“Five and a half years have passed since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, and the loss that morning of nearly 3,000 innocent people here in the United States. As we get farther away from 9/11, I believe there's a temptation to forget the urgency of the task that came to us that day, and the comprehensive approach that's required to protect this country against an enemy that moves and acts on multiple fronts. In fact, five and a half years into the struggle, we find ourselves having to confront a series of myths about the war on terror -- myths that are often repeated and deserve to be refuted.
The most common myth is that Iraq has nothing to do with the global war on terror. Opponents of our military action there have called Iraq a diversion from the real conflict, a distraction from the business of fighting and defeating bin Laden and al Qaeda. We hear this over and over again -- not as an argument, but as an assertion meant to close off argument. Yet the critics conveniently disregard the words of bin Laden himself: "The most... serious issue today for the whole world," he said, "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, Osama bin Laden declares, quote, "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 the capital of the Caliphate. He has also said, and I quote, "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." End quote.
Obviously, the terrorists have 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. They know it is a central front in that war, and it's where they've chosen to make a stand. Our Marines tonight are fighting al Qaeda terrorists in al Anbar Province. U.S. and Iraqi forces recently killed a number of al Qaeda terrorists in Baghdad, who were responsible for numerous car bomb attacks. Iraq's relevance to the war on terror simply could not be more plain. Here at home, that makes one thing, above all, very clear: If you support the war on terror, then it only makes sense to support it where the terrorists are fighting us. (Applause.)
The second myth is the most transparent -- and that is the notion that one can support the troops without giving them the tools and reinforcements they need to carry out their mission.
Twisted logic is not exactly a new phenomenon in Washington -- but last month it reached new heights. At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain put the following question to General Dave Petraeus, who was up for confirmation: "Suppose we send you over to your new job... only we tell you... you can't have any additional troops. Can you get your job done?" General Petraeus replied, "No, sir." Yet within days of his confirmation by a unanimous vote in the Senate -- I repeat, a unanimous vote of confidence in General Petraeus, not one single negative vote -- a large group of senators tried to pass a resolution opposing the reinforcements and support that he believed were necessary to carry out his mission. The House of Representatives, of course, did pass such a resolution. As President Bush said, this may be the first time in history that a Congress "voted to send a new commander into battle and then voted to oppose the plan he said was necessary to win that battle." It was not a proud episode in the history of the United States Congress.
Yesterday, the House Democrats passed the defense appropriations supplemental to fund our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. This will hamper the war effort and interfere with the operational authority of the President with our military commanders. It's counterproductive, it sends exactly the wrong message because of the limitations that are written into the legislation. When members of Congress pursue an anti-war strategy that's been called "slow bleed," they're not supporting the troops, they're undermining them. And when members of Congress speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines, or other arbitrary measures, they're telling the enemy simply to run out the clock and wait us out.
Congress does, of course, play a critical role in the defense of the nation and the conduct of this war. That role is defined and limited by the Constitution -- after all, the military answers to one commander-in-chief in the White House, not to 535 commanders-in-chief on Capitol Hill. (Applause.) If they really support the troops, then we should take them at their word and expect them to meet the needs of our military on time, in full, and with no strings attached. (Applause.)
There is a third myth about the war on terror, and this is one that is perhaps the most dangerous. Some apparently believe that getting out of Iraq before the job is done will strengthen America's hand in the fight against the terrorists. This myth is dangerous because it represents a complete validation of the al Qaeda strategy. The terrorists do not expect to be able to beat us in a stand-up fight. They never have, and they're not likely to try. The only way they can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon the mission -- and the terrorists do believe that they can force that outcome. Time after time, they have predicted that the American people do not have the stomach for a long-term fight. They've cited the cases of Beirut in the '80s and Somalia in the '90s. These examples, they believe, show that we are weak and decadent, and that if we're hit hard enough, we'll pack it in and retreat. The result would be even greater danger for the United States, because if the terrorists conclude that attacks will change the behavior of a nation, they will attack that nation again and again. And believing they can break our will, they'll become more audacious in their tactics, ever more determined to strike and kill our citizens, and ever more bold in their ambitions of conquest and empire.
That leads me to the fourth, and the cruelest, myth -- and that is the false hope that we can abandon the effort in Iraq without serious consequences to our interests in the broader Middle East. The reality is that, if our coalition withdrew before Iraqis could defend themselves, radical factions would battle for dominance in that country. The violence would spread throughout the country, and be very difficult to contain. Having tasted victory in Iraq, jihadists would look for new missions. Many would head for Afghanistan and fight alongside the Taliban. Others would set out for capitals across the Middle East, spreading more sorrow and discord as they eliminate dissenters and work to undermine moderate governments. Still others would find their targets and victims in other countries on other continents.
We must consider, as well, just what a precipitous withdrawal would mean to our other efforts in the war on terror, to our interests in the broader Middle East, and to Israel. What would it tell the world if we left high and dry those millions of people who have counted on the United States to keep its commitments? What would it say to leaders like President Karzai and President Musharraf, who risk their lives every day as fearless allies in the war on terror? Commentators enjoy pointing out mistakes through 20/20 hindsight. But the biggest mistake of all can be seen in advance: A sudden withdrawal of our coalition would dissipate much of the effort that has gone into fighting the global war on terror, 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.)
Five and a half years ago, the President told the Congress and the country that we had entered a new kind of war -- one that would require patience and resolve, and that would influence the policies of this government far into the future. The fact that we've succeeded in stopping another attack on our homeland does not mean that we won't be hit in the future. But the record is testimony not to good luck, but to urgent, competent action by a lot of very skilled men and women -- and to a series of tough decisions by a President who never forgets that his first job is to protect the people of this country. (Applause.)
We can be confident in the outcome of this struggle. America is a good and an honorable country. We serve a cause that is right, and a cause that gives hope to the oppressed in every corner of the Earth. We're the kind of country that fights for freedom, and the men and women in the fight are some of the bravest citizens this nation has ever produced. (Applause.) The only way for us to lose is to quit. But that is not an option. We will complete the mission, and we will prevail. (Applause.)”
- Vice President Dick Cheney, Manalaplan, Florida, March 24, 2007
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