As members of this proud organization, you are advocates for the rights of our military veterans, a model of community service, and a strong and important voice for a strong national defense. I thank you for your service. I thank you for what you've done for the United States of America.Because of the events since 9-11, President Bush has been, in his own words and in reality, a "Wartime President". The enemy declared war on Western Civilization long before 9-11. But what the enemy did on 9-11 not only resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 civilians, it awakened our nation.
The struggle has been called a clash of civilizations. In truth, it's a struggle for civilization. We fight for a free way of life against a new barbarism -- an ideology whose followers have killed thousands on American soil, and seek to kill again on even a greater scale. [emphasis mine]A struggle for civilization because if radical Islam succeeds, their Holy War will continue until the World is governed by Sharia Law. Under Sharia Law, only Muslim's are first class citizens. All other non-believers, and women for that matter, are subjugated, second class persons. This War is not just about Iraq, it is about World Civilization and Iraq is only one small part of the Global War.
Now, I know some people doubt the universal appeal of liberty, or worry that the Middle East isn't ready for it. Others believe that America's presence is destabilizing, and that if the United States would just leave a place like Iraq those who kill our troops or target civilians would no longer threaten us. Today I'm going to address these arguments. I'm going to describe why helping the young democracies of the Middle East stand up to violent Islamic extremists is the only realistic path to a safer world for the American people. I'm going to try to provide some historical perspective to show there is a precedent for the hard and necessary work we're doing, and why I have such confidence in the fact we'll be successful.Iraq could provide an Oasis of Muslim Democracy in the middle of oppressive Radical Islamic Governments and Societies. Repressive groups like the Taliban, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Fatah al-Islam and Hamas produce much of the Middle Eastern Instability and Violence. Retreat from Iraq would result in a destabilization of the Region and provide a base for World Wide Terror operations.
At the outset of World War II there were only two democracies in the Far East -- Australia and New Zealand. Today most of the nations in Asia are free, and its democracies reflect the diversity of the region. Some of these nations have constitutional monarchies, some have parliaments, and some have presidents. Some are Christian, some are Muslim, some are Hindu, and some are Buddhist. Yet for all the differences, the free nations of Asia all share one thing in common: Their governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed, and they desire to live in peace with their neighbors.The question which haunts many of the West, is can a country with beliefs so different from the beliefs of the West become a democracy? History may very well give us the answer.
In the aftermath of Japan's surrender, many thought it naive to help the Japanese transform themselves into a democracy. Then as now, the critics argued that some people were simply not fit for freedom.There are an amazing number of parallel paths over the course of history. This is absolutely true when applied to the History of the United States of America. At the start of the Korean War, Democrat President Harry Truman, faced a Congress and Public similar to Today.
Some said Japanese culture was inherently incompatible with democracy. Joseph Grew, a former United States ambassador to Japan who served as Harry Truman's Under Secretary of State, told the President flatly that -- and I quote -- "democracy in Japan would never work." He wasn't alone in that belief. A lot of Americans believed that -- and so did the Japanese -- a lot of Japanese believed the same thing: democracy simply wouldn't work.
Others critics said that Americans were imposing their ideals on the Japanese. For example, Japan's Vice Prime Minister asserted that allowing Japanese women to vote would "retard the progress of Japanese politics."
Critics also complained when America intervened to save South Korea from communist invasion. Then as now, the critics argued that the war was futile, that we should never have sent our troops in, or they argued that America's intervention was divisive here at home.Change the Dates, Places and reverse the parties in control of the White House and Congress, it could be the History we are making today.
After the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel in 1950, President Harry Truman came to the defense of the South -- and found himself attacked from all sides. From the left, I.F. Stone wrote a book suggesting that the South Koreans were the real aggressors and that we had entered the war on a false pretext. From the right, Republicans vacillated. Initially, the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate endorsed Harry Truman's action, saying, "I welcome the indication of a more definite policy" -- he went on to say, "I strongly hope that having adopted it, the President may maintain it intact," then later said "it was a mistake originally to go into Korea because it meant a land war."
Throughout the war, the Republicans really never had a clear position. They never could decide whether they wanted the United States to withdraw from the war in Korea, or expand the war to the Chinese mainland. Others complained that our troops weren't getting the support from the government. One Republican senator said, the effort was just "bluff and bluster." He rejected calls to come together in a time of war, on the grounds that "we will not allow the cloak of national unity to be wrapped around horrible blunders."And then there is Vietnam. Many of the Left continue to maintain that an Iraq pull-out would have very little consequence. Just as they said at the time about Vietnam, they are wrong. If History is any teacher, Vietnam should have taught us an important lesson about leaving before a victory, can be a disaster for the people who remain behind. But unlike Vietnam, this enemy will follow us home.
Many in the press agreed. One columnist in The Washington Post said, "The fact is that the conduct of the Korean War has been shot through with errors great and small." A colleague wrote that "Korea is an open wound. It's bleeding and there's no cure for it in sight." He said that the American people could not understand "why Americans are doing about 95 percent of the fighting in Korea."
Many of these criticisms were offered as reasons for abandoning our commitments in Korea. And while it's true the Korean War had its share of challenges, the United States never broke its word.
Then as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end.Have we not learned anything from History? Whether you believe we invaded Iraq for the right or the wrong reason, we are there right now. It is for History to judge the morality of the Iraq invasion. In Iraq, our course of action now, will enable us to face the future consequences. Prematurely leaving yields one set of consequences; finishing the task another set. History favors the latter choice.
In 1972, one antiwar senator put it this way: "What earthly difference does it make to nomadic tribes or uneducated subsistence farmers in Vietnam or Cambodia or Laos, whether they have a military dictator, a royal prince or a socialist commissar in some distant capital that they've never seen and may never heard of?" A columnist for The New York Times wrote in a similar vein in 1975, just as Cambodia and Vietnam were falling to the communists: "It's difficult to imagine," he said, "how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone." A headline on that story, date Phnom Penh, summed up the argument: "Indochina without Americans: For Most a Better Life."
The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea.The killing and torture of the "left behinds" is not the only lesson to take away form Vietnam. We are not fighting another Vietnam, and the comparison to Vietnam is only valid in referencing what would happen if we institute a pre-mature withdraw from Iraq. But the current enemy took notice and uses or Vietnam retreat as a recruiting tool.
Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. There's no debate in my mind that the veterans from Vietnam deserve the high praise of the United States of America. Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like "boat people," "re-education camps," and "killing fields."
There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today's struggle -- those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that "the American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today."Vietnam is an important part of our History. But it cannot now be changed. The present is all we have to work with, but by remembering and learning the lessons that History has taught us, the future becomes something better, for all. On the other hand, the President clearly stated what's likely to happen if we don't follow through. The view is from two men of the Vietnam era. One pro, one con.
His number two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al Qaeda's chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to "the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents."
Zawahiri later returned to this theme, declaring that the Americans "know better than others that there is no hope in victory. The Vietnam specter is closing every outlet." Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility -- but the terrorists see it differently.
Here's what they said: "Defeat would produce an explosion of euphoria among all the forces of Islamist extremism, throwing the entire Middle East into even greater upheaval. The likely human and strategic costs are appalling to contemplate. Perhaps that is why so much of the current debate seeks to ignore these consequences." I believe these men are right.Our President is aware that History cannot fully predict all possibilities, but it can give us very good, although somewhat vague, indications of what the future will bring based on what we do today.
I recognize that history cannot predict the future with absolute certainty. I understand that. But history does remind us that there are lessons applicable to our time. And we can learn something from history. In Asia, we saw freedom triumph over violent ideologies after the sacrifice of tens of thousands of American lives -- and that freedom has yielded peace for generations.This is one lesson we don't have to learn again.