Thank you very much. If Karl Rove finds out about this, he won’t let me out again. (Laughter.)
Thank you very much for that warm welcome and, David, let me thank you for the introduction. And let me thank the AIPAC board of directors and the members from all across America for the opportunity to be here today.
I have many friends in the hall and I especially want to acknowledge Sallai Meridor, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. (Applause.) And, of course, Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize the many students who have come from across the country, even some I’m told from Wyoming. Welcome to Washington. It’s great to see you all here. (Applause.)
We’re here today as citizens from different parts of the country, diverse backgrounds, many professions and various political affiliations. Yet we find unity and strength in the values of liberty and equality and our belief in democracy and the rule of law and in our devotion to the security of America’s friend, the state of Israel. (Applause.)
As members of AIPAC, you play a vital role in making the strategic and moral case for America’s friendship with Israel. I commend AIPAC for the fine work you do, not just at this annual event but every day of the year. It’s good to be in your company, and I bring warm regards from the President of the United States, George W. Bush. (Applause.)
As most of you know, the President is traveling in Latin America this week, solidifying our friendships in that region and promoting an agenda of democracy, economic progress and security. He asked me to convey to this gathering his great appreciation for your efforts, his strong support for Israel, and his firm commitment to peace in the Holy Land, built on a foundation of security, not surrender. (Applause.)
The President has been clear and forthright about his vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. He remains committed to the achievement of that vision, nor has he compromised the basic principles he has stated from the very beginning: Peace requires a Palestinian government that recognizes Israel’s right to exist, accepts the validity of past agreements and renounces violence and terrorism totally and completely. (Applause.)
Progress in the cause of security and long-term peace never comes easily. Yet the United States and Israel persevere in that cause. We understand, as Ariel Sharon put it, the right and responsibility of every democracy, if it wishes to survive, to protect itself and its values. Doing so requires moral clarity, the courage of our convictions, a willingness to act when action is necessary, and a refusal to submit to any form of intimidation, ever. (Applause.)
These qualities are a credit to the American and the Israeli people. And these qualities are tested every day as we wage the war on terror. Israelis know this because rockets are shot at them and three Israeli soldiers are now being held hostage, two by Hezbollah, one by Hamas, even as we meet here today.
We are the prime targets of a terror movement that is global in nature and, yes, global in its ambitions. The leaders of this movement speak openly and specifically of building a totalitarian empire covering the Middle East, extending into Europe and reaching across to the islands of Indonesia, one that would impose a narrow, radical vision of Islam that rejects tolerance, suppresses dissent, brutalizes women and has one of its foremost objectives the destruction of Israel. Their creed is extreme and backward looking, yet their methods are modern and sophisticated. The terrorists use the Internet to spread propaganda, to find new recruits, and they’re employing every other tool of communication and finance to carry out their plans.
It’s odd to think of ideologues out of the Dark Ages having a modern media strategy, but the fact is they do. They take videos of their attacks and put them up on the Internet to get them broadcast on television. They send messages and images by e-mail and tell their followers to spread the word. They wage war by stealth and murder, disregarding the rules of warfare and rejoicing in the death of the innocent.
And not even the instinct of self-preservation is a restraint. The terrorists value death the same way you and I value life. Civilized, decent societies will never fully understand the kind of mindset that drives men to strap on bombs or fly airplanes into buildings, all for the purpose of killing unsuspecting men, women and children who they have never met and who have done them no wrong. But that is the very kind of blind, prideful hatred we’re up against.
And their aim, ultimately, is to acquire the means to match that hatred and to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to impose their will by unspeakable violence or blackmail.
An enemy that operates in the shadows and views the entire world as a battlefield is not one we can fight with strategies used in other wars. An enemy with fantasies of martyrdom is not going to sit down at a table for negotiations. Nor can we fight to a standoff — (applause). Nor can we fight to a standoff, hoping that some form of containment or deterrence will protect our people. The only option for our security and survival is to go on the offensive, facing the threat directly, patiently and systematically, until the enemy is destroyed. (Applause.)
The war on terror is more than a contest of arms and more than a test of will, it is also a battle of ideas. We know now to a certainty that when people across the Middle East are denied freedom, that is a direct strategic concern of all free nations. By taking the side of moderates, reformers and advocates for democracy, by providing an alternative to hateful ideologies, we improve the chances for a lasting peace and we advance our own security interests.
In the last two years, we have seen hopeful changes as men and women showed their desire to live in freedom. And we have seen the enemy’s fierce reaction. In 2005, the people of Lebanon proclaimed the Cedar Revolution and drove out their Syrian occupiers. (Applause.) That same year, the people of Afghanistan elected a parliament. And in Iraq, citizens voted in three national elections, turning out in the millions to defy killers and car bombers and to elect a government that serves under the most progressive constitution in the Arab world.
In 2006, freedom’s enemies struck back with new tactics and greater fury. In Lebanon, Hezbollah terrorists who are supported by Iran and Syria, attacked Israel, killing Israelis and sending rockets into civilian areas and have since worked to undermine Lebanon’s democratically elected government. Also in 2006, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan waged a new offensive against Afghanistan and NATO forces. In Iraq, Sunni and Shia extremists engaged in escalating sectarian struggle that continues to this day.
Our duty is to face all of these challenges with resolve and we are doing so. In Afghanistan, where I visited just a few weeks ago, American and NATO forces are preparing a spring offensive against Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. In Iraq, our goal remains a democratic nation that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security and is an ally in the war on terror. But for this to happen, the elected government in Iraq needs the space and the time to work on reconciliation goals, and it’s hard to do that without basic security in Baghdad.
Our coalition is pursuing a new strategy that brings in reinforcements to help Iraqi forces secure the capital so that nation can move forward and the political process can turn toward reconciliation. A few weeks ago, the new coalition commander, General Dave Petraeus, arrived in the Iraq theater. He sent a written message to his soldiers and, with your forbearance, I’d like to quote from it at length.
“The enemies of Iraq,” he said, “will shrink at no act however barbaric. They will do all that they can to shake the confidence of the people and to convince the world that this effort is doomed. We must not underestimate them. Together with our Iraqi partners, we must defeat those who oppose the new Iraq. We cannot allow mass murderers to hold the initiative. We must strike them relentlessly. We and our Iraqi partners must set the terms of the struggle, not our enemies. And, together, we must prevail.” As we meet — (applause).
As we meet, ladies and gentlemen, General Petraeus and his troops are in the midst of some extremely tough, intense and dangerous work. The President and I have been briefed on their progress. These American soldiers represent the best that is in our country. They are well trained and professional, their morale is high, they are giving this mission everything they’ve got and they are doing an absolutely brilliant job. (Applause.)
It’s always the case in wartime that the heaviest duties fall on the men and women of the military. The ones doing the fighting never lose their focus on their mission or on what is at stake in this war, and neither should the rest of us. Five-and-a-half years have passed since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the loss that morning of nearly 3,000 Americans inside 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 the al Qaeda network. 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 has said, is this third world war that is raging in Iraq. He calls it a 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 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.”
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 are fighting al Qaeda terrorists today in Anbar province. U.S. and Iraqi forces recently killed 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 needed to carry out their mission. Twisted logic is not exactly a new phenomenon in Washington. But last month, it did reach new heights. At a hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain put the following question to General Petraeus, suppose we send you over to your new job, only we tell you that you cannot have any additional troops. Can you get your job done? General Petraeus replied, “No, sir.”
Yet within his days of his confirmation by a unanimous vote in the Senate — I repeat, a unanimous vote of confidence in General Petraeus — a large group of senators tried to pass a resolution opposing the reinforcements he said were necessary. And, of course, the House of Representatives 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 in winning that battle. It was not a proud episode in the history of the United States Congress.
The resolution that passed was not binding, only a statement of feelings. Yet other threats have been made that would hamper the war effort and interfere with the operational authority of the President and with our military commanders. These, too, are counterproductive and send exactly the wrong message. When members of Congress pursue an anti-war strategy that’s been called slow bleed, they’re not supporting the troops, they are undermining them. And when members of Congress speak not of victory, but of time limits — (applause) — when members speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines or other arbitrary measures, they’re telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out. (Applause.)
Congress does, of course, play a critical role in the defense of the nation and the conduct of a 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 535 commanders-in-chief on Capitol Hill. (Applause.)
Congress does have the purse strings. And very soon, both houses will have to vote on a piece of legislation that is binding, a bill to provide emergency funding for the troops. And I sincerely hope the discussion this time will be about winning in Iraq. (Applause.)
Anyone can say they support the troops and we should take them at their word. But the proof will come when it’s time to provide the money. We expect the House and Senate to meet the needs of our military and the generals leading the troops in battle on time and in full measure.
There is a third myth about the war on terror, and this one is also the most dangerous. Some apparently believe that getting out of Iraq before the job is done will actually strengthen America’s hand in the fight against terrorists. This myth is dangerous because it represents a full validation of the al Qaeda strategy. The terrorists don’t expect to beat us in a standup fight. They never have. They’re not likely to try. The only way we can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our 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 cite the cases of Beirut in the 1980s 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 to 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. (Applause.)
Believing they can break our will, they will become more audacious in their tactics, ever more determined to strike and kill our citizens, ever more bold in their ambitions of conquest and empire.
And that leads me to the fourth and the cruelest myth of all and that is the false hope that we can abandon the effort in Iraq without serious consequences to the broader Middle East. I stand here today as a strong supporter of Israel and Israel has never had a better friend in the White House than George Bush. (Applause.)
Friends owe it to friends to be as candid as possible. So let me say that a precipitous American withdrawal from Iraq would be a disaster for the United States and the entire Middle East. It’s not hard to imagine what could occur if our coalition withdrew before Iraqis could defend themselves. Moderates would be crushed, Shiite extremists backed by Iran could be in an all-out war with Sunni extremists led by al Qaeda and remnants of the old Saddam regime. As this battle unfolded, Sunni governments might feel compelled to back Sunni extremists in order to counter growing Iranian influence, widening the conflict into a regional war.
If Sunni extremists prevailed, al Qaeda and its allies would recreate the safe haven they lost in Afghanistan, except now with the oil wealth to pursue weapons of mass destruction and underwrite their terrorist designs, including their pledge to destroy Israel.
If Iran’s allies prevailed, the regime and Teheran’s own designs for the Middle East would be advanced and the threat to our friends in the region would only be magnified.
My friends, it is simply not consistent for anyone to demand aggressive action against the menace posed by the Iranian regime while, at the same time acquiescing in a retreat from Iraq that would leave our worst enemies dramatically emboldened and Israel’s best friend, the United States, dangerously weakened. (Applause.)
We must consider as well just what a precipitous withdrawal would mean to our other efforts in the war on terror and to our interests in the broader Middle East. Having tasted victory in Iraq, jihadists would look abroad 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. 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? And 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 the perceptive power of 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’s 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 have succeeded in stopping another attack on our homeland does not mean our country 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 his first job is to protect the people of this country. (Applause.)
It would be easier, no doubt, to avoid controversy by following snapshot polls or catering to elite opinion or seeking political refuge in comfortable myths. President Bush understands, as Ronald Reagan did, that if history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly.
Either we are serious about fighting the war on terror or we are not. Either we persevere despite difficulty or we turn our backs on our friends, our commitments and our ideals. I, for one, have never had more confidence in the outcome because America is the kind of country that fights for freedom and because, at this very hour, our soldiers are engaging the enemy on the field of battle. (Applause.)
One of the great examples of leadership in our world is that of Ariel Sharon, a man of courage and a man of peace, who remains in our thoughts. (Applause.) In his last speech at the United Nations, Prime Minister Sharon said, his great passion in life was “manual labor, sowing and harvesting the pastures, the flock and the cattle.” “If the circumstances had not demanded it,” he said, “he would not have become a soldier but rather a farmer, an agriculturalist.” But life had other plans for this Israeli patriot, and he did his duty until the very ending of his strength.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the circumstances have demanded much of this great nation, but we are more than equal to the test. America is a good and an honorable country. (Applause.) We serve a cause that is right and a cause that gives hope to the oppressed in every corner of this earth. We are defended by some of the bravest citizens this nation has ever produced. We are in a war that was begun on the enemy’s terms. We are fighting that war on our own terms, and we will prevail. (Applause.)
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)