Thank you very much. I thank you very much. I’m not a poet. I’m not even close to a poet. There’s some character who took my press briefings and tried to turn them into poetry and failed. Thank you, folks. It’s very nice to be with you. We’re in an August afternoon in Phoenix and I’m delighted to see so many folks here. And I thank each of you for coming. I appreciate your being here. Bill, thank you for those words, and Mr. Mayor, a pleasure to see you. Mr. President, Mr. Speaker and my friends from Congress here. It’s always good to see you, and Congressman Flake and Congressman Heintz and Mrs. Heintz. I also was pleased to see Mrs. Stump. I don’t know where she’s sitting, but – there you are. Good to see you. And so many distinguished guests and public officials and members of the armed services.
I thought what I’d do is to take a few minutes to talk about some of the issues we’ve been hearing about and reading about and then comment on the global war on terror and then respond to questions, which I look forward to.
Last week, the president announced that we are making progress in our efforts to reposition U.S. military forces and capabilities to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The world has certainly changed markedly since the end of the Soviet Union. But military deployments and arrangements really have not changed very much. They’ve been reduced, but they’re pretty much in place where they were when the Cold War ended.
During the Cold War, it was assumed that our forces stationed abroad would defend from static positions. This, of course, is no longer the case, and we know that. Today the enemies we face are fighting form small cells located in almost every corner of the world. And the task today is to stay on the offensive against them. We cannot know precisely where our forces may have to operate. We used to know. We used to be looking for a tank invasion from the Soviet Union across the North German plain and that’s why we had so many forces in Northern Europe. So our forces today have to be flexible and they have to be agile and they have to be light and they have to be rapidly deployable, usable, not fixed, and capable of going almost anywhere in the world on short notice.
If you think about it, for a number of years now or even before September 11th, the DoD has been working on concepts to guide our security presence around the world. And we know that adjusting our footprint or our force posture is an essential component of our strategy. These proposed changes are designed to allow us to deploy capable forces rapidly anywhere in the world on short notice, to push more military capability forward while shifting some 60 to 70,000 service members and roughly 100,000 of their dependants from foreign bases to U.S. bases, creating a lighter footprint abroad, which allows us to focus on speed, precision and technically advanced capabilities, rather than simply on mass and sheer numbers, which are really increasingly formulations of the last century.
It’s awfully hard for people to change and adjust to that. We’ve developed over my lifetime the idea that more is better and so we talk about numbers of things, ships, guns, tanks, planes, people – ignoring the reality that if you have, for example, 10 dumb bombs and you have a smart bomb that can do what 10 dumbs can do and you reduce from 10 dumb bombs to five smart bombs, you have not reduced your capability. In fact, you’ve dramatically increased your capabilities. But getting people to think that way is not an easy thing. We’ve also, looking at our posture to help us build new relationships in the world, we’ve developed a number of new relationships, if you think about it, since 9/11 – Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Yemen – so many countries that we have been working with, this global coalition against terror is now something like 85 or 90 nations, probably the largest coalition in the history of mankind. And our adjustments should make it easier for the United States to work with our allies and friends on military operations to train, to operate, exercise together to complement doctrine and tactics and to exploit the new technologies with them. Our new arrangements also have the added advantage of improving the lives of U.S. military families. Deployments in a number of cases will be shorter and they’ll be rotational for training and exercises often lasting weeks or months, rather than years. Military families will find somewhat more stability, fewer permanent changes of station, and as a result, less disruption in the lives of spouses and children in schools.
In a political year, I suppose it’s inevitable that these important proposals which we’ve been working on for some three years now, would lead to a discussion and that’s a good thing. Some of the concerns expressed, no doubt, are well intentioned and useful. We’ve spent the last two years talking to our friends and allies and to members of Congress and working through these issues, proposals of such magnitude deserve examination and they deserve debate and discussion. And let there be no doubt, these are significant changes and they will affect our country’s force posture for many decades to come.
At the same time, I think most reasonable observers recognize that our existing force arrangements are relics of a time long passed. We still have two heavy divisions in Germany to defend against a Soviet tank attack. Those two divisions did not help prevent September 11th. They did not prevent the hijackers from organizing and planning their attacks in Hamburg, Germany, for that matter. We’ve stationed thousands of U.S. troops on the border with North Korea to defend South Korea. South Korea today is a nation that is no longer impoverished. After 50 years, they are not defenseless and thanks, in major part, to the stability our alliance has provided, South Korea today is a thriving nation with a robust democracy with a vibrant economy and a modern army of some 600,000. Our commitment to that country and to peace on that peninsula remains as strong as ever and it will be going forward. In fact, our relationship with Korea is, I think, an excellent example of what changes to our global posture really can accomplish.
For some time now, we’ve been investing in substantial sums, taxpayers’ dollars, billions of dollars in improved military capabilities that are appropriate for the situation on the Korean Peninsula. We’re increasing our naval and airpower in the region and we’re moving more precision weapons and increased firepower to South Korea. At the same time, we would be relocating our forces away from the demilitarized zone and where they were located in very vulnerable garrisons and cities near that zone and we’ll be shifting them southward into two hubs – an air hub and a sea hub – well beyond the range of North Korean artillery.
Today we have the means and the intent to strengthen our deterrent power and our defensive capability while decreasing our overall footprint, and we’re doing so, and it would be unwise not to do so. While current arrangements may be comfortable for people and familiar, both in our country and in foreign countries, our current arrangements are -- let’s face it, they’re obsolete. And we need to deal with the world as it is, not the way it used to be, or even the way we’d like it to be. We have to deal with it as it is. Changes have to be made. They will not be made precipitously, but they will be made. And indeed, it’s a plan that will be rolled out over probably as many as four, five, six, seven, eight years. We’re in a fortunate position that we don’t have to be a supplicant. You can go to these countries and work our arrangements and make sure that we have the right Status of Forces Agreements and access and cross-servicing agreement, and that the neighboring countries are willing to adjust to our needs to move our forces as required by the United States. As we visit with countries, we’ll determine which is best by way of new arrangements, and then proceed to work out those details. As a result, there’ll be no major announcement beyond what the president has announced. Rather, there will be a series of announcements that evolve as each piece of this is worked out. And we are certainly continuing to consult with Congress and with our friends and allies, as we move forward to meet our responsibility to serve the American people.
Let me make a couple of comments about missile defense. Meeting the new reality of this century also drives our approach to missile defense. In the past few weeks, up in Alaska, the first interceptor was put into the ground. By the end of this year, we expect to have a limited operational capability against incoming ballistic missiles. This represents, in my view, a victory for hope and vision over skepticism. More than 20 years ago, I was in the White House when President Reagan gathered a group of individuals and made his announcement and gave his vision for a missile defense system. Now that’s long time ago. And today, roughly two dozen countries, including some of the world’s most dangerous regimes, possess ballistic missiles and they are energetically working to increase the range and destructive capability of those missiles. A number of these states are estimated by the U.S. intelligence community to have nuclear, biological and chemical programs.
North Korea, for example, is working to develop and deploy missiles capable of reaching not just their neighbors, such as Japan, but our country as well. The same can be said of Iran. More countries are developing and sharing information, and I think it is notable to think what just recently happened with respect to Libya where they made an admission that dramatically demonstrated this point. Fortunately, their announcement was that they wish to just discontinue those programs and have been working with the United States and the United Kingdom to do so.
History has taught us that weakness is provocative. And the longer the delays in deploying even a limited defense against these kinds of facts, the greater the likelihood of an attempted or threatened strike. Additionally, without any defense against missiles, terrorists and rogue regimes could use the threat of an attack to try to intimidate America and/or our allies. As enemies continue to adapt and evolve, so must our capabilities. That’s why the president directed us to pursue an innovative approach to the development and the deployment of missile defenses. Rather than waiting years, sometimes decades for a fixed and final architecture, as has been the norm with the many weapons systems, we will be deploying an initial set of capabilities that will evolve over time as technologies evolve over time.
The way ahead will have its share of ups and downs – we know that. Any development of a new technology, leading-edge technologies, has ups and downs, successes and what people call failures. I was in the pharmaceutical business and invested heavily in research and development. And folks did not just simply get up one morning to discover an important new therapy for people. They went out and they tried things that worked and that didn’t work. And each thing that didn’t work was part of that learning process and so, too, in weapons and defense systems capabilities. All cutting-edge endeavors include trial and error, but we will continue to benefit from leadership that combines vision with resolve and to simply learn from each of the so-called failures.
Let me also say a word or two about the national debate taking place with respect to the so-called reforms of the intelligence community. The 9/11 Commission has provided a useful service in my view, by surfacing some important issues and challenges and some problems. These are the decisions that the United States Congress and the executive branch, the president, are ultimately going to have to decide. Indeed, the president has already implemented a number of the commission’s recommendations. And I spent Monday with him where he spent the better part of the day reviewing a number of additional thoughts and suggestions that have come up. It seems to me that this is the proper approach. Whether it’s a government and a bureaucracy as large as ours and with the ramifications of change so enormous. It is true, you can carefully think about these issues and think them through carefully before implementing things. We are at war, and we need to get it right. We need to make the changes we need to make, but the old saying is the truth and that is that, to he who tears down what is falls the responsibility of putting in place something better. And it isn’t the kind of thing that we want to be making many mistakes about.
Last, let me make a comment a bit on Iraq and Afghanistan. I recently returned from Afghanistan a couple weeks ago. I must say that each time I go there, I am just struck by the changes, by the improvements, by the energy you see in the streets, the activities. And I know there are some folks there’s some folks here who’ve spent some time in Iraq and Afghanistan and the thank-you needless to say, for being willing to do that. But if you drive through portions of Afghanistan, you’ll see construction is well along on the major highways which connect the major cities of that country, and which are so critically important to their economy.
The Afghan security forces are being trained and equipped and have acquitted themselves quite well and in several recent activities. I visited an election center on this last trip and saw a room not quite this big filled with computers and young folks, Afghans, busily working on the election and the registration process. Here’s a country that has suffered terribly under Soviet occupation, has had years of drought, had a ghastly civil war and had suffered under the repression of the Taliban regime and has no real experience with democracy as such, as we think of it. And people were estimating they might get three or four million people to register for this first election, which is coming up. In fact, there are now over 10 million that have registered. And I’m told that something in excess of 40 percent of them are women. And needless to say, the Taliban didn’t even let women walk around unaccompanied by men, and they didn’t let them go out uncovered and they didn’t let them wear colored shoes and they didn’t let any of them fly kites and the idea of getting women to – willing to go out and register to vote is a striking accomplishment. The Afghans are clearly enthusiastic about these first early steps towards democracy. In Iraq, the economy is growing, the currency has been reasonably steady. We all know that people are being killed and wounded and many, many are Iraqis are being killed every week. The stock market is open, however. They fielded an Olympic soccer team. We’ve gone from zero to something like 220,000 Iraqi security forces of which 110,000 are properly trained and equipped and functioning. I’ve spent some time on the phone this morning with Gen. Casey and Gen. Abizaid, our senior military commanders there and they are impressed that they have a reasonably large number of experienced Iraqi forces that are in the Najaf area and are attempting to sort through that difficult situation with the holy shrines of the Shia faith.
Now most of the media attention this week has been on the fighting in Najaf, but it’s interesting that this month we also had the Constituent Assembly council, a group conference that met elected people to serve. And in the words of at least one newspaper, it is putting Iraq on the road to a constitutional democracy. Progress is mixed. It’s good with the bad. And we all recognize that. People have been killed and wounded. And it isn’t easy to build a free country when terrorists are determined to try to attack every sign of success – every activity. They systematically try and assassinate a government leader or a mayor, city council members, police chiefs. They are attempting to dissuade people from joining the Iraqi Security forces, that the Iraqi security forces have people standing in line to become policemen, National Guard, and regular army, border patrol, site protection and facilities protections people.
Everyone that looks at it and sees this mixture of what’s taking place to do it. And clearly, the difficult and the bad is struck by just how hard it is to go from where they were – a vicious dictatorship – to something approximating a freer economic system, a free political system. And Afghanistan and Iraq are becoming free nations that differ in almost every respect from the terror regimes that they replaced. They are countries that will be assisting in the global war on terror. And to serve as examples to discredit, it gives credit to extremist ideology. And I would think to the extent they’re successful, and I believe that each of those countries has a terrific crack at being successful. The effect on that region will be enormous. It is a region that needs models, it needs examples. And for all the enemies’ cunning and ruthlessness, I think that those of us in this country and in the case of Afghanistan, some 26 other nations that are helping -- in the case of Iraq, some 32 countries that are offering assistance -- we have an enormous advantage and that is that the great sweep of human desire is for freedom. And that is on our side, let there be no doubt. So we pray for their success and for the success of our soldiers and men and women, volunteers all, who are risking their lives to help those folks. Fifty million people between the two countries, have a crack at being free people. And their noble work of people in uniform will bring a more peaceful planet and a more secure nation for those of us here at home. And with that, I thank you and will be happy to respond to questions.
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