Thank you very much. Have a seat. Good afternoon, folks, and thanks so much for coming.
And a very special greeting to the troops, I think they're watching around the world -- in this country and overseas -- on the Pentagon channel. And we thank all of you for what you do to help keep our -- the American people safe and for your service to our country. Certainly, those overseas are very much in our thoughts and prayers.
This is a good day. I suppose all of you have been working so you haven't seen the television about the Iraqi elections. But it is going very well, and the polls are closed.
They think there was an excellent turnout. The reports thus far indicate that:
· The level of violence has been low, and
· I think that we have every prospect of seeing a highly successful election in Iraq,
· A country that wrote its own constitution,
· Went out and risked violence when they voted to ratify that constitution in a referendum, and
· Today went out and voted to elect an assembly under that new constitution that they wrote and that they ratified.
And that is just an historic accomplishment, and it's greatly to the credit of the Iraqi people, for the courage they have shown, and it's certainly to the credit of the men and women in uniform from our country and from the coalition countries who have done so much to create an environment where this historic event could actually happen.
2005 has been quite a year for the men and women of the Department of Defense --uniformed and civilian alike:
· They have responded compassionately to the needy affected by the tsunami in Southeast Asia;
· Helping our fellow Americans who were flooded and in need in the New Orleans and Louisiana-Mississippi-Alabama areas as a result of Katrina and Rita;
· Providing so much needed assistance in Pakistan to the victims of that terrible earthquake that probably killed as many as 73(,000), 74(,000), 75,000 human beings and left certainly hundreds of thousands of people homeless, and possibly millions.
· And all of this has been done while battling terrorists and helping to make possible a free election in Afghanistan which was also a big success, the January election in Iraq -- the referendum I mentioned -- and then the election today.
Each of you have contributed to these important achievements, and I want to personally thank you and all the troops that are watching around the world -- that your country is grateful to each of you. And there's no question but that the cause of freedom is stronger and healthier because of you.
The election today in Iraq is something that the American people -- I am sure, understand the importance of.
And today, as we begin the holiday season -- Iraqis have completed that election, the views of the Iraqi people I think are reflected in a recent ABC News poll that indicated that some 70 percent of the Iraqis say they think things are going well in their country, and two-thirds thinks that things will be better, still better in the coming months. And that's encouraging, because hope's important. It brings refugees back into a country, it encourages people to take risks, to make investments, and go about their business, be willing to go to school and look ahead.
So this election, of course, is not only important to those Iraqis, it's important to the people in the region. It would be the first real democracy in the Arab world. And I think the backside of it is also important. This election constitutes a defeat for the enemies of the Iraqi people, the enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government. It constitutes a defeat to the people who have been doing the beheadings and conducting the suicide raids and threatening people and assassinating people who were bold enough to go out and run for public office -- or to go out and vote -- or to serve. Yet, if you think about it, the moderate Muslim nations in the region have been under threat. And so it's a victory for them as well.
The violent extremists who constitute the opposition there, the goal is to end those
· Moderate Muslim nations in the region, and is to
· Attack the West, and certainly to
· Attack the United States.
We know that's their goal. They've said so. They've put it down in writing.
Zawahiri, a member of bin Laden's top council, has explained why Iraq is so crucial to the terrorists. He outlined al Qaeda's goals as the following:
· To expel Americans;
· To establish a radical Islamic caliphate; and
· To extend the jihad worldwide.
To America Zawahiri said:
[QUOTE] "O, Americans... The losses you are having in Afghanistan and Iraq...are only the losses of the initial clashes." [UNQUOTE]
So let there be no doubt: Defeating the terrorists in Iraq is key to protecting Americans here at home, and securing a peaceful future for our children and for our grandchildren.
Our troops in the region are doing a superb job, let there be no doubt. They know that. They see the progress every day. It is -- the most encouraging thing I do is to visit the troops at Walter Reed or Bethesda, or out in the field and hear their perspective on what they're doing and why they're doing it. And they understand. They get it. And they know the progress just in the last year:
· The Iraqi security forces are growing in size and capability.
· The political process is on schedule.
· Every single benchmark has been made.
· There seem to be growing divisions among the enemies.
And it's not a single entity that's against the Iraqi government; it's a combination of some rejectionist Sunnis who have ruled the country for so long and think they could bring back Saddam Hussein. There is the Zawahiri jihadists, who are -- come from various countries and are really just violent terrorists determined to kill people. And there are criminals involved and other elements.
But there are divisions among those groups. More of Iraq 's friendly neighbors have been watching what's taking place and have decided that instead of sitting on the sidelines, they'd best be involved and interested in seeing that it succeed. And that's a good thing.
And the Sunnis, who decided they would opt of the first election in January, did participate and lean forward during the constitutional referendum, and they -- from everything we can hear on the radio and television, and from General Casey and folks, today the Sunnis have voted in very large numbers, which is a good thing, to have all elements in that country participating in the election.
Despite these tangible measures of progress, some here at home still say we should withdraw from Iraq, before the Iraqis are ready to defend their own country. The truth is that that would not save American lives. Indeed, it would likely put many more American lives at risk. And let there be no doubt about that.
Consider that if we left Iraq today, terrorists would concentrate their efforts against our troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. And if we left Afghanistan, they'd concentrate on our friends in the region. And if we withdrew from the region, they would likely attack us here at home again, and we need to know that. This is a global struggle, and the only way to win this "long war" against violent extremists is to stay on the offense. U.S. forces are fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that we don't have to fight them here in the United States.
The challenges of Iraq and of the larger Global War on Terror have accelerated our efforts to make this Department more agile and more responsive and more joint in the way we do our business.
Change is hard.
And I suspect it would be fair to say that in the history of the U.S. Department of Defense, no generation of military or civilian officials have been called upon to do so much in such a short period of time. For many, these challenges have meant long days and nights for many of you, and I know that, a lot of short deadlines, some of which often look leisurely to me.
The truth is the truth.
And I know a lot of folks have missed weekends and time with family and friends.
So it seems to me that when you celebrate with your families this season, you can know that you have given them a very special gift. You have helped to defend them in a -- and defend their freedom. And they are and we are all safer because of your service to our country.
It's really a great privilege, if you think about it, to work in this Department and to do what we do -- because our work here is so important -- indeed it's central to our country's maintaining our way of life.
The holiday season, of course, is a time that we do reflect on family and friends and what's important, and out of a sense of gratitude that we might also reflect on what a special place our country is. Consider the Americans who have
· Come to the aid of the victims of the tsunami and the hurricanes and the natural disasters.
· And they're still doing it in Pakistan. The folks are there. They've got helicopters. They've got medical facilities. They're doing a wonderful job.
· Think of the American doctors who've been operating on Afghans who need particular types of medical assistance and;
· On Iraqis who've come to this country for that help.
· And think of the billions of dollars that individual Americans, including all of you, in the various charitable activities that you participate in, give every year to help other people in this country and other countries around the world,
· And also the fact that every single person in uniform in this country is a volunteer. They weren't conscripted. They weren't forced. You weren't drafted. Every single person said, "Send me."
So this is an amazing country, if you think about it. And the folks here and those watching overseas have enormously important responsibilities and because the task has fallen to you to protect our way of life and to keep America a very special place, a place where people all across the globe look at our country in times of turmoil and tragedy, and so many get in line to try to come here, to live here, to work here.
So in this long war ahead, the freedom and opportunity that earlier generations sought here are the very things that the enemy attacks and that the enemy hopes to take away from us. They are what some have called the American dream, and what led one writer to say, "America is a willingness of heart." And that dream, that willingness of heart, is what each of you have sacrificed to help defend.
And finally, let's take a moment to remember those individual Soldiers and Sailors and Airmen and Marines who will not be celebrating Christmas, those who were wounded in battle, the line of duty, and especially those who have fallen defending our freedom.
We pray for them and we certainly pray for their families and their loved ones. They are supporting troops whose service will never be forgotten and whose mission of defending our nation will never be abandoned. We are deeply in their debt, and we hope they know the depths of our gratitude for their courage and for their dedication.
General Pete Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has a few words.
For a complete transcript, please visit:
Other Pentagon Town Hall Meetings: