Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to testify. Senator Clinton, thank you for seconding the motion.
I know we all agree that the American people deserve a healthy, preferably constructive, exchange on matters that so directly affect their lives -- their lives, their families’ lives and their country’s security.
I am joined by General Pete Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Abizaid, the Combatant Commander of the U.S. Central Command. We will be providing an update on the global struggle against violent extremists, and certainly we’ll welcome questions.
In the past few weeks, in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, in Iraq and now by Hezbollah, we have seen the face of the early part of the 21st century. In this period of asymmetric warfare, irregular warfare, one side puts their men and women at risk in uniform and obeys the laws of war, while the other side uses them against us.
One side does all it can to avoid civilian casualties, while the other side uses civilians as shields, and then skillfully orchestrates a public outcry when the other side accidentally kills civilians in their midst. One side is held to exacting standards of near perfection; the other side is held to no standards and no accountability at all.
This enemy has called Iraq the central front in the war on terrorism. While some on our side seem to argue that the outcome in Iraq is not part of that global war on terror.
Sixteen years ago this week, Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait -- killing civilians, unleashing environmental devastation, provoking a crisis that led to Iraqi attacks on Israel and threats to Saudi Arabia and others in the region.
Last week, by contrast, as you mentioned Mr. Chairman, the new Prime Minister, who was elected by the Iraqi people under a constitution the Iraqi people wrote and ratified, came to the United States to thank the American people for their assistance in building a new future for the people of Iraq. He had spent 25 years in opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime. And before a joint session of Congress, he noted that if terror were permitted to triumph in Iraq, “then the war on terror will never be won elsewhere.”
The enemy understands this as well. They are waging a psychological war of attrition -- planning attacks to gain the maximum media coverage and the maximum public outcry.
- They want us to believe that perseverance by us is futile, rather than necessary;
- They want us to focus on our casualties and losses, not on the people causing the casualties and losses;
- They want us to think about what will happen if our forces stay in Iraq, as opposed to the consequences if our forces were to leave prematurely;
- They want us to be divided, because they know that when we are united they lose;
- They want us pointing fingers at each other, rather than pointing fingers at them.
I know there are calls in some quarters for withdrawal or arbitrary timelines for withdrawals. The enemies hear those words as well. We need to be realistic about the consequences.
If we left Iraq prematurely -- as the terrorists demand -- the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan. And then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they would order us -- and all those who don’t share their militant ideology -- to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands, from Spain to the Philippines. And then we would face not only the evil ideology of these violent extremists -- but an enemy that will have grown accustomed to succeeding in telling free people everywhere what to do.
We can persevere in Iraq. Or we can withdraw prematurely, until they force us to make a stand nearer home. But make no mistake: They are not going to give up, whether we acquiesce in their immediate demands or not.
Decisions about conditions for a drawdown of our forces in Iraq are best based on the recommendations of the commanders in the field and the recommendations of the gentlemen sitting beside me.
We should strive to think through how our words can be interpreted by our troops, by the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, by our 42 allies in our Coalition in Afghanistan and our 34 allies in our Coalition in Iraq. And we should consider how our words can be used by our deadly enemy.
The war on terror is going to be a long struggle. It’s not something we asked for, but neither is it something we can avoid. But I remain confident in our mission, in our commanders, in our troops and in our cause, and I remain confident in the good common sense of the American people. Americans didn’t cross oceans and settle a wilderness and build history’s greatest democracy, only to run away from a bunch of murderers and extremists who try to kill everyone they cannot convert and to tear down what they could never build.
Over the past few years, I have had the honor of meeting countless young men and women -- all volunteers -- who have answered our country’s call. I remember a Serviceman outside Afghanistan who looked me in the eye and said, “I can’t believe that we’re being allowed to do something so important.” Our troops represent the finest and the most professional troops in history.
I think of these remarkable people every day. I know that everything we do in the Department of Defense, and what you do on this Committee, affects them and their wonderfully, supportive families.