|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
July 7, 2006
Vice President's Remarks at a Rally for Expeditionary Strike Group 8
Aboard the USS Wasp
3:15 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. Admiral Fitzgerald, Captain Roberti, Captain Miller, sailors and Marines: It's great to be here today. And I appreciate the warm welcome to the commonwealth of Virginia, and to the largest naval station in the world, Naval Station Norfolk.
Let me also thank all the officers and enlisted personnel who've made this visit possible and the company of our host platform today, the USS Wasp -- flagship of the Second Fleet.
We're joined today by three strong supporters of the Navy--Marine Corps team here in Norfolk -- Representatives Thelma Drake and Randy Forbes and U.S. Senator George Allen. We're glad to have them with us. (Applause.)
Now when I had the best job in government as Secretary of Defense some years ago, I had the honor of visiting Norfolk a number of times. Of course, most recently, as the Admiral mentioned, I was here to commission the USS Ronald Reagan. Over the years, I've grown in respect and admiration for all of the units stationed here, for the work that's done here, for the men and women, both military and civilian, who report for duty every day. Each of you serves the United States of America in a period of national challenge, military transformation, and unprecedented threats. We have asked a great deal of you. You've answered the call with tremendous reliability and skill. And I've come here today to say thank you to all of you for what you've done for all of us on behalf of the United States. You have the respect of the entire nation and you have the gratitude of our Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush.
We owe special thanks to the men and women of ESG-Eight. Last November you set out on a six-month deployment that took members of the strike group across the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, around the Horn of Africa, across to the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean. You went into the deployment with the finest training and equipment our nation can provide. You did the job well and won the admiration of your fellow citizens. I'm honored today to be in your company, and I'm delighted to say welcome home. (Applause.)
I want to thank the Marines of the 22nd MEU. (Applause.) Don't hold back. It's okay. You've been at the tip of the spear in the city of Hit, and across the Euphrates River Valley, in the fight against freedom's enemies. You've been brave and utterly relentless in combat. You've seized and destroyed enemy weapons. You've worked side by side with Iraqi forces. And by your honorable conduct and kindness to the Iraqi people, you've added to the friendship and trust between our countries. Marines everywhere know about the 22nd MEU because it's the most decorated unit of its kind. Once again, you've brought tremendous credit to the U.S. Marine Corps. Semper Fi. (Applause.)
From here I can see the flagship of ESG-Eight, the USS Nassau, which has earned the Battle "E" Award -- (applause) -- that award makes her the "Top Gator" on the East Coast. Also here are the crews of the USS Cape St. George (applause); the USS Austin (applause); the USS Winston S. Churchill (applause); the USS Carter Hall (applause); and the attack submarine USS Norfolk. (light applause) (Laughter.) It's a small crew.
But I can also see that many crews from the Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group are here today (applause) -- the USS San Jacinto; the USS Donald Cook (applause); the USS Oscar Austin (applause); the USS Annapolis; the USNS Mount Baker; the USNS Kanawha; and the "Big Stick," the USS Theodore Roosevelt. (Applause.)
Because of you many ships had safe passage. You supported ground operations in Middle East and helped us keep terrorists on the run. Again, welcome home. Thanks for a job well done. (Applause.)
Nearly five years ago, the Theodore Roosevelt played a crucial role in staging combat operations against the Taliban. Our Second Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Fitzgerald commanded the Teddy Roosevelt group during that time. Admiral Fitzgerald, once again thank you for your leadership of that critical mission.
In these recent months ESG-Eight has worked closely with the naval forces of America's friends -- British, Australian, French, German, and Dutch. You've backed up our combat operations, provided security for tankers and merchant vessels, helped train a new Iraqi navy, provided medical care to those in need, rescued the helpless, captured suspected pirates. By patrolling sea lanes, bringing help to the innocent, and confronting the violent, you've shown a watching world that we're a powerful country with a very capable military. But more than that, you've shown that we are also a decent, a just, and a generous nation. In my view, the sailors and Marines standing on this deck today represent the best that is in us. Be proud that you wear the uniform of the United States -- because this country is mighty proud of you. (Applause.)
All around us today are the signs of American sea power -- a fleet like none that has ever sailed before, a Navy and Marine Corps that uphold noble traditions, and a flag that stands for freedom, for human rights, and for stability in a turbulent world. Aboard these ships, at Naval Station Norfolk, and across the globe, Americans in uniform are writing a new chapter of excellence and achievement for the United States armed forces. You bring relief to the helpless and hope to the oppressed. And you are protecting the people of this nation in a time of war.
The war on terror creates an entirely different kind of security environment. And a military that was designed for the mid-to-late 20th century must now become a force that is lighter, more adaptable, more agile, and more lethal in action.
At the same time, we're keeping our eye on the fundamentals, and one of those is sea power. Naval operations are every bit as important, if not more so, than they were in the last century. Nothing takes the place of a convoy, able to enter any ocean, project great force from over the horizon, keep terrorists from disrupting the sea lanes or using them to transport operatives or weapons. Sea power allows the Commander-in-Chief to commit forces while retaining flexibility. With ships in place, we can fire precision strikes, launch sea-based rockets and missiles, deploy SEALS and Marine air-ground task forces by night or day, from close range or afar. Expeditionary Strike Groups are essential in the new security environment because they are so mobile and so adaptable. With ESGs, we have great offensive capability, wider operational reach, a maritime interdiction force without equal, and an even better intelligence-gathering network.
After we were attacked on 9/11, sea power provided the capability to go in and take down the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was vital as well in removing the dictator in Iraq, and we depend on sea power every day as we pursue the global war on terror.
This war is unlike any we've ever known. In the case of the terror network, we are not dealing with large armies we can track, or uniforms we can see, or men having territory of their own to defend. Instead, these enemies are hidden, diffuse, secretive in their movements, and asymmetrical in their tactics. They regard the entire world as a battlefield, and their goal is to plot, and plan, and strike wherever they can gain a foothold. They came into our country and murdered thousands of innocent, unsuspecting men, women, and children. They continue attempting to evade our strengths and to search for our weakness, in order to find ways to strike us again. And the greatest danger to civilization is the prospect of a terror network, on its own or with the help of an outlaw regime, acquiring chemical, nuclear or biological weapons -- and thereby gaining the power to kill hundreds of thousands, and to blackmail entire nations.
As long as these enemies threaten us, we'll have to wage the fight on many fronts. For us, this conflict began nearly five years ago. But for the terrorists, it's been going on for more than 20 years. For much of that time, they had the initiative, they were on the offensive. They carried out one attack after another -- on U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983; on the World Trade Center in New York in 1993; and the same year on American special forces in Somalia. They attacked American embassies in Africa in 1998; the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996; killed sailors on the USS Cole in 2000. Over time, the terrorists kept hitting America but America did not hit back hard enough. And then, finally, came the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Those attacks changed everything for our country. And America and the civilized world made a decision: Wherever terrorists operate, we will find them and bring them to justice. As long as it takes, we will stay on the offensive, and stay in the fight until the fight is won.
By taking the offensive, we've been able to avoid another gathering -- having another attack in -- such as 9/11. No one can guarantee that we won't be hit again, and the enemy is trying desperately to strike us. But the relative safety of the recent past is no accident. We've been safe because of the hard work every day, around the clock -- and men and women involved in law enforcement, in homeland security, and the especially in the United States military have done a superb job for all of us.
The central front of the war on terror is now Iraq. Having removed a dictator, our coalition is working with Iraqi leaders toward the same goal: a democratic country that can defend itself, that will not be a safe haven for terrorists, and that will be a model for freedom in a troubled part of the world. Our strategy in Iraq is clear and our tactics remain flexible. Iraq today has the most progressive constitution and the strongest democratic mandate in the entire Arab world. Despite threats from assassins and car-bombers, the Iraqis came forward by the millions to cast their votes and proclaim their rights as citizens of a free country. And Iraq now has a unity government committed to the future of freedom for all Iraqis. None of this progress has come easily, but there is no denying the hopeful signs, and we can look to the future with confidence. All of us live in a better world because Zarqawi is dead, Saddam Hussein is on trial, and Iraq is free. (Applause.)
Our coalition has also put great effort into standing up Iraqi Security Forces. And that work also is going well. At present more than a quarter of a million trained and equipped Iraqi forces are in the fight on behalf of the Iraqi people. As those forces gain strength and experience, and as the political process advances, we'll be able to bring down our troop levels. But the President will make that call. And he will do so based on the judgment of military commanders and conditions on the ground -- not according to artificial timelines set by politicians in Washington, D.C.
We are going to keep at this mission until it is completed -- because we have given our word, and because freedom's victory in Iraq is vital to our own security. If the terrorists were to succeed, they would return Iraq to the rule of tyrants and make it a source once again of instability in the Middle East. And if that region remains a place of tyranny and resentment, we can expect more violence directed against the United States and other free countries. Yet if people are given a say in their own affairs, and the Middle East is allowed to grow in liberty and freedom, then tyrants and terrorists will lose their appeal. And if freedom and democracy take hold in that part of the world, we'll have a better chance for a future of security and peace.
In our own country, we take democratic values seriously -- and so we always have a vigorous debate on the issues of the day. That's part of the greatness of America. We wouldn't have it any other way. But there is a difference between healthy debate and self-defeating pessimism. We have only two options in Iraq -- victory or defeat. And I want you to know, as members of the United States military, that the American people do not support a policy of retreat and defeatism in Iraq. We want to complete the mission. We want to get it done right. We want to return with honor and leave a safer world to our children and grandchildren. (Applause.)
Everywhere I go in this country, I'm struck by the depth of gratitude and admiration that the American people have for those of you who serve the nation. We don't take freedom for granted, because we know that it came at a price. Many generations have served and sacrificed for our country, and we know the current generation of our military is upholding noble traditions with incredible bravery. Americans care very deeply for our fellow citizens who have returned with terrible injuries and who face a tough road ahead. We've also had to say farewell to some of our best -- and this nation will honor their memory forever.
Our nation remembers, as well, that military service is a family commitment. Recently General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, paid a fine tribute. "Military families," he said, "serve this country equally well as anyone who has ever worn the uniform. They sit silently at home and pray for their loved one, wait for news of their return and then silently stand back and pretend that they had nothing to do with our success. Whereas, in fact, it is the love and support of our families that makes all the difference in the world." I know General Pace's words speak for all of you. And I want you to know that Americans appreciate all of our military families.
Ladies and gentlemen, I count it a high privilege to stand before so many who have taken an oath to serve the United States. Some of you have done that now several times. I'm told that during the recent deployment, 9 percent of the entire command of the USS Austin re-enlisted, and were sworn in together on the same day. Congratulations and thank you for your commitment. (Applause.)
You've pledged to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Those words carry extra weight in a time of war. And this nation is very fortunate to be served by men and women of strength and character. You reflect honor on the uniform, on the flag, and on the people of the United States of America -- and we are grateful for each and every one of you.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 3:34 P.M. EDT