|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
September 25, 2006
Vice President's Remarks at a Rally for the Michigan National Guard
Grand Valley Armory
3:40 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Well, thank you very much. I appreciate the very warm welcome to Wyoming, Michigan -- I love that name, Wyoming, Michigan. I am honored to stand with the men and women of the Michigan Army National Guard.
And let me thank General Taylor for the kind words, and the fine musicians of the 126th Army Band. Let me also thank General Taylor for years of distinguished service to the nation. (Applause.)
It's been my privilege to work with the National Guard over the years, not just as Vice President but also during my years as Secretary of Defense. The citizen soldier is absolutely vital to protecting the nation. We know that from our history, and we know that from current events. In this time of war, we have turned to National Guard personnel for many important and difficult missions. And I want all of you to know that we appreciate the work you do, we respect the sacrifices you make, and we admire your skill and your devotion to duty. And I am proud to bring you the gratitude and the good wishes of our Commander-in-Chief, the President of the United States, George W. Bush. (Applause.)
To serve in the National Guard is to accept a dual mission. You can be called on to defend the country against enemies abroad, or to protect lives and property in times of emergency close to home. Each one of you follows in a long tradition of service. The Guard was organized here before statehood, some 200 years ago. And when the first regiment from this state 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 -- from Gettysburg, to the Argonne, to the beaches at Normandy, to Desert Storm, and now to the war on terror.
As always, the decisive factor is the character of the men and women who serve -- and Michigan has produced generations of brave citizen soldiers. Sometimes different generations serve together. I'm told that Sergeant Ted Mills, who served in Iraq, is the father of three other Guardsmen who also served in Iraq. (Applause.) We're proud of the Mills family. We're also proud of Sergeant Noel Plaska, who returned several months ago from Afghanistan. His son, Specialist Michael Plaska, served in Iraq, and his daughter, Sergeant Kristy Plaska, is returning home from Kuwait. We thank these and all the dedicated military families of Michigan for their service. (Applause.)
Now, General Taylor, and all of you, know from experience these recent months and years have been a demanding time for Guardsmen and women across the country. Since 9/11, nearly 80 percent of the Michigan National Guard has been called to active duty. Members of the Michigan Army National Guard's 1463rd Transportation Company, the 125th Infantry Battalion, and the 126th Armored Battalion have served far from home -- from peacekeeping duty in Bosnia, to ground support operations in Iraq, to training missions in Afghanistan. The assignments have been varied, but the standard of performance has been high and unwavering. You've put duty ahead of convenience, and service above self-interest. 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 world.
Afghanistan five years ago was in the grip of a violent, merciless regime that harbored terrorists and 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. I will see President Karzai later this week and I will tell him about the soldiers from the Michigan National Guard and the training that you did to make possible the promise of a new Afghan national army and the continuation of democracy in Afghanistan. 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. (Applause.)
The same is true for members of the 1st Battalion of the 24th Marines who are with us today. (Applause.) And for all the men and women who serve in Iraq. Americans understand what is at stake in that country -- and so do the terrorists. That is 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 are going to win. (Applause.)
Iraq is the central front in that war. And 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 terror, that will be a model of 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 about 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, and the strongest democratic mandate in the entire Arab world, and a unity government committed to a future of freedom for all Iraqis.
Our strategy in Iraq is clear, and our tactics will remain flexible. Progress has not come easily and we can expect further attacks from those who are opposed to 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, Iraqis will be able to take over increasing responsibility for their own security. 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 Marines. Following that attack, the U.S. withdrew our forces from Beirut. Time and time again, for the remainder of the 20th century, the terrorists hit America, but America did not hit back hard enough. In 1993 we had the killing of American soldiers in Mogadishu, and the first bombing at the World Trade Center in New York. We had the murders at the Saudi National Guard Training Center in Riyadh in 1995; the killings at Khobar Towers in 1996; the destruction of two of our embassies in East Africa in 1998; the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. The terrorists came to believe that they could strike America without paying a price, and so they continued to wage those attacks -- making the world less safe and eventually striking the United States on September 11, 2001.
That day changed everything, because it brought home the true ambitions of these enemies. They have no respect for the rules of warfare and no mercy for innocent life. They do not respond to words of reason; they do not fight by the rules of war; they do not feel constrained by moral law. Their goal is to intimidate America and other free nations, so that we will abandon our global commitments. They are seeking the most destructive weapons known to man, in order to gain power over whole regions and to impose their vision of conformity, violence, and oppression.
Against such enemies, our only option is to go on the offensive, to track them down until they have no place left to hide, and to stay in the fight until the fight is won. (Applause.)
The fight against terror includes a home front -- and at this armory you know that the home front is every bit as important as the battlefields abroad. 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 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 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 has on occasion been described as domestic surveillance or eavesdropping. 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 a terrorist network. It's hard to think of any category of information that could be more important to the safety and security of the United States.
The Terrorist Surveillance Program is fully consistent with the constitutional responsibilities and the legal authority of the President. The program is conducted in a manner that fully protects the civil liberties of the American people. The activities conducted under this authorization have helped us 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 plain wrong. We're confident it will be reversed on appeal. (Applause.)
Above all, I can tell you that the Terrorist Surveillance Program is absolutely essential to the security of the United States. In their report 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 task in front of us is still urgent. The enemy that struck on 9/11 is weakened and fractured, yet still lethal and still determined to hit us again. All of you understand this because you're personally involved in the defense of our country. As people who know first-hand what this war really entails, you can be certain of this: The President will not relent in tracking the terrorists with every legitimate tool in his command. The United States of America will not let down its guard. (Applause.)
Americans know about the heroism displayed every day in the fight against terror. And we are not the kind of people who to take our military for granted. The citizens of this nation appreciate the sacrifices of those who serve, and the incredible commitment of their families. We appreciate, as well, employers in Michigan and 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 necessary cause, and we will forever honor their sacrifice. They have taken the fight to a determined enemy and we will stay on the offensive to win the war on terror. (Applause.)
The United States is a nation that keeps its word, so we will carry on in the work that is ours to do. But 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 good country, a generous, compassionate, idealistic country. We are doing honorable work in a messy and a dangerous world. By defending ourselves, 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, perseverance, decency and honor. (Applause.)
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 presence. You reflect great credit on your state and your country. And you've made your fellow citizens mighty proud.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 3:58 P.M. EDT