For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
September 14, 2007
Vice President's Remarks at the Gerald R. Ford Museum
Grand Rapids, Michigan
10:31 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. It's always a pleasure to be back in Grand Rapids, especially at this impressive site near the Grand River.
I want to thank Elaine for the introduction, and the trustees and staff of the Gerald R. Ford Museum for their hospitality, and leaders of the community for joining us this morning.
Special thanks, as well, to my friends Dick Ford, the President's younger brother; and Vaden Bales, son-in-law; Marty Allen; and Ambassador Pete Secchia. I especially want to thank the Marines and soldiers from the Michigan National Guard who have joined us today -- they are a tremendous credit to the United States, and it's an honor to have them here. (Applause.)
When I come to the Ford Museum, my thoughts go back to a very good time in my life and to the colleagues that shared it and, above all, to the President that many of us were privileged to know and to serve.
This Museum, and the Ford Library in Ann Arbor, mean a great deal to me -- not just personally but from the standpoint of history, because I was chief of staff in the Ford White House. I'm told researchers like to come and dig through my files, to see if anything interesting turns up. I want to wish them luck -- (laughter) -- but the files are pretty thin. I learned early on that if you don't want your memos to get you in trouble some day, just don't write any.
But I'm certain that I wouldn't be Vice President today had it not been for the opportunities given to me by President Ford, and the confidence that he placed in me all those years ago. It was an eventful period for our nation and for the world. Henry Kissinger has aptly said that Gerald Ford's time in the White House involved challenge and effort enough for two full terms in office. In those 895 days, the whole nation came to know President Ford the way Grand Rapids knew him -- as a man of common sense, rectitude, and the greatest personal decency. And it's gratifying to see that his reputation has only grown in the three decades since he left office, and in the nine months since he was laid to rest on these grounds.
He once said, "As President, my primary concern must always be the greatest good of all the people of the United States whose servant I am. As a man, my first consideration is to be true to my own convictions and my own conscience."
To me, those words remain a superb and timeless definition of presidential responsibility. Gerald Ford adhered to that standard completely; I am a witness. And I am proud to see that high standard once again, in the conduct and character of the leader I work for today, our 43rd President, George W. Bush.
Last evening, as I know many of you saw, the President reported to the nation on the status of our operations in Iraq. Back in Washington we'll continue to have debates about Iraq and broader national security policy, as we should. Tough work lies ahead. But the evidence from a theater of war 6,000 miles away is beyond question: The troop surge has achieved solid results, and in a relatively short period of time. General Petraeus and the troops under his command are doing an absolutely fantastic job, and the entire nation is proud of them.
Many of those serving today were not yet members of the military on September 11th, 2001 -- and some were inspired to join precisely because of what happened that morning. Just like the many brave souls we remember from 9/11, these men and women heard the call to face evil and to defend the innocent. They have showed, and they continue to show, the very best that is in our country.
One does not need a dramatic cast of mind to believe that our world really did change six years ago. For most of this nation's history we had been spared from attack inside our borders. But in a violent world, the safety of distance was suddenly gone. We saw how a small group of men, in a conspiracy formed thousands of miles away, could slip into our country, kill Americans by the thousands, and reduce tall buildings to 16 acres of ashes. And we had to contemplate an even worse prospect -- that terrorists might acquire weapons of mass destruction and turn them against the United States.
With grave new dangers directly in view, the strategic situation changed fundamentally. Events like those of 9/11 bring chaos and destruction, and leave no good options. After a day like that, our choices are not pleasant and they are not easy, but they are clear. And the first thing we had to understand was that on 9/11, America was not merely the victim of a crime. We were a sovereign nation under attack, entitled to defend ourselves, and obligated to confront and defeat this enemy.
The terrorists have been clear about what they believe, and what they want, and how they intend to get it. The main enemy we face, bin Laden's al Qaeda network and other al Qaeda-inspired groups, adhere to a radical concept of Islam that rejects freedom as we know it, and denies even the freedom of conscience. In the terrorists' vision of society, women can never rise above the level of servitude. Opposing points of view are not to be tolerated. Followers of other faiths, even fellow Muslims who don't bow to the extremists, are to be persecuted. For such an ideology to dominate any population, it must be enforced by brute force and intimidation -- and this is precisely what we saw in the Taliban regime that controlled Afghanistan.
The terrorists have adopted the posture of an aggrieved party -- supposedly defending the downtrodden against Western imperialists. But it is they, the terrorists, who have ambitions of empire. Their objective in the broader Middle East is to seize control of a country, so they have a base from which to launch attacks against governments that fail to meet their demands. Their ultimate aim is to establish a radical empire covering a region from Spain, across North Africa, through the greater Middle East and South Asia, all the way to Indonesia. They have proclaimed, as well, the goal of arming themselves with weapons of mass destruction, to intimidate Western countries and to kill Americans on a massive scale.
Enflamed with such ambitions, the terrorists view all the world as a battlefield. We're dealing with extremely secretive networks hiding out in many different countries and plotting murder and chaos in civilized countries. They operate by stealth and have repeatedly targeted innocent, unsuspecting victims on buses, commuter trains, and airliners; in office towers, restaurants and resorts; in government offices and police stations. Evil inspires its own kind of self sacrifice, and some of these killers are prepared to die with their victims.
It's not easy for a civilized society to comprehend evil like that of a bin Laden or a Zawahiri. It shocks us to hear such men exhorting other people's sons to "join a caravan" of martyrs, proclaiming that heaven favors the merciless and murder is the path to paradise. This, also, is part of their method. In all things, their goal is to frighten us and break our will through acts of spectacular violence -- to hit us again and again until we run away.
They've chosen this method because they believe it works, and they believe the history of the late 20th century proves the point. During the 1980s and '90s, as terror networks began to wage attacks against Americans, there was a tendency to treat those attacks as isolated incidents. And those acts were answered, if at all, on an ad-hoc basis, with subpoenas, criminal indictments, and the occasional cruise missile. As time passed, the terrorists concluded they could hit America with very little consequence, and might even change American policy with bigger targets and a higher body count. And so their attacks became more ambitious and more deadly.
In Beirut in 1983, terrorists killed 241 of our servicemen. Thereafter, the U.S. withdrew from Beirut. In Mogadishu in 1993, terrorists killed 19 Americans; thereafter, the U.S. withdrew from Somalia. This emboldened them still further, confirming their belief that they could strike America without paying any price. Indeed they did strike, and indeed they did not pay the price.
We had the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993; an attack on U.S. facilities in Riyadh in 1995; the murder of U.S. servicemen at Khobar Towers in 1996; the attack on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Ultimately, of course, they attacked the homeland on 9/11 and took the lives of 3,000 people aboard passenger jets, and at the World Trade Center, and at the Pentagon.
The terrorists have been at war with the United States for a long time. And after 9/11 we made a decision: We're at war with them. This is a long term commitment, not a passing phase. There will be no running, or relenting, until the problem has been dealt with -- decisively, systematically, and permanently.
From the morning of 9/11, we have assumed, correctly, that more strikes would be attempted against us. So we have made enormous changes to harden the targets here at home and better prepare the nation to face this kind of emergency. But we can't protect our country, much less win a war, by simply bracing for another attack. We've gone on the offensive, destroying safe havens, targeting their leadership, restricting their movements, closing off their money, infiltrating their operations, monitoring their communications, and working in dead earnest to stop the proliferation of catastrophic weapons.
America has also enforced a doctrine that is essential to our security, and to eventual victory in this struggle. It is simple to state and understood by all: Governments that support or harbor terrorists are complicit in the murder of the innocent, and they must be held to account. That's a significant commitment to make. Some may question whether we mean it -- but the doubters do not include the members of the Taliban.
With good allies at our side, we took down the terror regime in Afghanistan, and we have aided the rise of a free government in that nation. The country has chosen its first democratically-elected president in history, and seated a national assembly through free elections. In half a decade Afghanistan's economy has doubled in size, and more than four million refugees have returned home.
And yet there is still hard work and tough fighting in Afghanistan. We have lost soldiers there nearly every month since going in almost six years ago. Right now we've got more than 20,000 American troops on the ground, together with more than 20,000 personnel from some 40 other countries. The United States is not a fair-weather friend. When we took down the terrorist-supporting regime, liberating the Afghan people from tyranny, we promised to help them build something better. Success there is essential to security around the world, and to lasting peace in our part of the world.
The war on terror does not have to be endless. But to prevail in the long run, we must remove the conditions that inspire such blind, prideful hatred that drove 19 men to get onto airplanes to come kill 3,000 Americans. We know from history that when people live in freedom, have their rights respected, and have real hope for the future, they will not be drawn to ideologies of hatred and violence. We know, as well, that when men and women are given the chance, most by far will choose to live in freedom.
Tyranny in Afghanistan was worth deposing. Democracy in Afghanistan is worth defending. And the same is true in Iraq.
More than four years ago, we enforced the demands of the civilized world and ended the long, squalid career of Saddam Hussein. And having removed the dictator, we promised not to let another tyrant rise in his place. For their own part, most Iraqis have had their fill of violence and despair, and only want only to get on with life in a peaceful country. They have turned out in large numbers in national elections, ratifying the most progressive constitution in the Arab world, bearing up with extraordinary courage against random violence and threats and refusing to be intimidated by killers.
Still, Iraqi society continues to suffer the effects of a generation of tyrannical rule. There are those who wonder why free Iraq hasn't yet produced a single, unifying figure like a Hamid Karzai or a Nelson Mandela. The problem, as President Bush pointed out recently, is that the Nelson Mandelas of Iraq are scarce, because Saddam Hussein made sure that if they didn't escape the country, they were dead."
Iraq is a great nation of more than 25 million people who want what we want -- security, peace, and the right to chart their own destiny. And right now they face attacks from violent extremists who want to drag that nation back into the darkness. We are helping Iraqis fight back because it is the right thing to do -- and because the outcome will have a direct impact on the security of the United States.
The al Qaeda network that struck America is one of the elements now interested in destroying Iraq's democracy -- and Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants regard it as a critical front in their war against us. Their goal is to make us run -- in the process abandoning our friends, permitting the overthrow of a democracy, and allowing a country of 170,000 square miles to be a staging area for attacks against America and our friends. The terrorists are betting that Americans will grow tired, distracted, and weak. That's a bet the terrorists are going to lose.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United States and our coalition are getting things right in Iraq. It's taken a good deal of time, and we've endured setbacks. 2006, everyone knows, was a bad year. Al Qaeda terrorists wanted to accelerate sectarian violence, and they carried out that plan with ferocity. Many Iraqis doubted the ability of their government to provide basic protection or deliver basic services. The security situation in Baghdad got worse instead of better. And in Anbar Province, a huge area to the west of Baghdad, a U.S. military intelligence report declared the entire region was lost to al Qaeda.
Against that background, President Bush announced a new strategy to bring security to the population, to clear terrorists out of their strongholds so local governments could function, to give Iraqi security forces time to grow and improve, and to provide the breathing room necessary for political reconciliation. Our new commander in the field, General Dave Petraeus, asked for reinforcements and we sent an additional five brigades, to a full force of 160,000. The operating assumption of the troop surge has been that basic security is a precondition for other progress. And providing that security has been our overriding goal.
As General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker told Congress this week, the challenge remains formidable. The situation, in the General's words, is "complex, difficult, and sometimes downright frustrating." Yet, as he and the Ambassador also made clear, conditions in Iraq are changing for the better, and we are seizing the initiative from the enemy.
Since January, even before the troop surge took effect, each month our forces have captured or killed an average of about 1,500 al Qaeda terrorists and other enemies of the elected government. Coalition forces have struck hard against extremists and supply networks; seized huge caches of enemy weapons; and conducted operations against extremists supported by Iran -- a country whose paramilitary organization traffics in lethal material. And in the areas where we've cleared out the terrorists and militias, we've surged our diplomatic and civilian resources -- because it's critical that military success be followed quickly by real improvements in the lives of ordinary citizens.
And more and more, we're getting locals into the fight against the terrorists. In Anbar Province, United States Marines have done careful, painstaking work to confront the killers and to build confidence in the general population. They've been assisted by Iraqi forces -- and, most significantly, by local tribal leaders who've had enough of the mindless brutality and bullying by al Qaeda. We have driven al Qaeda from Ramadi and other population centers in Anbar. President Bush himself visited the province last week, and assured local and national leaders that we're going to keep the pressure on the enemy in Anbar. It's still dangerous in the province, and just yesterday terrorists killed one of the sheikhs who had been in the fight against al Qaeda and met with the President the previous week. That fight goes on, and America's support will not waver.
At the same time, General Petraeus is using reinforcements from the surge to bring similar progress to other parts of Iraq. This, also, is yielding results. In Baghdad, for example, the security environment is far better than it was a year ago. American and Iraqi forces are patrolling and living among the people they protect, and that's helped to build confidence in the neighborhoods. As Major General Rick Lynch put it, our forces are "not commuting to work; we're out there with the local citizens, to let them know they're going to be secure, and as a result of that, they come to us with all sorts of actionable intelligence."
In the middle of a war, it's hard to overstate the importance of good intelligence. Nor can one overstate the difficulty of obtaining such information. But the first question in the mind of a source is whether he can trust you, or whether you're going to turn your back on him. In a news briefing General Lynch put it this way: "We get to an area, the first question the locals ask is, 'Are you staying?' And once they're convinced we're staying, the question then becomes, 'How can we help?'"
Recently, the General said, "we've seen an interesting shift. Iraqi citizens are coming to us to provide information. These citizens are, talking about what they've heard and about any activity that jeopardizes the rebuilding of their country."
This, too, is another sign of the progress we've been able to make inside Iraq. The locals have begun to see that America's commitment is real and it is lasting. They've begun to realize that the United States is a nation that follows through on a pledge -- and the President of the United States is a man of his word.
The President has made clear that America will do its part to keep Iraq on the road of freedom, security, and progress. As the President said last night, Iraq's national leaders are getting some things done. They've passed a budget. They are sharing oil revenues with provinces, despite the lack of an oil revenue law. The Shia majority is showing more willingness to bring Sunnis, even former Baathists, into the military and civilian programs. And we expect Iraq's national government to press much harder in the work of national reconciliation, to match the kind of cooperation now taking place at the local and provincial levels.
We'll continue, as well, our intensive effort to train Iraqi security forces, so that over time Iraqis can take the lead in protecting their people. Progress has been uneven at times and the National Police especially needs improvement. But Iraq's army is becoming more capable. And because there's now a greater degree of cooperation from local populations, Iraqi forces are better able to keep the peace in areas that have been cleared of extremists.
For that reason, as the President told the nation last night, General Petraeus believes we've reached the point where we can expect the same level of security with fewer American forces in some parts of Iraq. It now appears that when an expeditionary unit of about 2,200 Marines leaves Anbar in two weeks, General Petraeus will not need American forces to replace them. The General has also determined that at the current rate of success, we'll be able to withdraw a full Army brigade by the end of this year. He expects, as well, that by July of next year, we'll be able to reduce our troop levels in Iraq from 20 combat brigades back to the 15-brigade pre-surge force.
President Bush has accepted the recommendations on troop levels, as well as General Petraeus's plan for the next phase of our strategy in Iraq. Starting in December, American forces will begin to transfer responsibility to Iraqi forces in a manner that preserves security and maintains the upper hand over the enemy. As advances are made against the terrorists and civil society grows stronger, the Iraqis will have more responsibility for security -- and our mission in the country will evolve.
Going forward, American forces will go from leading operations to partnering with Iraqi forces to, eventually, overwatching those forces. Our troops will continue countering terrorism and training and equipping Iraqi forces. Further drawdowns in our military presence will depend on conditions inside the country, and on the recommendations by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. In any event, President Bush will make his decisions based on the national interest and nothing else -- not by artificial measures, not by political calculations, certainly not by poll numbers.
The United States is keeping its commitments, and persevering despite difficulty, because we understand the consequences of getting out before the job is done. 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. The strategic significance was clear to all, and the United States was heavily engaged in the area. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, everyone walked away from Afghanistan. From that point, extremist factions began to vie for power. By the end of the 1990s, the Taliban had taken over and had an iron grip on the country. They provided sanctuary and safe haven to Osama bin Laden and the terror camps that he established. And in those camps, were planned the attacks of September 11th, 2001, and the deaths of some 3,000 Americans.
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, withdrawing coalition forces before Iraqis could defend themselves. Moderates would be crushed as extreme groups pushed the country into chaos. Competing factions -- including al Qaeda and militias backed by the regime in Tehran, would unloose an all-out war, with the violence unlikely to be contained within Iraq. The ensuing carnage would further destabilize the Middle East and magnify the threat to our friends throughout the region.
Every tyrant in that region -- and well beyond -- would take note of our failed resolve, and friends and foes alike would decide that America's word cannot be trusted. This would only dissipate much of the effort that's gone into fighting the war on terror these last several years -- and the blows would rain down heavily on those who have stood with America in this war.
And we, the people of the United States, would bear the consequences as well -- because a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would validate al Qaeda's belief that we lack the stomach for the fight, that we lack the patience to complete a mission even when it's clearly in our national security interest.
In all the calls we've heard for an American withdrawal from Iraq, these negative consequences have not really been denied -- they've simply been ignored. But those of us in positions of responsibility cannot and will not ignore the plain and foreseeable effects of abandoning our mission.
America has accepted a duty that is hard, and honorable, and worth completing. General Petraeus and his troops are doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time. Their success will make our nation more secure. Let us stand behind them all the way to victory.
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. And the credit will belong to the greatest force for liberation and security on this earth -- the men and women of the United States military.
The good men and women serving in the war on terror face hard duties every single day. As General Petraeus has said, they have to be ready for a hand grenade or a handshake. Average rotations in the Iraq theater are now 15 months, longer than the normal 12. Soldiers and Marines go out on patrols wearing heavy body armor, carrying 50 pounds or more on their backs, and putting in long hours in the punishing heat of the desert. The commanders report high morale, and on the 4th of July our top general 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 Armed Forces.
Americans know that we're a democracy, defended by volunteers -- and this makes us humble and grateful. All of you know the feeling, because western Michigan is home to many of our servicemen and women and their families. Some of those families have given all they have to give, and in his speech last night the President mentioned a brave Army specialist from this area named Brandon Stout, who was killed on duty in Baghdad.
We're a nation that values every life and mourns every loss -- and may we never forget those who have fought and suffered and died to protect this nation and our freedom.
Six years ago, we began a long struggle to preserve our freedom and defend our way of life. Today, with boots on the ground 6,000 miles away, the history of that struggle is still in the making. I, for one, am confident in the outcome. Americans are not the sort to wait on events, or to live at the mercy of the violent. We do not sit and hope for the best -- we can see a better day for ourselves and all humanity, and we strive to achieve it. We have shown a watching world that we are a good and just nation, secure in our ideals, fearless in their defense, and willing to sacrifice greatly for the cause of long-term peace. We will press on in our mission, and turn events toward victory.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 11:01 A.M. EDT
# # #