Well, this being a chapel, it’s not surprising that some people have left the front pews open. [Laughter] And there’s folks standing in the back and along the sides. And they’re certainly welcome to come on up and have a seat. Don’t be shy. You can do it. [Laughter] Unless you’re trying to leave early. [Laughter]
Thank you. Thank you so much. I am delighted to be here. As you know, those of us who work in Washington, D.C., but aren’t from Washington, D.C., do need to get out of there once in a while so that they can get a slightly different perspective on the country and on the world and what’s taking place, so I’m pleased to be able to do this.
As we meet today, there are a great many talented and very patriotic men and women and folks from across this wonderful state, and across the United States, who are serving our country in uniform and are performing a vitally important service to our country.
And the distinctive thing from when I was a Navy pilot is the fact that today everyone’s a volunteer. A lot of volunteers then, but we still had the draft back in the 1950s. Today we don’t. So every person here, and in fact the close to 2.5 million men and women who were in the active force, the reserve, guard, select reserve, the individual ready reserve are all volunteers. They’re all people that raised their hands and said, “I’d like to serve the country. Your countrymen are proud of you, and they thank you for all you do, and for doing it so very well.
Your efforts and the work of others in other coalitions, it’s a broad coalition – some 85 to 90 countries of the global war on terror coalition. In Afghanistan where we got, I believe, 26 countries participating now and some 32 in Iraq, all of them are helping the newly liberated people of Afghanistan and the people of Iraq transition to freedom from a vicious and dangerous tyranny.
It will not be an easy transition. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said of the United States that one ought not expect to be transported to democracy on a featherbed. It is a fact; it is a tough thing to do. It took us a long time. We didn’t have a constitution between 1776 and 1789. If you think of the other countries that have made that trip, navigating through those struggles [inaudible] to become free countries, in a democratic system. In each case, they’ve had a tough time doing it. With your help and with the help of our coalition partner of those countries today do have freedom and they are helping to fight terrorism, rather than harboring or engaging in terrorist activities themselves.
It’s late August and the third anniversary of September 11th is coming up soon. And I know none of us will ever forget that day. I have recently returned from Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda leadership planned and launched and plotted their deadly attacks. They did it with the support of the Taliban government. And now, despite a continuing campaign of violence and attempts at intimidation, Afghanistan’s over 9 ½ million people have registered to vote and more than 40 percent of them are women. They were hoping to get five or six of them by the end of the registration and there have been attempts at intimidation.
I was in Jalalabad, just a few weeks ago and in that area the Taliban remnants came across the border, stopped a bus, checked the women’s documentation and any one they found that had a voter registration card, they shot them. So the challenges they’re facing in Afghanistan are real, the progress they’re making is truly amazing.
I guess I’ve been there, oh, six, seven times now and each time I go, I come back so impressed with the progress that’s taking place there. You can feel it on the street -- the energy, the numbers of refugees that have come back to the country and the progress that they are making towards a democratic system. It is a remarkable achievement. For a nation that had been subjugated by the Soviet Union, beaten down by civil war, suffered a number of years of drought and then had to endure the repression of the Taliban regime.
The global war on terror is a brutal reality of our time. It’s important to remember, however, that while many in the United States, I suppose, feel like we’ve been at war, at least since September 11th. In fact, the global struggle started many many years before that. The decade prior to September 11, 2001, al Qaeda terrorists bombed the World Trade Center back in 1993. Later, there were attacks around the Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia, then of the U.S. embassy in East Africa, and then, of course, the attacks against the U.S.S. Cole, and the killing of so many sailors.
During those years, Saddam Hussein dispatched a squad of killers to try to assassinate a former U.S. president. The Iraqis were firing almost daily at U.S. and British aircraft, who were enforcing the U.N. resolutions in the northern and southern no-fly zone. And Saddam Hussein was paying $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers to encourage -- still others to go out and kill innocent men, women and children.
So we must not make the mistake of thinking that the absence of traditional war or traditional conflict as we train, you know, to deal with it means that we’re at peace, because we most certainly are not. And so, too, the cost and the pain of fighting this war so far off our shores should not tempt us to think that if we were simply to let events take their course, somehow the bloodshed and the sacrifice and the violence will go away. It will not go away. Indeed, it would increase our vulnerability by inviting still more terrorist attacks against our people. Because everything that history teaches us is that weakness is provocative.
Let there be no doubt our coalition will succeed against the forces of extremism that seek to take Afghanistan and Iraq back to the terrorist path.
Fifty years ago, some doubted the success of another coalition’s efforts, the allies during World War II. They doubted first the ability to defeat Germany and Japan, and then over a period of years, they doubted their ability to help those defeated countries actually become democracies. And despite the enormous numbers of casualties in World War II, and the long series of military setbacks, month after month, for years, losses and defeats. The allied troops and our leaders were steadfast. They forged ahead, first to achieve victories against those axis countries – the three axis countries, including Italy - and then to help transform Germany and Japan and Italy into democratic nations - nation that today everyone recognizes were true bulwarks of the free world’s security and prosperity during the many, many decades of the Cold War.
And I suspect that some decades from now, historians similarly will look back on our coalition’s work in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the global war on terror and they will see your service, the service of each of you and the patriots all across the globe as will help to make our country more secure and, indeed, help to make the world more secure.
We read a lot and see a lot in the press about what’s happening over there, but the fact is if one steps back, the great sweep of human history is on your side. It is on the side of the values and a new opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan, that are now being offered to those 25 million people in Iraq, and the 25 million people in Afghanistan.
I was in Korea about six months ago, and I was laying a wreath at the Korean War Memorial. And I walked by a wall, a stone wall, and there it had every state in the United States has showed the individuals who gave their lives from each of those states. And I walked by and there were people I knew from High School.
That evening, the Korean minister of defense had a reception for me and we were in a, probably an eight-story, wonderful building in downtown Seoul, Korea. And a young woman came up to me -- clearly, too young to have been alive during the Korean War 50 years ago – and the Korean parliament was at that week voting to decide whether to send any Korean troops – Republic of Korean troops – to Iraq. There was a heated debate, understandably. And this young woman, a journalist, who stuck a mike in front of our face and said, “Why in the world should Koreans send their young men and women all the way across the globe to die or be wounded in Iraq?” And I said to her, I pointed out the window, and said that on my desk in the Pentagon, I’ve got a picture from satellite of the Korean Peninsula at night and you see the demilitarized zone. South of it is all lights. North of it is blackness, except for one pinprick of light in Pyongyang. The North Korean military has had lower the standards to get into the North Korean military down to 4’10” because they don’t have enough people over that to fill their ranks.
They had to lower it to less than 100 pounds because they’re starving. They’re busing engaging in the proliferation of missile technologies, developing nuclear weapons, engaging in the drug trade, the counterfeit trade, have concentration camps with literally tens of thousands of people in them in their country. And south of the demilitarized zone, the same people, both Koreans with the same resources, the same amount of geography, have a little less democracy and economic miracle that is engaged all across the globe. And people, free people who were living lives that have opportunity and freedom.
And I said to her, “Look out the window, that’s why. Why in the world should Americans, young Americans come over here 50 years ago to Korea and got wounded or lost their lives?” And the answer is because it is worth doing. It is noble work. It is important. The contributions that Japan, Germany, Italy, in this case, North Korea have made the world in the decades since their defeat; and the decades as they achieved their freedom; in the decades as they move towards free, political and economic systems have been breathtaking, and contributed to the lives of people all cross the globe.
So what you’re doing is important, believe me. It is enormously important. And you have my thanks and you have the thanks of the American people. And I know that in five, ten, fifteen, twenty years, thirty or maybe even fifty years, if you’re lucky enough to have lived as long as I’ve lived, you’ll to be able to look back and value and appreciate the importance of what you’re doing, and what your friends and colleagues are doing all across the globe.
So with that, I’ll be happy to respond to some questions. I’m told there’s some microphones around here. And there they are. Why don’t you stick up your hand if you have a question, I’d be delighted to try to respond. Just don’t ask me about TriCare. [Laughter]
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