The War We Need To Win
delivered 1 August 2007, The Woodrow Wilson Intl. Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C.
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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio.]
Thank you. Thank you so much. Let me
begin for thanking Lee Hamilton, who has provided just extraordinary leadership,
both with the
9/11 Commission and
Iraq Study Group and here at the
Lee has been a steady voice of reason in an unsteady time and we are grateful
for the contributions that he's made to our country.
Thanks to all of you for taking the time to come out with your busy schedules.
I want to acknowledge at least one of the Congressmen that you mentioned Lee, because I saw him just walk in, Congressman Steve Rothman of the 9th District of New Jersey. Thank you very much for being here.
Well, thanks to the 9/11 Commission, we know that six years ago this week President Bush received a briefing with the headline: "Bin Ladin determined to strike [the U.S.]." It came during what the Commission called the "summer of threat," when the "system was blinking red" about an independent -- impending attack. But despite the briefing, many felt the danger was overseas, a threat to embassies and military installations. The extremism, the resentment, the terrorist training camps, and the killers were in the dark corners of the world, far away from the American homeland.
And then one bright, beautiful Tuesday morning, they
arrived at our shores.
I remember that I was driving to a state legislative hearing in downtown Chicago when I heard
the news on my car radio -- that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. By the time I
got to my meeting, the second plane had hit, and we were told to evacuate.
What we saw that morning forced us to recognize that in the new world of threats, we are no longer protected by our own power. And what we saw that morning was a challenge to a new generation.
The history of America is one of tragedy turned into triumph. And so a war over secession became an opportunity to set the captives free. An attack on Pearl Harbor led to a wave of freedom rolling across the Atlantic and Pacific. An Iron Curtain was punctured by democratic values, new institutions at home, and strong international partnerships abroad.
After 9/11, our calling was to write a new chapter in the American story -- to devise a new strategy and build new alliances, to secure our homeland and safeguard our values, and to serve a just cause abroad. We were ready. Americans were united. Friends around the world stood shoulder to shoulder with us. We had the might and moral suasion that was the legacy of generations of Americans. The tide of history seemed poised to turn, once again, toward hope.
But then everything changed.
And so, a little more than a year after that bright September day, I was in the streets of Chicago again, this time speaking at a rally in opposition to war in Iraq. I did not oppose all wars, I said. I was a strong supporter of the war in Afghanistan. But I said I could not support "a dumb war, a rash war" in Iraq. I worried about a "U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined costs, with undetermined consequences" in the heart of the Muslim world. I pleaded that we "finish the fight with bin Ladin and al Qaeda."
The political winds were blowing in a different direction. The President was determined to go to war and there was just one obstacle: the U.S. Congress. Nine days after I spoke, that obstacle was removed. Congress rubber-stamped the rush to war, giving the President the broad and open-ended authority he uses to this day. With that vote, Congress became co-author of a catastrophic war. And we went off to fight on the wrong battlefield, with no appreciation of how many enemies we would create, and no plan for how to get out.
And because of a war in Iraq that should've never been authorized and should've never been waged, we are now less safe than we were before 9/11.
According to the National Intelligence Estimate,¹ the threat to our homeland from al Qaeda is -- quote -- "persistent and evolving." Iraq is a training ground for terror, torn apart by civil war. Afghanistan is more violent than it has been since 2001. Al Qaeda has a sanctuary in Pakistan. Israel is besieged by emboldened enemies, talking openly of its destruction. Iran is now presenting the broadest strategic challenge to the United States in the Middle East in a generation. Groups affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda operate worldwide. Six years after 9/11, we are again in the midst of a "summer of threat," with bin Ladin and many more terrorists determined to strike in the United States.
What's more, in the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantanamo, we have compromised our most precious values. What could have been a call to a generation has become an excuse for unchecked presidential power. A tragedy that united us was turned into a political wedge issue used to divide us.
It is time to turn the page. And it is time to write a new chapter in our response to 9/11.
Now be clear: Just because the President misrepresents our enemy does not mean that we do not have enemies. The terrorists are at war with us. The threat is from a violent -- is from violent extremists who are a small minority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, but the threat is real. They distort Islam. They kill man, woman, and child; Christian and Hindu, Jew and Muslim. They seek to create a repressive caliphate, and to defeat this enemy we must understand who are we are [sic] fighting against, and what are we fighting for [sic].
The President would have us believe that every bomb in Baghdad is part of al
Qaeda's war against us, not an Iraqi civil war. He elevates al Qaeda in Iraq --
which didn't exist before our invasion -- and overlooks the people who hit us on
9/11, who are training new recruits in Pakistan right now. He lumps together groups with
very different goals: al Qaeda and Iran, Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents.
He confuses our mission.
By refusing to end the war in Iraq, President Bush is giving the terrorists what they really want, and what the Congress voted to give them in 2002: a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.
It is time to turn the page. When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements:
Let me talk about each of these in turn.
The first step must be to get off the wrong battlefield in Iraq and take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I introduced a plan in January that would have already started bringing our troops out of Iraq, with the goal of removing all combat brigades by March 31st, 2008. If the President continues to veto this plan, then ending this war will be my first priority when I take office.
There is no military solution in Iraq. Only Iraq's leaders can settle the grievances at the heart of Iraqis' civil war. We must apply pressure on them to act, and our best leverage is reducing our troop presence. And we must also do the hard, sustained diplomatic work in the region on behalf of peace and stability.
In ending the war, we must act with more wisdom than we started it. That's why my plan would maintain sufficient forces in the region to target all al Qaeda within Iraq. But we must recognize that al Qaeda is not the primary source of violence in Iraq, and has little support -- not from Shia and Kurds who are al Qaeda targets, or Sunni tribes hostile to foreigners. On the contrary, al Qaeda's appeal within Iraq is enhanced by our troop presence.
Ending the war will help isolate al Qaeda and give Iraqis the incentive and opportunity to take them out. It will also allow us to direct badly needed resources to Afghanistan. Our troops have fought valiantly there, but Iraq has deprived them of the support that they need and deserve. As a result, parts of Afghanistan are falling into the hands of the Taliban, and a mix of terrorism, drugs, and corruption threatens to overwhelm the country.
As President, I will deploy at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan to
re-enforce our counter-terrorism operations and support NATO's efforts against
the Taliban. As we step up our commitment, our European friends must do the
same, and without the burdensome restrictions that have hampered NATO's efforts.
We must also put more of an Afghan face on security by improving the training
and equipping of Afghan Army and Police, and including Afghan soldiers in
U.S. and NATO operations.
Above all, I will send a clear message:
We will not repeat the mistakes of the
past, when we turned our back on Afghanistan following Soviet withdrawal. As
9/11 showed us, the security of Afghanistan and America is shared. And today,
that security is most threatened by the al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in the
tribal regions of northwest Pakistan.
This is the wild frontier of our globalized world. There are wind-swept deserts
and cave-dotted mountains. There are tribes that see borders as nothing more
than lines on a map, and governments as forces that come and go. There are blood
ties deeper than alliances of convenience, and pockets of extremism that follow
religion to violence. It is a tough place.
And Pakistan needs more than F-16s to combat extremism. As the Pakistani government increases investment in secular education to counter radical madrasas,² my Administration will increase America's commitment. We must help Pakistan invest in the provinces along the Afghan border, so that extremist programs of hate are met with programs of hope. And we must not turn a blind eye to elections that are neither free nor fair. Our goal is not simply an ally in Pakistan, it is a democratic ally.
Beyond Pakistan, there's a core of terrorists -- probably in the tens of thousands -- who have made their choice to attack America. So the second step in my strategy will be to build our capacity and our partnership to track down, capture or kill terrorists around the world, and to deny them the world's most dangerous weapons.
I will not hesitate to use military force to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to America. This requires a broad set of capabilities, as outlined in the Army and Marine Corps's new counter-insurgency manual.³ I'll ensure that our military becomes more stealth, agile, and lethal in its ability to capture or kill terrorists. We need to recruit, train, and equip our armed forces to better target terrorists, and to help foreign militaries to do the same. This has to include a program to bolster our ability to speak different languages, understand different cultures, and coordinate complex missions with our civilian agencies.
To succeed, we must improve our civilian capacity. The finest military in the world is adapting to the challenges of the 21st century. But it cannot counter insurgent and terrorist threats without civilian counterparts who can carry out economic and political reconstruction missions -- sometimes in dangerous places. As President, I will strengthen these civilian capabilities, recruiting our best and brightest to take on this challenge. I'll increase both the number and capabilities of our diplomats, development experts, and other civilians who can work alongside our military. We can't just say there is no military solution to the problems unless we actually have other approaches. We need to integrate all aspects of American military power.
One component of this integrated approach will be
a new Mobile Development Team
that brings together personnel from State Department, the Pentagon, and
These teams will work with civil society and local governments to make an
immediate impact on peoples' lives, and to turn the tide against extremism.
Where people are most vulnerable, where the light of hope has grown dark, and
where we are in a position to make real differences in advancing security and
opportunity -- that is where these teams will go.
This cannot just be an American mission. Al Qaeda and its allies operate in nearly 100 countries. The United States cannot steal every secret, penetrate every cell, act on every tip, or track down every terrorist by itself -- nor should we have to do this by ourselves. This is not just about our security. It's about the common security of all the world.
As President, I will create a Shared Security Partnership Program to forge an international intelligence and law enforcement infrastructure to take down terrorist networks from the remotest islands of Indonesia, to the sprawling cities of Africa. This program will provide five billion dollars over three years for counter-terrorism cooperation with countries around the world, including information sharing, funding for terror -- training, operations, border security, anti-corruption programs, technology, and targeting terrorist financing. And this effort will focus on helping our partners succeed without repressive tactics, because brutality breeds terror -- it does not defeat it.
We must also do more to safeguard the world's most dangerous weapons. This is something that I've spoken about extensively before. We know al Qaeda seeks a nuclear weapon. We know they would not hesitate to use one. Yet there's still about 50 tons of highly enriched uranium, some of it poorly secured, at civilian nuclear facilities in over forty countries. There are still about 15,000 to 16,000 nuclear weapons and stockpiles of uranium and plutonium scattered across 11 time zones in the former Soviet Union.
That's why I worked in the Senate with Republican Senator Dick Lugar to pass a law that would help the United States and our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction. That's why I'm introducing a bill with Chuck Hagel that seeks to prevent nuclear terrorism, reduce global nuclear arsenals, and stop the spread of nuclear weapons. And that is why, as President, I will lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons and material at vulnerable sites within four years. This is something that we can do. We have to stop short-changing it. While we work to secure existing stockpiles, we should also negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material.
I also won't hesitate to use the power of American diplomacy to stop countries
from obtaining these weapons or sponsoring terrorism. The lesson of the Bush years
is that not talking does not work. Go down the list of countries we've ignored
and see how successful that strategy has been. We haven't talked to Iran, and
they continue to build their nuclear program. We haven't talked to Syria, and
they continue to support for terror. We tried not talking to North Korea, and they
now have enough material for six to eight more nuclear weapons.
President Kennedy said it best: "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us
never fear to negotiate." Only by knowing your adversary can you defeat them or
drive wedges between them. As President, I will work with our friends and our allies,
but I won't outsource our diplomacy to Tehran -- in Tehran to the Europeans, or our diplomacy
in Pyongyang to the Chinese. I will do the careful preparation that's needed, and let
these countries know where I stand. They will no longer have the excuse
of American intransigence, although they will have our terms: no support for terror and
no nuclear weapons.
Al Qaeda's new recruits come from Africa and Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Many come from disaffected communities and disconnected corners of our interconnected world. And it makes you stop and wonder: When those faces look up at an American helicopter, do they feel hope, or do they feel hate?
We know where extremists thrive: in conflict zones that are incubators of resentment and anarchy; in weak states that cannot control their borders or territories, or meet the basic needs of their people. From Africa to central Asia to the Pacific Rim -- nearly 60 countries stand on the brink of conflict or collapse. The extremists encourage the exploitation of these hopeless places with their hate-filled -- hate-filled websites.
And we know what the extremists say about us: America is just an occupying Army in Muslim lands, the shadow of a shrouded figure standing on a box at Abu Ghraib, the power behind the throne of a repressive leader. They say we are at war with Islam. That's the whispered line of the extremist who has nothing to offer in this battle of ideas but blame -- blame America, blame progress, blame Jews. And often he offers something along with the hate. A sense of empowerment. Maybe an education at a madrasa, some charity for your family, some basic services in the neighborhood. And then -- a mission and a gun.
We know we are not who they say we are. America is at war with the terrorists who
killed people on our soil. We're not at war with Islam. America is a compassionate
nation that wants a better future for all people. The vast majority of the
world's 1.3 billion Muslims have no use for bin Ladin or his bankrupt ideas. But
too often since 9/11, the extremists have defined us, not the other way around.
As President, I will make it a focus of my foreign policy to roll back the tide of hopelessness that gives rise to hate. Freedom must mean freedom from fear, not freedom of anarchy. I will never shrug my shoulders and say -- as Secretary Rumsfeld did -- "Freedom is untidy." I will focus our support on helping nations build independent judicial systems, honest police forces, and financial systems that are transparent and accountable. Freedom also means freedom from want, not freedom lost to an empty stomach. So I'll make poverty reduction a key part of helping other nations reduce chaos and anarchy.
I will double our investments to meet these challenges to 50 billion dollars by
2012. And I will support a 2 billion dollar Global Education Fund to counter the
radical madrasas -- often funded by money from within Saudi Arabia -- that have
filled young minds with messages of hate. We must work for a world where every
child, everywhere, is taught to build and not to destroy. And as we lead we will
ask for more from our friends in Europe and Asia as well -- more support for our
diplomacy, more support for multilateral peacekeeping, and more support to
rebuild societies ravaged by conflict.
As President, I will lead this effort. In the first hundred days of my
Administration, I will travel to a major Islamic forum and deliver an address to
redefine our struggle. I will make clear that we are not at war with Islam, that
we will stand up with -- we will stand with those who are willing to stand up for their future, and that
we need their effort to defeat the prophets of hate and violence. I will speak
directly to that child who looks up at that helicopter, and my message will be
clear: "You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now."
As the counter-insurgency manual reminds us, we cannot win a war unless we maintain the high ground and keep the people on our side. But because the Administration decided to take the low road, our troops have more enemies. Because the Administration cast aside international norms that reflect American values, we are less able to promote our values. When I am President, America will reject torture without exception. America is the country that stood against that kind of behavior before, and we will do so again.
I will also reject a legal framework that does not work. There has been only one conviction at Guantanamo. It was for a guilty plea on a -- on material support for terrorism. The sentence was nine months long. There has not been one conviction of a terrorist act. I have faith in America's courts, and I have faith in our JAGs. As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.
This Administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom.
That means no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens; no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime; no more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war; no more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are. And it's not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.
This Administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not. There are no shortcuts to protecting America, and that is why the fifth part of my strategy is doing the hard and patient work to secure a more resilient homeland.
Too often this Administration's approach to homeland security has been to
scatter money around and avoid hard choices, or to scare Americans without
telling them what to be scared of, or what to do. A Department set up to make
Americans feel safer didn't even show up when bodies drifted through the streets
in New Orleans. That's not acceptable.
Information sharing with state and local governments must be a two-way street,
because we never know where the two pieces of the puzzle are that might fit
together -- the tip from Afghanistan, and the cop who sees something suspicious
on Michigan Avenue. I will increase funding to gather
information and connect it to the intelligence they receive from the federal
government. I will address the problem of our prisons, where the most
disaffected and disconnected Americans are being explicitly targeted for
conversion by al Qaeda and its ideological allies.
We are in the early stages of a long struggle. Yet since 9/11, we've heard a lot about what America can't do or shouldn't do or won't even try to do. We can't vote against a misguided war in Iraq because that would make us look weak. We can't talk to other countries because that would be a reward. We can't reach out to the hundreds of millions of Muslims who reject terror because we worry that they hate us. We can't protect the homeland because there are too many targets, or secure our people while staying true to our values. We can't get past the America of Red States and Blue States, the politics of who's up and who's down because that's how politics has come to be done in America.
That is not the America that I know.
The America I know is the last, best hope for a child looking up at a
helicopter. It's the country that put a man on the moon, a country that defeated fascism
and helped rebuild Europe. It's a country whose strength abroad is measured not
just by armies, but rather by the power of our ideals, and by our purpose to
forge an ever more perfect union at home.
Thank you very much everybody. Thank you.
¹ Click here for pdf of the 2007 National Intelligence Assessment
² Click here for pdf of CRS report on madrasas
³ Click here for pdf of FM 3-24 New Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Manual [Note: Large file at 13.6 MB]
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