after we dug Saddam out of his hole, north of Baghdad, Colonel Ghadafi went public, announced he was giving up all of his aspirations for WMD, wanted to turn it all over to us, and all of the materials he developed, had acquired, uranium, the centrifuges to enrich the uranium, the weapons design, all of that now is under lock and key down at Oak Ridge in Tennessee. We gathered it all up and brought it back.
At the same time, the network that supplied him and North Korea and Iran with some of this deadly technology has now been shut down as well, too. The man who ran it, a Pakistani, is under house arrest in Pakistan.
Those are fairly positive results, which you get as a result of tough, aggressive, consistent U.S. policy; that you're going to go out and deal with these problems. I don't see anything in John Kerry's 20-year record in the United States Senate that would lead me to believe that he would make those kinds of decisions or pursue those kinds of policies. In fact, I see just the contrary.
And I emphasize, again, if his decisions had been the ones that mattered over the last 20 years, the world would look pretty different from what it does. And Saddam Hussein, not only would he not have been confronted back when he took Kuwait, and dealt with in 1991, because we would not have had Desert Storm, nor, in my humble estimation, would we have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein now, because he would have relied on sanctions and not used military force, even though he voted to authorize it, and we'd still have a mess on our hands. And instead, I think the result of the President's policy is we've liberated 50 million people, we've dealt with two of the world's worst regimes, and we've captured and killed thousands of al Qaeda. And we're now in the business of standing up democracies where there used to be only terror and dictatorship. And that's a significant accomplishment, and that's exactly what we need to do for the next four years. (Applause.)
Final point, I want to say a word about my friend, Connie Mack over here, who is a candidate for Congress. And his dad and I were great friends and served together in the House for 10 years, and also Mel Martinez is running for the Senate this year. I served with Mel in the Bush Cabinet, and we're coming down -- I'm coming back down tomorrow night, as a matter of fact, for a debate watching party someplace in Florida, and then Saturday to a fundraiser for Mel to help him in his campaign. So I commend both of them to you. They're very capable individuals.
But I'd be happy, at this point, to open it up and talk and answer questions, or touch on other subjects, whatever you have a mind to pursue.
GENERAL DOZIER: Okay, who wants to go first?
Q First, I'd just like to say, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Cheney, thank you so much for being here. I think it would be remiss on my part if I didn't share with you a lot of the feeling we have in southwest Florida, and the pride and appreciation we have for the federal government. We've been through quite a summer here in southwest Florida, as well as the entire state. And even though we realize that there is a connection between the White House and Tallahassee, the President's presence here on three different occasions, and your presence here today and other trips that you've made to Southwest Florida goes so far to comforting the people who need that comfort.
And, you know, we're all taxpayers. We go through life, and how often do you really reach out and really need your government to help you, whether it's local, state or federal. And we've been so blessed, through this entire ordeal that people have been through, that to have the presence of FEMA and the support of the federal government and the White House and the administration has meant so much to people trying to put their lives back together. So on behalf of my board, I would like to thank you, representing our federal government, for what you have done for us. And the people will long remember the federal government being here, standing with them, holding their hand, and saying, it's all going to be okay, we're here to help you. And thank you, so much. You helped us all get through a very, very tough time. And we're still going through it. But to know we have those partnerships and assist down from the federal government through our state government to local government, all just standing hand-in-hand, doing what's right for the people, is what makes it all worthwhile. And that's what public service is all about. And I know the federal government doesn't always get the greatest amount of compliments, no more than we do at a local level. But this is something that you should be so proud of, and to thank everyone who has been affiliated with it because it has made a transition for the citizens of southwest Florida, and all of Florida to rebound from a crisis situation that none of us asked for. So with that, I'd just like to say I'll forgo my first question and just thank you so much for everything you've done for us.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. And we've been tremendously impressed, I think all America has watching the way Floridians responded to the repeated crises. One hurricane, okay -- but four was sort of above and beyond. And it really has been remarkable to watch the resilience of the state and the people's determination to clean it all up and get back to work. And it's something to be very proud of.
Q Thank you, sir.
Q Yes, Mr. Vice President, I'm with the Lee County School Board, and on behalf of the board again, thank you for coming down and spending your important time, at this important time in our nation. First of all, I would like to compliment you on the job that was in Cleveland against an opponent I think in the American's eyes, that it was very clear who was in charge and who is going to protect this country, and who is going to protect our children. And obviously, as part of a board member, we have 71,000 children that we have to protect. And I know that -- from what I've seen from the homeland security, the Department of Education, that plans have been laid out there for us to protect our schools and to protect our children. And I want to just take a few moments just to compliment you on that.
But there are one or two things that I would like to add is after going through some of the programs that are out there, I notice that federal bus grants are being offered to commercial entities to protects buses, and security and so forth. And I would like to request that maybe some of that money could be earmarked for school systems since here in Lee County we have over 654 buses. And some of the technology like that that's being offered through the current grant would be most beneficial to us to tighten some of the security measures that are out there to protect our children. So I wanted to thank you for looking at that and putting it out there.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Just tell me Homeland Security is doing what, with commercial bus operations?
Q Yes, the Homeland Security Act where they authorize $9 million and some of the other companies are taking care of it. But I would like to see that opened up to school systems also, if that's possible.
I also want to thank the close working relationships that we've had -- not only with our local law enforcement but with other agencies. They've been very good with communicating with us. And I think that's a step in the right direction that we need to move.
And the last piece that I'd like to talk to you about is No Child Left Behind. And when you listen to all the spin that goes out there from the other party, which I won't mention, about education and how Republicans are not looking at education. No Child Left Behind -- and as a school board member has brought accountability back to our school systems. The programs that you've put in place, President Bush and yourself, has helped us do a better job to make sure that all children are given an equal chance at a quality education. And I think that point has to be made -- from anyone -- make no question about it. It has helped us with accountability piece. And that's something that's been need in public schools.
I've had the opportunity to teach in public schools, and I've also had the opportunity to work in the private sector. And they're the kind of things I'd like to pass on to you that I think the public needs to hear more about, that children of all races, everyone is getting an equal chance at an education under your programs. And we want to thank you for that. So in the end, the one thing I want to say, and if anyone asks me outside or anyplace else, is this administration is going to protect children. It's going to protect the United States from terrorists. We're not going to capitulate to pressure that's put on us by these outside forces. And the only answer that I see to this country's future is for the reelection of yourself and Mr. Bush. And I just want to thank you for that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, thank you. (Applause.)
Q -- federal government for everything that we've had in terms of state and local help provided to homeland security. My question is, with Florida being ravaged as we have been, as we -- this morning, do you anticipate any diversion or any shortfall with regard to continued funding to get the state and trickling on down to the local level for that, as a result of storm damage -- right now?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think the intent clearly is to make certain that nobody suffers as a result of the hurricanes, that we do, in fact, make up whatever shortfalls exist -- whatever damage has been done, we're there to help. But Bill Young, as chairman of the Appropriations Committee -- does pretty well, and I can say that firsthand. He's very good at it. And -- I know for a fact they passed the supplemental through the House last night for Florida. We've got -- two appropriations bills have been enacted so far this year, a defense appropriations bill and -- appropriations bill. The homeland security bill is now -- has passed the House, is pending in the Senate, and the emergency relief, hurricane relief funds are going to be -- I believe, if they do it as they said they would last night -- will be added today to the homeland security appropriations bill. And so that will come as a package to the President.
And the House has already passed homeland -- they passed two separate bills, the supplemental -- the hurricane relief package, and homeland security. The Senate is going to pass both of them combined. That should make the conference very quick and very easy, and should be on the President's desk I would guess sometime next week. And if more is needed, I'm convinced we'll be able to go back and get more. The fact is that Congress has supported it overwhelmingly. It's one of those things that I think everybody understands this happens from time to time, when it's hurricanes here, or fires in the West, or tornado damage in the Midwest. These are the kinds of events that the government really needs to step in and help with. And as Douglas said, that's what we're all about. So I don't anticipate any problems, and there shouldn't be any.
Q Well, Mr. Vice President, I represent Women for Bush-Cheney in Lake County. -- coming to visit with you today, and they told me to tell you, by the way, that you won the debate the other night, just in case you didn't know. (Applause.) So I wanted to let you know, first of all, that, of course, they love and support you. But if you and Mrs. Cheney could just say a few words directly to Women for Bush-Cheney, they would think I'd really done a good job here today. (Laughter.)
MRS. CHENEY: Do you want me to begin?
Q That would be great. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I've been bypassed. (Laughter.) Be my guest.
MRS. CHENEY: I've just been so proud to watch this President's appointments, for one thing. When you talk about somebody advancing the cause of women and you look at the people who have had really influential roles, both Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin are forces of nature that I'm glad we have on our side. And Condi Rice is just the most amazing woman. Her extensive background in foreign policy and her having risen to be the President's National Security Advisor just is really -- provides such a model for my granddaughters as they advance in school.
You look at the Cabinet, you see the women he appointed. We've really made historic progress. I've been proud to watch that time and again. But perhaps when I am most moved is when I think about those women in Afghanistan. It's just astonishing to think what their lives were like under the Taliban. Women -- professional women couldn't go to work; teachers couldn't teach; engineers couldn't go to their jobs. There were highly educated women in Afghanistan who had to give up their professional lives. If they were found on the streets and if a bare ankle would show, they'd be whipped. There are reports of fingers being amputated for women who were caught wearing fingernail polish. Of course, girls couldn't go to school.
And then you think what's happening on Saturday, is it -- all those
women who registered to vote -- and I get teared up when I think about it. And they've done it at some peril, because there are still remnants of the Taliban around who hauled women off buses and shot them. There were bus raids -- 5 million women are going to vote. Little girls are in school. I mean, it is -- it's a remarkable thing the President has done. I give the Vice President some credit, too. (Laughter.) That's it, I'm going to quit. (Laughter.)
Q -- named Lynne and Laura.
MRS. CHENEY: Oh, thank you. That's very kind.
Q And as urban legend has it around here, you began your long and illustrious political career with little more than a $5,000 contribution and a beat-up Volkswagen bus, as I understand it, and since then, have gone on, literally, sir, with distinction in virtually every level of our government. And as you look back on your distinguished career, and you look forward to another four years of Bush-Cheney in the White House, I'd be interested to know, what's the most important advice you would give to young people who are interested in a career in public service.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, go and get $5,000 and an old beat-up Volkswagen. (Laughter.) No, I have been extremely fortunate in my life. I didn't start out to pursue a political career. I actually started out to teach. I was working on a PhD in political science. And then I got down to Washington and got caught up in the political wars, worked, first of all, for a guy named Bill Steiger from Wisconsin, who was a great, young congressman who, unfortunately, died young. If he'd survived, I think he would have been President, himself, some day.
And he, in turn, introduced me down the line to a man named Don Rumsfeld, and through Don Rumsfeld, met a guy named Gerry Ford. And one thing led to another.
The thing to remember, people will help you along the way -- get the opportunity to give you advice, who were there when you need help -- and we all need help. Nobody -- there may be a few people around who do it all by themselves, so to speak, but I think if most of us reflect on the successes we've enjoyed in life, it's because we met people along the way who were willing to take a chance, or give you a second chance, because lots of times we need it.
I've got a guy here today whose friendship I value highly, who I served with in a number of capacities during his time in Washington, when I was young and inexperienced. Al Abrams, who's sitting over here at one of the tables, I greeted as I came in. And the $5,000 you recommend -- the first political action committee check I received when I ran for Congress I got from Al, who was then running the Realtors Association.
There's tremendous opportunities out there, I think, for somebody who is interested in public service. It's been -- absolutely been a tremendously rewarding life for me and my family, I think. And there are moments when the burden gets heavy and there's a lot of stuff flying around, but basically what happens is the privilege of -- well, participating in this campaign -- Lynne and I have been in 48 states this election cycle, and we've still got time to get to the other two. (Laughter.) I don't know whether we're going, or not. They haven't told me yet. But it's just a remarkable experience to get out around the country and meet so many fantastic people, to see the enormous diversity, breadth of the American people.
And whether you're here in Fort Myers, Florida, or Seattle, Washington, Casper, Wyoming, or Riverside, California, wherever it might be, there are just some fantastic folks out there. And everybody has got a story to tell. And what we've been able to accomplish as a nation because of our -- and because of what we've done over the years, and what other generations have done and passed on to us places a special obligation on all of us.
And what's remarkable is how many Americans, when we get out on the road, say thank you, we appreciate what you're doing. Nobody ever says thank you in Washington, but on the road, you just can't help but feel just very emotionally moved by all that constitutes the United States of America. And we're proud and privileged to be a part of it. And, boy, if somebody has got any interest in public service at all, I encourage them. It's a great thing to do. It's important for the country. And there are lots of ways to serve. You don't have to be Vice President of the United States to render worthy service. Look at what the General did during his time in the United States military. People go out and build a business, or create jobs, create wealth and opportunity, and people who teach school, worry about that next generation and giving them the skills they need so they can take advantage of the tremendous opportunities that we have.
It's a remarkable country, and we're all blessed to be Americans. And I don't know any way to sort of partake of that as much as does a career in public service. So, more power to you. And get that old Volkswagen. (Laughter.) Instead, it probably ought to be an American car, don't you think? (Laughter.)
Q Mr. Vice President. I'm a director, national director of the Isaac Walton League of America. I'm delighted to have you here in Florida. Thank you for being here, and thank you for your precise dissection of your opponent during the debate. That was a gleeful event for all of us, indeed. (Laughter.) The preservation, conservation, and sustainability of our water and natural resources is something very dear to our hearts here in southwest Florida and throughout the country. What's your philosophy, what are your thoughts in that direction?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I share your interest and your concerns. I'm an avid fly fisherman. I needed to sort of unwind and clear out my head the day before the debate last Tuesday, so I spent the day on the South Fork of the Snake over in Idaho trying to catch a little trout.
Q I'm envious.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It was the right thing to do. But our water resources are enormously important. I know one of the things the President feels strongly about is the recovery project with respect to the Everglades. And he's worked closely with the Governor on that. They spend a lot of time on it together. We're committed to working hard on that project. We understand the enormous importance in Florida of the coastal areas. It's a vital part of your economy, as well as the natural resource they represent.
And anybody who spends any time on waters fishing, as I do -- northern British Columbia, when I get a chance, and for trout, Wyoming and various places, and it's a fantastic resource, and we really have an obligation to try to improve it and pass it on to the next generation in better shape than we found it. I think we're doing, as a general proposition, we're doing pretty well, better than we used to. I remember when I went to Washington, the Potomac was sort of an open sewer. I mean, it really was a terrible, terrible stream. And over the years now, a lot of great work has been done to clean it up and clear it up.
My proudest legislative accomplishment as the congressman from Wyoming, which I did for 10 years, was the Wyoming Wilderness Act we passed in 1984, that set aside almost a million acres of additional acreage and wilderness. It's still there today, untouched, unspoiled, but accessible if you've got strong legs or a good horse. And it's remarkable country, and we need to do everything we can to make certain we protect and preserve those assets.
Q Regretfully, we have time for just one more question.
Q Thanks a lot. Mr. Vice President, before I get to my question, the casual observers here and on TV and maybe listening over the radio wouldn't be able to tell that I am not one of the rich or the affluent that the Republican Party is so much accused of pandering to. Tomorrow morning when I get up and go to work, I'll put on a uniform and drive a van with ladders on top of it. And so I'm living proof that the Republican Party does not only accept average citizens, they embrace them. Here I am, talking to the Vice President of the United States and his lovely wife. And I'm honored to be here.
One thing that you brought up in your opening statement about how Senator Kerry likes to brag about the fact that he voted for the authorization of force, but never actually intended for anyone to use it -- it just struck me that he basically just announced to not only the country, but the world, terrorists included, that he was bluffing. And I can't imagine that we would want to elect someone who has pretty much admitted to just bluffing about this war. And my primary question that I wanted to ask you about was something that happened in the debates. John Edwards mentioned that we need to focus on the Taliban and al Qaeda because they're the ones that attacked us, and Saddam Hussein hadn't attacked us. Well, I thought I recalled that we were getting shot at regularly by Saddam Hussein. Our airplanes -- our pilots would beg to differ with John Edwards when he says that we have not been attacked. And is that not an act of war?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, when we -- throughout that period of time, because he consistently violated the U.N. Security Council resolutions, for 12 years, and he was given every opportunity to come into compliance with the conditions he agreed to at the end of the Gulf War, and didn't, we maintained no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. We flew missions every day, and frequently, many, many times, our pilots were fired on by Iraqi missile forces, air defense forces. They weren't very good, fortunately, because they didn't get any of our guys.
But they constantly, continually tried it. The thing to remember about Iraq and Saddam Hussein is that his history of supporting terror of various kinds -- $25,000 payments to families of suicide bombers, the Abu Nidal organization, and so forth, as well as his history of producing and using chemical and biological weapons -- everybody thought he had them, and that certainly was the reporting. -- thing about Duelfer, even Saddam's intelligence service apparently thought he had. And he bluffed everybody. George Bush didn't bluff.
The fact of the matter is, it's that combination -- potential combination of states friendly to terror, on the one hand, and developed and possessed and used these deadly technologies on the other, that's so worrisome when you think about the basic, major threat to the U.S. today that I mentioned at the outset -- terrorists in the middle of one of our own cities with that kind of capability. So what we did in Iraq I was convinced then and I'm absolutely convinced now was exactly the right thing to do.
The other thing that I noticed the other night, too, we've had this concept of a global test now has emerged. John Kerry said when he ran for Congress the first time and back in the early '70s that he would not commit troops without U.N. approval. Think about that, and again, roll all the way forward several years to the present time, he mentioned in the first debate with the President the other night down here in Miami, that -- when he was asked about whether or not he would use military force preemptively, he talked about, yes, as long as it met a global test. And then they said, well, what's the global test, who are you going to ask, who has to approve a decision by the President of the United States to use U.S. military force. And in my book, nobody. (Applause.)
It's always best, if you can, to have allies and you try to do that. But there are times when a President of the United States has to make a decision and act. He doesn't get to have perfect knowledge. We pay him the big bucks and he gets to live in a fancy house to make those tough calls. And that's exactly what the President of the United States has to do. And George Bush has done it. And, as I say, John Kerry gives every indication that we'd have a lot of hesitation and uncertainty and confusion.
Let me just close with a story -- the General spent some time in Aviano -- some of your old stomping grounds in northern Italy, in January of this year. I met with some troopers from the 173rd Airborne who had jumped into northern Iraq and were part of the operation. And what I usually do when I go out and visit a base like that or visit one -- I'll try to get 20 or 25 soldiers together and -- or Marines -- and sit them down, and then we talk. -- it's a chance for me to hear from them, just like this -- the cameras there.
And one sergeant with 10, 12 experience -- came around to him after there had been a lot of discussion back and forth, and they told me some of the stories about what they did in northern Iraq -- he said, sir, I just got one message for you and the President. He said, I learned a long time ago in this business, indecision kills. And he repeated, he said, indecision kills. And it was the kind of message that I think everybody needs to keep in mind. When you think about sending our troops in harm's way, and what a President of the United States has to do and what he has to ask them to do for all of us, and you don't need somebody in that position who is uncertain, hesitant or confused about what he believes or what the mission is, or how you're going to accomplish the mission. I think George Bush meets the test. I don't think John Kerry does.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
END 11:33 A.M. EDT