Remarks to the Veterans of Foreign WarsNational Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice
104th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars
Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, San Antonio, Texas
August 25, 2003
Released by the White House Office of the Press Secretary
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you for this opportunity to speak, and thank you for the Dwight David Eisenhower Distinguished Service Award. It is an honor to receive an award named for one of America's greatest soldier-statesmen -- a man who helped guide America and our allies to victory in a world war and then the Cold War. The values of service and sacrifice that Dwight Eisenhower embodied are also at the heart of this organization.
For more than a century, you have been doing the important work of helping to ensure that our veterans and our active-duty soldiers receive the respect and the benefits they deserve. In all of your activities, you honor the dead by helping the living, and it is a privilege to be with you. It has been almost two years since the September 11 attacks, and it is worth taking a moment to reflect and report on the strategy that America has pursued in responding to that awful day.
No less than December 7, 1941, September 11, 2001 forever changed the lives of every American and the strategic perspective of the United States. That day produced an acute sense of our vulnerability to attacks hatched in distant lands, that come without warning, bringing tragedy to our shores.
We have marked real progress since September 11, but we get regular reminders that the world continues to be an unsafe place. Last week, terrorists struck in Baghdad and Jerusalem, killing more than three dozen innocent people. These bombings confirm that our enemies are engaged in a war on freedom, and they will target all people living in freedom -- including women, children, or relief workers. The ultimate goal of the terrorists is to impose a system based on tyranny and oppression, and they terrorize free people to break our spirit and our resolve. But we cannot and will not shrink from this fight. The freedoms and the way of life we hold sacred are at stake.
From the very beginning of this war on terror, President Bush has delivered a clear and consistent message to the terrorists. In a speech just nine days after the September 11 attacks, he said, "Our war on terror begins with al Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated."
And following last week's bombing in Baghdad, he said, "Our will cannot be shaken. We will persevere through every hardship. We will continue this war on terror until the killers are brought to justice. And we will prevail." The President has backed up these words with action. We have taken the fight to the terrorists themselves -- using all instruments of our national power to root out terror networks and hold accountable states that harbor terrorists.
The war on terror must be fought on the offense -- defense of the homeland is a vital mission -- but the President has been clear, we will take the fight to the terrorists. As a result, nearly two-thirds of al Qaida's senior leaders, operational managers, and key facilitators have been captured or killed, and the rest are on the run - permanently. That's a tribute to the skill of our troops and our intelligence officials, many of whom have operated under extreme weather conditions on extended missions far from home.
Rooting the Taliban out of Afghanistan was the first battle because they had provided the home base and primary sanctuary for al Qaida. Today, across the globe, unparalleled law enforcement and intelligence cooperation efforts are underway, successfully breaking up and disrupting terrorist networks. And the United States and many other nations are helping Afghans rebuild their country and form a representative government, with democratic institutions, so that Afghanistan is never again a haven for terrorism.
Confronting Saddam Hussein was also essential. His regime posed a threat to the security of the United States and the world. This was a regime that pursued, had used, and possessed weapons of mass destruction. He had links to terror; had twice invaded other nations; defied the international community and seventeen UN resolutions for twelve years; and gave every indication that he would never disarm and never comply with the just demands of the world. That threat could not be allowed to remain -- and to grow.
Now that Saddam's regime is gone, the people of Iraq are more free and seeing real progress. Step by step, normal life in Iraq is being reborn as basic services are restored -- in some cases beyond pre-war levels -- transportation networks are rebuilt and the economy is revived. Banks are opening throughout the country and a new currency -- without Saddam Hussein's picture -- is being prepared. America's service men and women, working with Iraqis and coalition forces, are helping to usher in these improvements. Our troops in Baghdad and other cities are operating under difficult conditions, and we are committed to providing them with the support they need to get the job done. Saddam's removal means people everywhere need no longer fear his weapons, his aggression, and his cruelty. The war on terror is greatly served by the end of this source of instability in the world's most volatile region.
Let me be very clear, the terrorists know that a free Iraq can change the face of the Middle East. That is why they, together with the remnants of the old regime, are fighting as if this is a life and death struggle. It is -- and the terrorists will lose. Already there are new opportunities for a different kind of Middle East. Despite the horrific events of recent days, we have seen real progress toward peace for Israelis and Palestinians. At the Red Sea Summits in June, Israelis, Palestinians, and neighboring Arab states united behind the vision the President has set forth -? a vision for two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Israeli leaders increasingly understand that it is in Israel's interest for Palestinians to govern themselves, in a state that is viable, peaceful, democratic, and committed to fighting terror. Israel has to fulfill its responsibilities to help that peaceful state emerge.
A new Palestinian leadership is emerging that understands -- and says, in Arabic and English -- that terror is not a means to Palestinian statehood, but rather the greatest obstacle to statehood. Amidst this progress came last week's familiar images of bloodshed and violence by those who would use terror to destroy the hopes for peace. But the terrorists will not succeed -- and terrorist networks must be dismantled. President Bush remains committed to the course he laid out at the Red Sea Summits because it is the only course that will bring a durable peace and lasting security.
Transformation in the Middle East will require a commitment of many years. I do not mean that we will need to maintain a military presence in Iraq, as was the case in Europe. I do mean that America and our friends and allies must engage broadly throughout the region, across many fronts, including diplomatic, economic, and cultural. And - as in Europe - our efforts must work in full partnership with the peoples of the region who share our commitment to human freedom.
The transformation of the Middle East is the only guarantee that it will no longer produce ideologies of hatred that lead men to fly airplanes into buildings in New York or Washington. We must remain patient. When Americans begin a noble cause, we finish it. We are 117 days from the end of major combat operations in Iraq. That is not very long.
There is an understandable tendency to look back on America's experience in post-War Germany and see only the successes. But as some of you here today surely remember, the road we traveled was very difficult. 1945 through 1947 was an especially challenging period. Germany was not immediately stable or prosperous. SS officers -- called "werewolves" -- engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them -- much like today's Baathist and Fedayeen remnants.
It is also true that democracy is not easy. Its institutions are not the natural embodiment of human nature. And our own history should remind us that the union of democratic principle and practice is always a work in progress. When the Founding Fathers said "We the People," they did not mean me. My ancestors were considered three-fifths of a person. Knowing the difficulties of America's own history, we should always be humble in singing freedom's praises. But America's voice should never waver in speaking out on the side of people seeking freedom.
And the people of the Middle East share the desire for freedom. We have an opportunity -- and an obligation -- to help them turn this desire into reality. And we must work with others to create a world where terror is shunned and hope is the provenance of every living human. That is the security challenge -- and moral mission -- of our time.
I am confident we will meet this challenge, because the central players will include America's men and women in uniform. Just as America's soldiers of yesteryear made priceless contributions to the security of Europe following World War II, and then to the security and prosperity of Asia in the next decade, the professionalism and commitment of our soldiers will help countries like Afghanistan and Iraq recover from years of tyranny and steadily move toward democracy and prosperity. In both nations, our troops face difficult conditions, and America appreciates their sacrifice.
Every one of America's soldiers, like every one of you, took an oath to defend this nation. There is no higher calling, and America and the world are a better place thanks to your labors. All of you are also part of a rich military tradition that reaches back more than two centuries, and which is being carried forward today by our men and women in uniform. There is a common bond of duty and honor among those who have served, and a respect for those who have marched down the same path.
A sergeant with the 82nd Airborne who is stationed in Iraq captured this spirit in a moving letter he wrote recently to America's veterans. This sergeant wrote, "With the longing of home in our hearts, we do here what needs to be done so that the generations that follow mine will know of the freedoms I've enjoyed for so long. . . . Through your blood and sweat, we have the America that is, and I will give my all to make sure that is how it will be. From this generation to the ones that came before, I thank you."
And on behalf of President Bush, I thank you, for all that you have done to advance human freedom in the United States and throughout the world.