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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
August 28, 2006
Vice President's Remarks at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention
Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Center
10:56 A.M. PDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the warm welcome. It's good to be in Reno, Nevada, to be the guest of one of the nation's finest organizations, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. (Applause.)
Let me thank Jim Mueller for his kind words this morning, as well as for the invitation to join all of you today. I also want to thank Sandy Germany and the Ladies Auxiliary for the fine work they do every day on behalf of our veterans and military families. Bob Wallace, of course, the executive director of your national office, is here. And we appreciate his devoted service to America's veterans in our Nation's Capital.
Let me also be among the first to congratulate VFW's incoming commander in chief, Gary Kurpius of Anchorage, Alaska; and the next president of the -- (applause) -- good to hear from Alaska -- and the next president of the Ladies Auxiliary, Linda Meader of Concord, New Hampshire. I know Gary and Linda will do a fine job in the years ahead. (Applause.)
It's been my good fortune to attend a number of VFW conventions over the years, and I've been looking forward to joining all of you today. By its very name, this organization commands the respect of our entire nation. As members of the VFW, you know what it means to hear the call to duty, to carry responsibility, to set aside all notions of comfort, convenience, and safety in order to defend the United States. Last month I participated in an Armistice Day Ceremony at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington. I was struck by the simple words of one of our men who served in what's been called the Forgotten War. In spite of it all, he said, quote, "I was glad to have served my country, and I've never heard Korean War veterans complain. In fact, if we had to do it all over again, we would." End quote. (Applause.)
There could be no more eloquent testimony to the character of our country than those words from a war veteran. Whatever it is about America that has produced such brave citizens in every generation, it is the best quality we have. Freedom is not free, and all of us are deep in the debt of the men and women who go out and pay the price for our liberty.
Military service forms habits and commitments that last for a lifetime -- and that's why we always see veterans doing more than their full share on behalf of the country. Each year VFW members give more than 13 million hours in volunteer time -- educating and inspiring young people; helping military families; enhancing the civic life of communities all across the nation. One year ago Hurricane Katrina hit shore -- and soon afterward members of the VFW were involved in the relief effort and contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to fellow citizens in need.
We would not be the nation we are today were it not for the ethic of teamwork, generosity, active citizenship, and patriotism that define the VFW. So I count it a privilege to be in your company, and I bring personal greetings from the President of the United States, George W. Bush.
Something tells me we've got more than a few veterans here today from the President's home state of Texas. (Applause.) And maybe a small contingent from my home state of Wyoming. (Applause.) I'll remind you of what I used to tell colleagues when I was in Congress, and I served as the lone Congressman from Wyoming. I said it was a small delegation, but it's all quality. (Laughter.)
Both the President and I have many friends in the room this morning, and we're proud to have strong ties with the rank and file and the leadership of the VFW. We came to office five-and-a-half years ago, we were determined to enhance the respect shown by our government to veterans -- and to demonstrate that respect not just in words but in resources.
By respecting and caring for our veterans, we show our values as a nation. More than that, we honor solemn commitments that have been made to those who wore the uniform. A veteran who deals with the federal government should be treated as one who has paid into the system the hard way -- and should never be made to feel that someone is doing him or her a favor.
I am happy to report that under the administration of George Bush, we have increased funding for all VA-administered programs by 75 percent. (Applause.) In fact, President Bush presided over a greater increase for the VA in the first four years of his administration than was seen in the entire eight years of the prior administration. In addition, the President's budget for the next fiscal year calls for $34.3 billion for veterans health care -- an amount almost 70 percent greater than the budget when we took office. (Applause.)
As part of our commitment to good and timely care for our veterans, we're modernizing and expanding many VA facilities, including brand-new veterans' hospitals in Orlando, Denver and Las Vegas.
Our administration has also worked with veterans' groups to meet the special needs of veterans, and this President was the first in more than 100 years to sign concurrent receipt legislation. (Applause.)
As a nation born in revolution -- and defended for two centuries by the courage of unselfish men and women -- America looks with reverence to our fallen and missing heroes, and to the flag under which they served. Millions of Americans recall the face and the name of someone who never lived to be called a veteran. Departed service members have a special place in our national memory and are taken to their rest with national honors. Recent appearances of protestors at military funerals, mocking the dead and insulting their families in their hour of grief, are an outrage. (Applause.) In response, and with your active support, Congress passed the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, and President Bush was pleased to sign it into law.
The VFW remains in the forefront of the effort to learn the full truth about our fellow Americans whose fate is yet undetermined. We have seen some progress in this area, but nothing close to enough. This nation will not give up until we have reached a full accounting for every last American prisoner of war and soldier missing in action. (Applause.)
I also want to thank the VFW for your unremitting dedication to protection of the American flag, and the right of our children and grandchildren to speak every word of the pledge of allegiance. (Applause.)
Your annual convention comes, yet again, in a time of war. At this very hour, American soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen are on vital missions to defend the innocent, confront the violent, and honor the commitments of the United States. They reflect enormous credit on this nation, and I know they appreciate the unwavering concern, and support, and prayers of the VFW.
In just two weeks the calendar will read again September 11th, and our minds will go back to that day five years ago, when enemies struck our country with acts of stealth and murder. The men and women on duty in the War on Terror are serving the highest ideals of the nation -- our belief in freedom and justice, equality, and the dignity of the individual. And they are serving the vital security interests of America and the civilized world. There is no denying that the work is difficult and that there is a great deal to be done. Yet we can harbor no illusions about the nature of the enemy we're fighting, or the ambitions they seek to achieve.
This enemy wears no uniform, has no regard for the rules of warfare, and is unconstrained by any standard of decency or morality. They plot and plan in secret, target the defenseless, and rejoice at the death of innocent, unsuspecting human beings.
This enemy has a set of beliefs -- and we saw the expression of those beliefs in the rule of the Taliban. They seek to impose a dictatorship of fear, under which every man, woman, and child lives in total obedience to a narrow and hateful ideology. This ideology rejects tolerance, denies freedom of conscience, and demands that women be pushed to the margins of our society. Such beliefs can be imposed only through force and intimidation, so those who refuse to bow to the tyrants will be brutalized or killed -- and no person or group is exempt.
This enemy also has a set of clear objectives. The terrorists want to end all American and Western influence in the Middle East. Their goal in that region is to seize control of a country so they have a base from which to launch attacks and to wage war against governments that do not meet their demands. The terrorists believe that by controlling one country, they will be able to target and overthrow other governments in the region, and ultimately to establish a totalitarian empire that encompasses a region from Spain, across North Africa, through the Middle East and South Asia, all the way around to Indonesia.
They have made clear, as well, their ultimate ambitions: to arm themselves with chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons, to destroy Israel, to intimidate all western countries, and to cause mass death in the United States. Some might look at these ambitions and wave them off as extreme and mad. Well, these ambitions are extreme and they are mad. They are also real, and we must not wave them off. We must take them seriously. We must oppose them. And we must defeat them. (Applause.)
Over the last several decades, Americans have seen how the terrorists pursue their objectives. Something of a pattern developed, and it was plain to see. To put it in blunt terms, the terrorists would hit us, but we did not hit back hard enough. 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 a strike inside our own country -- the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center -- there was a tendency to treat terrorist attacks as individual criminal acts, to be handled primarily through law enforcement.
The man who perpetrated that first attack in New York was tracked down, arrested, convicted, and sent off to prison. 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. They killed 241 servicemen in Beirut in 1983. Then there was the first World Trade Center attack in 1993; and after that, the murders at the Saudi Arabian National Guard Training Center in Riyadh in 1995; the simultaneous bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; and the attack on the USS Cole 2000. With each attack, the terrorists grew more confident in believing they could strike America without paying a price. So they continued to wage those attacks -- making the world less safe and eventually striking here in the homeland on September 11th.
Against this kind of determined, organized, ruthless enemy, America required a new strategy -- not merely to prosecute a series of crimes, but to fight and win a global campaign against the terror network. If I may quote Franklin Roosevelt, the President under who many of you served and fought, in words he used to describe fighting the Nazis: "Modern warfare against treacherous enemies," he said, "is a dirty business. We don't like it -- we didn't want to get in it -- but we are in it and we're going to fight it with everything we've got." (Applause.)
First, we're absolutely determined to prevent attacks before they occur, so we're on the offensive against the terrorists. At home and with coalition partners abroad, we've broken up terror cells, tracked down terrorist operatives, and put heavy pressure on their ability to organize and plan attacks. The work is hard, perilous, and ongoing. But we have made tremendous progress against an enemy that dwells in the shadows.
Second, we are determined to deny safe haven to the terrorists. Since the day our country was attacked, we've applied 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.
Third, we are working to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and to keep those weapons out of the hands of killers. In the post-9/11 world, we have to confront such dangers before they fully materialize. President Bush has put it very well: Terrorists and terror states do not reveal these threats with fair notice, in formal declarations -- and responding to such enemies only after an attack is not self-defense, it is suicide.
Fourth, we are determined to deny the terrorists control of any nation, which they would use as a home base and staging ground for terrorist attacks on others. That's why we continue to fight Taliban remnants and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. That's why we're working with President Musharraf to oppose and isolate the terrorist element in Pakistan. And that's why we are fighting with the remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime and terrorists in Iraq.
I know some have suggested that by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein, we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq on September 11th, 2001, and the terrorists hit us anyway. As President Bush has said, the hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse.
The terrorists regard the entire world as their battlefield. That is why al Qaeda has operatives in Iraq today. And they believe they can frighten and intimidate America into a policy of retreat.
I realize, as well, that some in our own country claim retreat from Iraq would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone. But the exact opposite is true. Time and again over the last generation, the terrorists have targeted nations whose behavior they believe they can change through violence. In fact such a retreat would convince the terrorists, once again, that free nations will change our policies, forsake our friends, and abandon our interests whenever we are confronted with violence and blackmail. They would simply draw up another set of demands, and instruct Americans to act as they direct or to face other murders. A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be a victory for the terrorists, an invitation to further violence against free nations, and a ruinous blow to the future security of the United States.
In our own country, we take democratic values seriously -- and so we always have a vigorous debate on the issues. That's part of the greatness of America, and 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 this nation will not pursue a policy of retreat. We will complete the mission, we will get it done right, and then we will return with honor. (Applause.)
Before we took down Saddam Hussein's regime, President Bush said the United States would not permit another dictatorship to rise on the ruins of the old one. And today, Iraq has the most progressive constitution and the strongest democratic mandate in the entire Arab world. Iraq's political leaders are steady and courageous, and the citizens, police, and soldiers have stepped forward as active participants and guardians of the new democracy -- running for office, speaking out, voting by the millions, and sacrificing for the future of their country.
Iraqi citizens are doing all of this despite threats from terrorists who offer no political agenda for Iraq's future and wage a campaign of mass slaughter against the Iraqi people themselves -- the vast majority of whom are fellow Arabs and fellow Muslims.
As Prime Minister Maliki said on his recent visit to Washington, his country has gone "from a one-party state, ruled by a small elite, to a multi-party system where politics is the domain of every citizen and parties compete at all levels." And Iraqis have firmly chosen "hope over fear; liberty over oppression; dignity over submission; democracy over dictatorship."
America is helping Iraq on this journey, because we are a nation that keeps its word. And we know that when men and women are given the power to determine their own destiny, the ideologies of violence and resentment will lose their appeal, and nations will turn their energies to the pursuit of peace. By standing with our friends, we are making a better day possible in the broader Middle East. By supporting democracy, we serve both the ideals and the security of our nation. And the brave Americans on duty in this war can be proud of their service for the rest of their lives. (Applause.)
Our forces remain absolutely relentless in their duties, and they are carrying out their missions with the skill and honor we expect of them. I think of the ones who put on heavy gear and work 12 or 14-hour shifts in the desert heat. Every day they are striking the enemy -- conducting raids, training Iraqi forces, countering attacks, seizing weapons, capturing killers. We'll continue to train the Iraqi forces so they can defend their own country and make it a source of stability in a troubled part of the region.
When it comes to our own troop levels, the President will listen to the recommendations of commanders on the ground. And he'll make the call based on what is needed for victory, not according to the polls, and not by artificial timelines set by set by politicians in Washington, D.C. (Applause.)
Recently one of our great allies, Prime Minister Tony Blair, said, we are never going to succeed unless we understand the terrorists are going to fight hard.
And we are learning, as previous generations learned, that wartime conditions are a fierce test of military skill and of national will. This is especially true in the war on terror.
Five years ago, President Bush told Congress and the country that the path ahead would be difficult; that we were heading into a long struggle, unlike any we have known. All this has come to pass.
At the same time, we must realize that this is a multi-front war, requiring every element of our national power. And those of us in positions of responsibility must do all we can to figure out the intentions of an enemy that likely has combatants inside the United States. We live in a free and open society, and the terrorists want to use those very advantages against us. And so we have an urgent duty to learn who they are and what they are doing, and to stop them before they can act.
To this end, in the days following 9/11, the President authorized the National Security Agency to intercept a certain category of terrorist-linked international communications. On occasion you will hear this called a domestic surveillance program. That's more than a misnomer; it is a flat-out falsehood. We are talking about international communications, one end of which we believe -- or have reason to believe is related to al Qaeda or to terrorist networks. It's hard to think of any category of information that would be more important to the safety of the United States.
The authorization the President made after September 11th helped address that problem in a manner that is fully consistent under the Constitution and consistent legal authority of the President and with the civil liberties of the American people. The activities conducted under this authorization have helped to detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks against the American people. The recent ruling by a federal judge ordering an end to this program is just dead wrong. We are confident it will be reversed on appeal.
If you'll recall, the 9/11 Commission -- (applause) -- 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, on five years' reflection, we have learned all the lessons of September 11th.
In the decade prior to those attacks, our country spent more than two trillion dollars on national security. Yet on 9/11, we lost nearly 3,000 Americans at the hands of 19 men armed with box cutters and airline tickets. In the case of al Qaeda we are not dealing with large armies we can track, or uniforms we can see, or men with territory of their own to defend. Their preferred tactic, which they boldly proclaim, is to slip into the country, blend in among the innocent, and to kill without mercy and without restraint. They have intelligence and counterintelligence operations of their own. They take their orders from overseas. They are using the most sophisticated communications technology they can get their hands on. Since 9/11 they have successfully carried out attacks in Casablanca, Jakarta, Mombassa, Bali, Riyadh, Baghdad, Istanbul, Madrid, London, Sharm al-Sheikh, Bombay, and elsewhere. Here in the U.S., we have not had another 9/11. No one can guarantee that we won't be struck again. But to have come this far without another attack is no accident. We have been protected by sound policy decisions by the President, by decisive action at home and abroad, and by round-the-clock efforts on the part of our people in the armed services, law enforcement, intelligence, and homeland security.
The President of the United States regularly makes decisions based on the intelligence briefings he receives. The information in those briefings is critical to assessing risks, and to allocating security assets inside the homeland, as well as overseas. Throughout our military, intelligence has a daily, indeed hourly, influence on the movement of ships, fighter and bomber missions, and orders given to those whose commands control the tip of the spear. Gathering the best information, and getting it into the hands of the war fighter, makes all the difference for the safety of our forces and the security of the nation. Members of the VFW: I want each one of you to know that the President will not relent in the effort to track the enemies of the United States with every legitimate tool at his command. (Applause.)
The enemy that struck on 9/11 is weakened and fractured, yet still lethal and still desperately trying to hit us again. They hate us, they hate our country, and they hate the liberties for which we stand. This is not a war we can win on the defensive. Either we are serious about this fight or we are not. And the enemies of America need to know: We are serious, and we will not let down our guard. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, on a Tuesday morning five years ago, the nation we all love experienced one of the cruelest acts the modern world has seen. In our sorrow we also felt inspiration, as we learned of airline passengers who rose up against hijackers to prevent greater loss, and rescuers who charged into burning towers and died by the hundreds, and the many examples of kindness and brotherhood that Americans showed to each other on one of the worst days in our history.
From that hour of destruction to this very moment, the people and the government of the United States have answered violence with justice, honor, and moral courage. America is a good, a decent, and generous country. The ideals that gave life to this nation are the same ideals we uphold at home and that we serve abroad. We fight not only to protect ourselves and to overcome the dangers to civilization, but to liberate the oppressed, and to give others the chance to decide their own destiny, so that all of us can one day live in peace on the foundation of human freedom.
Liberty and equality; justice and humanity; self-government, tolerance, respect, and the rule of law -- these are the principles by which we fight, the principles by which we live, and the principles by which we will prevail.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 11:28 A.M. PDT
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