|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
August 6, 2007
Vice President's Remarks at the 84th National Convention of the Marine Corps League
Albuquerque Marriott Hotel
Albuquerque, New Mexico
10:29 A.M. MDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. At ease, please. (Laughter.) Well, thank you, Paul, and good morning to everybody. I appreciate the warm welcome. It's almost enough to make me want to run for office again. (Laughter.) Almost. It's a pleasure to be with the men and women of the Marine Corps League.
And I want to thank your National Commandant, Jack Ryan for the invitation to be with all of you today. I've been pleased to know some extraordinary Marines over the years -- and these include fine Americans like General Pete Pace, our chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- (applause) -- and an old friend and colleague of mine, General Al Gray, who was Commandant of the Corps when I was -- (applause.) I worked closely with Al when I was Secretary of Defense back in the days when I had real power and influence in Washington. (Laughter.)
But I'm a lifelong admirer of the Marine Corps -- its nearly 232 years of service, its record of noble achievement, and its worthy traditions. To say that Marine Corps standards are high and demanding and tough-minded would be an understatement. I think the idea is better expressed in an old saying: "To err is human, to forgive divine -- neither of which is Marine Corps policy." (Applause.)
We're in distinguished company this morning. In addition to your fine Commandant, I want to thank your National Executive Director, Mike Blum, and Convention Chairman John Cleveland. We all appreciate the hospitality of our friends here in New Mexico, so let me thank John Garcia, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for the state of New Mexico, and thank all of them for being here today.
Above all, I want to thank the members of the Marine Corps League -- patriotic Americans who have proudly worn the eagle, globe, and anchor, and who continue to serve the traditions of the Corps and the interests of the United States of America. Membership in the League shows your commitment to being "Marines for Life." You're role models for the younger generation, advocates for veterans, and steady, reliable friends of our fellow citizens on active duty today.
You look out for our military families as well, and you've shown special care for the men and women who have returned from the battle with injuries and disabilities. As Marines you know what it means to put self interest and personal convenience down at the bottom of the list, well behind the call to duty, the code of honor, and the needs of the nation. So I thank you for your service, as well as for the privilege of being part of your 84th National Convention. And I bring respect and good wishes to all of you from the President of the United States, George W. Bush.
The work of the League carries added significance in times like these, as the nation confronts a continuing danger, as American soldiers and Marines slug it out against merciless enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Being Marines, you have valuable perspective on what our military is dealing with at this very hour. And because you're leaders in your communities, your help is very important as we remind fellow citizens of the nature of our broader war on terror, the stakes of our country, and the need for a systematic and a decisive victory.
We're just weeks away from another anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Much will be said and written about how America changed that day, and how the world has changed in the six years since. One thing, however, has not changed, and that is the determination of al Qaeda and its affiliates to hit us again, hard and repeatedly.
Last month the President and I received the latest National Intelligence Estimate. That report finds a "persistent and evolving" threat from terror groups, in particular al Qaeda. Their objective, as the NIE summary puts it, is to seek "prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets with the goal of producing mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the U.S. population."
We know, from tough experience and from ongoing intelligence activities, how this enemy aims to proceed -- by plotting in secret, by slipping into the country, exploiting any vulnerability that they can find, and by using every form of technology they can get their hands on. And this makes the war on terror as urgent and time-sensitive as any task the nation has ever taken on. As the Director of National Intelligence, Admiral McConnell, said recently, "The time needed to develop a terrorist plot, communicate it around the globe, and put it into motion has been drastically reduced. The time line is no longer a calendar, it is a watch."
The NIE summary also finds that the terrorists now consider our homeland to be a "harder target to strike than on 9/11." It's a relief that this country has been able to prevent further attempts to attack us here at home. Nobody can guarantee that we won't be struck again. But the fact that we've been this safe is not an accident of history or just a stroke of luck. It's because of a broad-based, unrelenting effort to protect this country -- an effort set in motion and led forward by the President of the United States, and by the tremendous work of some outstanding individuals in the Armed Forces, in the intelligence services, and in law enforcement.
Our government has used every legitimate tool to counter the activities of an enemy that likely has cells inside the country. We've improved security arrangements and reorganized the intelligence community. We've worked closely with friends and allies to track terrorist activity. And, yes, we have surveilled and interrogated the enemy. We will continue to do so, and for good reason. With our country targeted by terrorists, our government has a pressing duty to find out the intentions and the movements of these killers before it's too late.
That's a commitment President Bush has made, and we're pleased that Congress, this past weekend, approved legislation to give intelligence professionals the tools and the authority they need to operate for the next six months. But Congress needs to complete the task on a permanent basis before the end of the year. We must and we will keep this commitment for the clearest and simplest of reasons: It's our duty.
We have understood from the beginning that this is a different kind of war. It's not going to involve great air, sea, and land battles, where you advance over a line, take a city, raise the flag and have a surrender ceremony. This is a shadowy enemy, unbound by morality or the rules of war, operating in stealth, and setting up networks within networks. And so we have to proceed on many fronts and go on the offense against this danger -- to track it down and kill it wherever it grows.
The central front in the war on terror is Iraq. We are there because it is where lethal enemies have gathered. We are there because, after 9/11, we decided to deny terrorists any safe haven. We are there because, having removed Saddam Hussein, we promised not to allow another brutal dictator to rise in his place. And we are there because the security of this nation depends on a successful outcome -- an Iraq that can defend itself, govern itself, sustain itself and be a ally in the global war on terror.
The main battle in Iraq today is against al Qaeda. This, at times, is denied by those who are demanding an American retreat. They overlook the basic facts of the matter.
Our military estimates that 80 to 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaeda-sponsored terrorists. Al Qaeda in Iraq was founded by a Jordanian named Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Before 9/11, Zarqawi ran a training camp in Afghanistan. After 9/11, he fled Afghanistan and went to Iraq. In 2004 he allied himself with al Qaeda and pledged his loyalty to Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi was killed by American forces a year ago June. He was replaced by an Egyptian named Abu Ayyub. Al Qaeda in Iraq is a group founded by foreign terrorists. The leaders of this group have been the primary enemy of this country since the day we began fighting this global conflict.
Bin Laden himself has said that "The most serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War [that is] raging in [Iraq]." He calls it "a war of destiny between infidelity and Islam." He said, "The whole world is watching this war," and that it will end in "victory and glory or misery and humiliation." And in words directed at the American people, bin Laden declares, "The war is for you or for us to win. If we win it, it means your defeat and disgrace forever."
This leader of al Qaeda has referred to Baghdad as a base for the establishment of the caliphate. He has also said, "Success in Baghdad will be success for the United States. Failure in Iraq is the failure of the United States. Their defeat in Iraq will mean defeat in all their wars."
Obviously, the terrorists are under no illusion about the importance of the struggle in Iraq. They have not called it a distraction or a diversion from their war against the United States. Iraq's relevance to the war on terror simply could not be more plain. And here at home, that makes one thing, above all, very clear: If you support the war on terror, then you ought to support it where the terrorists are fighting us.
The stakes are high on both sides, and no one should understate the difficulty of the work yet to be done. The new force commander, General Dave Petraeus, has said that the operational environment is the most complex and challenging he's ever seen. Yet there's reason to be confident. We have a new strategy in place to help Iraqis secure the population, especially in Baghdad. To move that process forward, we've sent in reinforcements. The last of these reinforcements arrived in theater in the middle of last month -- the middle of June. We're now in a surge of operations.
The new strategy in Iraq is, obviously, still in the early stages of implementation. It will be a while before we can fully assess how well it's going. Yet there is unmistakable progress inside Iraq. More locals are getting into the fight. More good intelligence information is coming in. And in al-Anbar province, west of Baghdad, the turnaround in recent months has been extraordinary. Late last year, some critics were saying that al-Anbar was lost to the terrorists. But the United States Marine Corps had another idea. They went into al-Anbar and did careful, painstaking work to confront the killers and to build confidence in the general population. Today, with the help of local Sunni sheiks, we have driven al Qaeda from the seat of power in al-Anbar. And we're now trying to achieve the same results in other parts of Iraq.
It is still tough going. But even some critics of the Iraq operation who have taken time to look at the facts are admitting that tremendous changes have taken place. And this is no time to lose heart and make a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, as some in Congress are demanding. (Applause.) To quit this fight would be to lose this fight, and the consequences would be grievous.
History provides its own lessons, and none perhaps is better than the example of Afghanistan in the 1980s. During those years, Afghanistan was a major front in the Cold War, and the U.S. was actively involved in supporting efforts to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan. The strategic significance was clear to all, and that's why we were heavily engaged in the area. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, everybody walked away from Afghanistan.
From that point on, various extremist factions began to vie for power. There was a civil war. By the end of the 1990s, the Taliban had emerged and had a hammerlock on the country, and they had provided a safe haven and sanctuary for Osama bin Laden and for training camps that trained somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 al Qaeda terrorists in the late 1990s. All of that, of course, led directly to the attacks here in the United States on September 11th, 2001.
The consequences of walking away from Afghanistan were severe, but perhaps hard to foresee prior to 9/11. But no one could plead ignorance of the potential consequences of walking away from Iraq now, withdrawing coalition forces before the Iraqis can defend themselves. Moderates would be crushed. Locals who had allied themselves with our coalition and trusted the United States would be hunted down by al Qaeda and other extremists. Sectarian violence would explode, and outside influences could widen the conflict into a regional war.
We must consider, as well, what a retreat strategy would mean to our other efforts in the war on terror, and our interests in the broader Middle East. Having tasted victory in Iraq, jihadists would look about for new missions. Many would head for Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. Others would set out for capitals across the Middle East, spreading more discord as they eliminate dissenters and work to undermine moderate governments, in what the terrorist Zawahiri has called a "jihad wave." Still others would find their targets and victims in other countries on other continents.
What would it say to the world if we left high and dry those millions of people who have counted on the United States to keep its commitments? President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is at Camp David today, as we meet. What would an American retreat say to someone like him -- an ally in the war on terror who has faced repeated assassination attempts simply because he stands for democracy, for human rights, for friendship with the United States and other free countries?
The plain truth is that a sudden withdrawal from Iraq would dissipate much of the effort that's gone into fighting the war on terror these last several years, and result in chaos and mounting danger. And for the sake of our own security, we will not stand by and let it happen. (Applause.)
This nation has chosen a better course. Instead of allowing problems to simmer; instead of allowing threats to gather thousands of miles away and assuming that they won't find us here at home, we've decided to face our challenges squarely. We offer a vision of freedom, justice, and self government as a superior alternative to ideologies of violence, anger, and resentment. We believe, and we know, that free institutions and human liberty provide the best long-term hope of progress for nations, and for peace in the world.
This course we have chosen is not an easy one for America. But it will be far easier on the conscience of America when we see it through, sparing millions from suffering, and leaving behind a free and democratic Iraq. This cause is bigger than the quarrels of party and the agendas of politicians. It is in the national security interest. It's not a Republican war or a Democratic war. It is America's war, and the best among us are those fighting and sacrificing to win it. (Applause.)
I know that your Commandant, Jack Ryan, has shared with League members the contents of a letter he received from General Conway, the Marine Corps Commandant. General Conway wrote eloquently of the gravity of the fight against terror, the stakes for this country, and the nature of the enemy that we face in this long war. "Success by the enemy," General Conway wrote, "will dramatically change the world as we know it, leaving a harsh environment for our children and grandchildren to endure." After his signature General Conway added a handwritten postscript. And in those few simple words he captured the issue of the whole struggle going on right now. He wrote this: "All our guys need is a chance to finish what has been started." (Applause.)
We're not a country that takes our military for granted. Even in the quietest of times, Americans have always understood that our men and women in uniform are the ones who assure stability and keep the peace. But in wartime, we have daily reminders of the kind of courage and skill that protects us all and preserves freedom for the next generation. In this war our fighting men and women have faced long deployments, setbacks, and tough conditions -- tracking terrorists on frozen mountain ridges in Afghanistan to carrying heavy packs and 60 pounds of body armor in the 120-degree heat of the desert. They have soldiered on in every circumstance and they have stuck together, as Americans always do. General Petraeus said that on the 4th of July, he witnessed "what may have been the largest re-enlistment ceremony in history" -- 588 men and women, on duty in Iraq, "raised their right hands and signed up for another tour in the U.S. Armed Forces." (Applause.)
I was impressed, as well, to read the story of a 23-year-old Marine Corporal, Gareth Hawkins. He recently began his third deployment to Iraq, and several weeks ago he was injured in a roadside attack north of Baghdad. According to a news account, Corporal Hawkins "asked to complete one piece of unfinished business before being rushed via ambulance to undergo surgery at the hospital at the local Marine base He wanted to reenlist for another four-year hitch." That's the kind of dedication that makes our whole nation proud. (Applause.)
In the war on terror we've again seen patience, precision, and determination among our forces. We've seen the finest traditions of the United States military. And we've seen examples of valor that will stand down through the ages -- and none of these is greater than that of Corporal Jason Dunham. Three years ago, while leading his rifle squad during an attack near the Syrian border, Corporal Dunham found himself in hand-to-hand combat with an insurgent. After being wrestled to the ground, the insurgent rolled out a grenade that he'd been concealing. Without hesitating, Corporal Dunham threw himself on the grenade and used his helmet and his body to absorb the blast. He was horribly wounded and died eight days later.
In an instant, this young man showed greater courage than the military or the nation has any right to expect from one man. But by his actions, Jason Dunham saved the lives of fellow Americans. He now ranks among the bravest citizens this nation has ever produced -- and earlier this year at the White House, President Bush presented Deb and Dan Dunham with the Medal of Honor earned by their son Jason, a United States Marine. (Applause.)
For some years now, many brave Americans have found inspiration in the Marine's prayer, with the words, "If I am inclined to doubt, steady my faith; if I am tempted, make me strong to resist; if I should miss the mark, give me courage to try again." The men and women of the Marine Corps have done more than defend this nation -- they have enhanced the character of this nation. Marines have been on the front lines of virtually every war, carrying out hundreds of successful missions on foreign shores. Marines have taken and held ground in some of the most perilous and desperate circumstances ever seen in warfare. And in their courage they have written some of the noblest chapters in military history. And so it is, once again, in this critical hour for our country.
War is an unpleasant business. It tires the soul of a nation and tests the will of its people. Yet Americans can hold our heads high, because the purposes our nation serves are good purposes. The United States is a decent, honorable, and a generous country -- and so are the people who wear its uniform. As we speak, ladies and gentlemen, members of the United States armed forces are serving in nearly 80 different countries -- from the broader Middle East, to Europe, to Southeast Asia, to Latin America, to Africa. Every day they confront the violent, protect the weak, heal the sick, and bring hope to the oppressed. We live in a messy, dangerous world -- but this world is a far better place than it would be without the active, committed presence of the United States. Our cause is freedom. That cause is right. And by the valor of those who serve it, that cause will prevail.
God bless the Marines. Semper Fi. (Applause.)
END 10:52 P.M. MDT