|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
July 10, 2006
Vice President's Remarks at a Rally for the Michigan National Guard and Joint Services
Hangar 36 Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan
1:56 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much. It's good to be back in Michigan and to have a chance to visit Selfridge Air Base. I'm honored to stand with members of the Michigan Air National Guard.
I want to thank General Peplinski for those kind words of introduction, and all those who have made possible my visit today. I also want to thank the family members who are with us.
It's been my privilege to work with the National Guard over the years, not just as Vice President but also as Secretary of Defense when our nation was fighting the Persian Gulf War. I have immense respect for citizen soldiers, so I've been looking forward to being with all of you today. When people do good work, I think it's important to look them in the eye and to let them know it. I want all of you to know that you're making a tremendous difference for the country. And I bring gratitude and good wishes from the Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush. (Applause.)
By its very nature, service in the National Guard involves a dual mission. You defend the country against enemies abroad, and you step in to protect lives and property here at home. And you follow in a long tradition of service in the state of Michigan. The Guard was organized here before statehood, some 200 years ago. And when the first regiment from Michigan arrived in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, "Thank God for Michigan." The Michigan National Guard has been there in most of the major struggles in our history -- Gettysburg, to the Argonne, to the beaches at Normandy, to Desert Storm, and now the global war on terror. You've always been there for Michigan, and for America -- and it's a legacy to be proud of.
We're grateful to the 127th Air Wing. Your motto is "We Stand Ready" -- and we depend on you for many vital C-130 and F-16 missions. The C-130, of course, is the workhorse aircraft for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The F-16 is ready every day to bring justice to the enemies of freedom -- and last month it was an F-16 that paid a surprise visit to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. (Applause.) That put an end to the career of one of the worst terrorists in the world.
We're grateful to the 927th Air Refueling Wing. Global reach and global power is the goal of our Air Force, but it wouldn't be possible without the KC-135 tankers and their 200,000-pound payloads. For professionalism and dedication, the 927th recently received the Outstanding Unit Award; you're entitled to congratulations.
We're grateful to Aviation Support Unit Number Two of the Michigan Army National Guard. You kept the CH-47 "flying truck" going in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Company B did heavy helicopter service last year after the hurricanes on the Gulf Coast.
We're grateful to the Border Patrol personnel for continued service along our northern boundary. We want to thank the members of TACOM who provide armor for the ground combat fleet. And we thank the 425th Airborne Long Range Surveillance Company -- we don't always know where you are, but we're glad you're out there, gathering human intelligence. (Applause.)
We're grateful, as well, to all the joint forces that have units here at Selfridge -- the Army garrison, Naval Reserve, Marine Wing Support Group 47 which provides critical --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's all right don't hold back -- (laughter) -- provides critical ground support for aviators; Coast Guard Air Station Detroit, which does tremendous work in search and rescue and navigation. You've taken an oath to serve this nation; you live up to that oath every day. Our country is very fortunate to be able to count on all of you.
America is indebted to all branches of the armed forces, and to the Guard and Reserve units stationed across the United States. Michigan Air National Guard F-16s flew combat air patrols on September 11th, 2001. And over the last four years and 10 months, some 75 percent of the Michigan Guard has been called to active federal duty. It's been a demanding time for you, and for so many others across the country. But you've placed duty ahead of convenience, and service above self-interest. And it is impossible to overstate how much Americans in uniform have done to make this nation safer, and to bring freedom, stability, and peace to a troubled part of the world. Afghanistan five years ago was in the grip of a violent, merciless regime that harbored terrorists who plotted murder for export. Today Afghanistan is a rising nation -- with a democratically-elected government, a market economy, and millions of children going to school for the first time. And when our forces return home from that part of the world, they can be proud of their service for the rest of their lives.
The same is true for the men and women serving in Iraq. Americans understand what is at stake in that country -- and so do the terrorists. That's why they commit acts of random horror, calculated to shock and intimidate the civilized world. The terrorists know that as freedom takes hold, the ideologies of hatred and resentment will weaken, and the advance of free institutions in the Middle East will produce a much safer world for our children and grandchildren. The war on terror is a battle for the future of civilization. It's a battle worth fighting. It's a battle we're going to win. (Applause.)
Iraq is the central front in that war. Having removed a dictator, our coalition is working with Iraq's leaders toward the same goal: a democratic country that can defend itself, that will not be a safe haven for terrorists, that will be a model for freedom in a troubled part of the world. By voting in free elections, by ratifying a constitution, by going to the polls with an amazing turnout rate of more than 70 percent, Iraqis have shown they value their own liberty and are determined to choose their own destiny. Iraq today has the most progressive constitution in the entire Arab world, and a unity government committed to a future of freedom for all Iraqis. Our strategy in Iraq is clear; our tactics will remain flexible. Progress has not come easily and we can expect further attacks from the enemies of freedom. Yet 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 the Iraqi security forces. As those forces gain strength and experience, and as the political process advances, we'll be able to decrease troop levels without losing our capacity to defeat the terrorists. And as always, decisions about troop levels will be made by the President -- driven by the conditions on the ground and the judgment of our military commanders, not by artificial timelines set by politicians in Washington, D.C. (Applause.)
Although we have been in the struggle against terrorism for nearly five years now, the terrorists were actually at war with us long before 2001. And they were the ones on the offensive. They grew bolder in their belief that if they killed enough Americans, they could change American policy. In Beirut in 1983, terrorists killed 241 Americans with a suicide truck bomb attack. Following that attack, the U.S. forces were withdrawn from Beirut. Time and time again, for the remainder of the 20th century, the terrorists hit America, and America did not hit back hard enough. In 1993 we had the killing of American soldiers in Mogadishu, and first the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. We had the murders at the Saudi National Guard training facility in 1995; the killings at Khobar Towers in 1996; the attack on two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998; and, of course, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. The terrorists came to believe that they could strike America without paying a price and that if they killed enough Americans, they could change our policy.
So they continued to wage those attacks -- making the world less safe and eventually striking the U.S. here at home on 9/11. That day changed everything, and the United States will never go back to the false comforts of the world before 9/11. Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness. And this nation made a decision: We will engage these enemies, face them far from home, so we do not have to face them on the streets of our own cities. (Applause.)
That effort includes a home front. And here at Selfridge, you know that the home front is every bit as important as the battlefields overseas. We are facing enemies who hate us, who hate our country, and who hate the liberties for which we stand. They dwell in the shadows, wear no uniform, and are determined to kill as many Americans as they can. That's why President Bush told Congress after 9/11 that our country would "direct every resource at our command -- every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war -- to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network." The Congress backed him up in full, authorizing the President to defeat an enemy that had already slipped into our country and waged an attack that killed more than 3,000 of our fellow citizens.
The President also signed the Patriot Act, which is helping us disrupt terrorist activity, break up terror cells within the United States, and protect the lives of Americans. Another vital step the President took in the days following 9/11 was to authorize the National Security Agency to intercept a certain category of terrorist-linked international communications. The purpose is very simple to state: If people inside the United States are communicating with al Qaeda, they are talking to the enemy -- and we need to know about it.
The Terrorist Surveillance Program is highly classified and carefully limited. The program was improperly revealed to the news media, some of which describe it as domestic surveillance. That is not the case. We are talking about international communications, one end of which we have reason to believe is related to al Qaeda or to terrorist networks. And it's hard to think of any category of information that could be more important to the safety of the United States.
The Terrorist Surveillance Program is fully consistent with the constitutional responsibilities and the legal authority of the President. And the program is conducted in a manner that fully protects the civil liberties of the American people. The President has made clear from the outset, both publicly and privately, that our duty to uphold the law of the land admits no exceptions in wartime. As he has said, "We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them."
In addition, the entire program is reconsidered and reauthorized by the President personally every 45 days. He has reauthorized it more than 30 times since September 11th because our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related organizations. Key members of Congress from both political parties have received more than a dozen briefings on the Terrorist Surveillance Program. The reason I know this is because I'm the one that presides over those briefings.
Above all, I can tell you the Terrorist Surveillance Program has been absolutely essential to the security of the United States. If you'll recall, the 9/11 Commission focused criticism on the nation's inability to uncover links between terrorists at home and terrorists overseas. The term that's used is "connecting the dots" -- and the fact is that one small piece of data might very well make it possible to save thousands of lives. And the very important question today is whether we have learned all the lessons of September 11th.
I'm afraid that, as we get farther away from that date, there is a temptation to let up in the fight against terror. We're all grateful this nation has gone almost five years without another 9/11. Obviously, no one can guarantee that we won't be hit again. But getting through these years of wartime without an attack on the homeland took more than just luck. We've been protected by sensible policy decisions by the President, by decisive action at home and abroad, by a round-the-clock effort on the part of people in the armed services, law enforcement, intelligence, and homeland security. The enemy that struck on 9/11 is weakened and fractured, yet still lethal, still determined to hit us again. We've never had a fight like this before -- and we have a lot more to do before it's finished. Either we are serious about fighting this war or we are not. And the enemies of America need to know: We are serious, and we will not let down our guard. (Applause.)
Americans know about the heroism displayed every day in the fight against terror. We are not the kind of people to take our military for granted. All the people of this country appreciate the sacrifice of those who serve, and the incredible commitment of their families. We appreciate, as well, employers in Michigan and all across America who have given strong support to workers called up for duty. And in times of loss, our nation is united in respect and sorrow for the families of the fallen. We can only say, without any doubt whatsoever, that these brave Americans served in a noble and a necessary cause; and their sacrifice has made the nation and the world more secure. We will honor their memory forever. (Applause.)
The United States is a nation that keeps its word, so we will carry on in the work that is ours to do. For all the effort that lies ahead, this period of testing for our country is also a time of promise. The United States of America is doing great good in the world by defending the innocent, confronting the violent and bringing freedom to the oppressed. We're a decent and a generous country. By defending ourselves, and by standing with our friends abroad, we're meeting our responsibilities as freedom's home and defender and we're securing the peace that freedom brings.
More than that, ladies and gentlemen, we are showing the world that the people who wear the uniform of the United States are men and women of skill, and perseverance, and of honor. Standing here today, in the great American Midwest, I want to thank each and every one of you for the vital work you do, and for your example of service and character. It's a privilege to be in your company. You've reflected great credit on your state and your country. And you've made your fellow citizens extremely proud.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 2:15 P.M. EDT