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Beyond Nation Building
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, 11th Annual Salute to Freedom, Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, New York City, Friday, February 14, 2003

Chairman Bill Young, thank you for all you and Mrs. Young do for the men and women in uniform and for our national security.

Congressman Chris Shays and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney-it is good to see you.

Commandant Mike Hagee, General Ralph Eberhart, Admiral Ed Giambastiani-thank you for your outstanding service.

I understand we have three Medal of Honor recipients in the audience tonight: Captain Paul Bucha, Captain Jack Jacob, and Sergeant First Class Gary Littrell.  Thanks to each of you for all you have done for our country.

And thank you, General Franks.  Our country is so fortunate to have you doing what you do at this critical moment in our nation's history.  It is a great privilege to serve with you.  And Cathy Franks, you also serve and we appreciate all you do.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for that warm welcome.  It is a pleasure to be on board this great aircraft carrier. 

The first time I was aboard a carrier was almost 60 years ago-for the commissioning of a baby flat top.  I was 11, and my father was aboard the ship as it left for the Pacific war.  I can remember sitting on the hanger deck-the smells, the sounds, and the feeling of the carrier. 

So to be aboard this ship tonight, almost six decades later, and to receive this fine award, is indeed a great honor.  I thank you.

There's another reason why I'm so pleased to be here tonight.  Some of you may not know this, but the Intrepid and I have a lot in common: 

She was commissioned into Naval service in the middle of the 20th century-and so was I. 

She went on to serve the Navy in various capacities for more than three decades-and so have I. 

She retired from government service in the late 1970s, but then was brought back from the scrap yard-and so was I.

And there is one other thing we have in common-we are both living proof that a couple of broken down old Navy vessels can still strive to serve this great country.

Today, the U.S.S. Intrepid has a new mission-helping to educate the next generation of Americans about the sacrifices of so many who made it possible for them to live in freedom. 

They have that opportunity because of the vision of Zachary Fisher, who founded the Fisher House Foundation, this wonderful museum, and so many other military charities.  And we are particularly grateful to his nephews, Tony and Steven Fisher, and all of you who work so hard to keep his legacy-and the legacy of all who risked and gave their lives aboard this ship-alive. 

Indeed, I am told that there are a number of you here tonight who served aboard the Intrepid during World War II, and who now volunteer at the Museum, sharing your experiences with visitors.  Thank you for your service, then and now.

I can think of no better way to teach young people about the value-and price-of liberty, than to have them visit this ship.  Because the story of the Intrepid is the story of freedom's defense. 

After our country was attacked at Pearl Harbor, the Intrepid came to her rescue.  She played a critical role in the Pacific war, and then went on to complete three tours of duty in Vietnam.  In her years of service, she witnessed both the heroism and the carnage of war. 

From her deck half a century ago, American sailors watched in horror as, on five separate occasions, suicide bombers crashed their planes into this ship.  Each time, amid the mayhem, heroes sprang into action-dousing the flames, steadying the ship, and risking their lives to pull the wounded from the wreckage. 

More than half a century later, this retired ship once again witnessed heroism and carnage.  From her deck, on a clear September morning, Americans watched in horror as suicide bombers struck again-this time crashing planes into the World Trade Center.  From her deck, you could see the Twin Towers collapse, disappearing one after the other from the New York skyline.  From her deck, you could see heroes spring into action-dousing flames and risking their lives to pull people from the wreckage.

But just as the Intrepid rose from the devastation of those attacks half a century ago, so too has our nation risen from the devastation of September 11th-and let there be no doubt, we will achieve victory once again.

Our experiences then, and now, are similar in another sense.  After Pearl Harbor, our country fought back and defeated those who attacked us.  But we also made clear that America was not interested in conquest or colonization.  When hostilities ended, we helped the Japanese people rebuild from the rubble of war, and establish the institutions of democracy.  And today, Japan is a staunch friend and steadfast U.S. ally. 

Similarly, after our nation was attacked on September 11th, we fought back in Afghanistan.  But we also made clear that America was not interested in conquest or colonization.  And today, we are helping the Afghan people rebuild from the rubble of war, and establish institutions of democracy.  That is the American way.

In a way, it's ironic: terrorists attacked us because of who we are-a free people.  Yet the result of their attacks was the liberation of a people-the Afghan people-those the terrorists had so mercilessly oppressed.

Before September 11th, Afghans lived lives of fear.  The freedoms we enjoy were, for them, a distant dream.  Today the Afghan people are free, Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists, it has a transitional government with a popular mandate, girls and boys are back in school, and well over a million refugees have returned to their homes. 

This is a remarkable transformation.  And tonight, as we gather on this famous ship to celebrate the progress of human freedom, let me speak about how that transformation came about-the philosophy that made our success possible, and why it is so important not just for the future of warfare, but for future international efforts to help struggling nations recover from war and regain self-reliance.

From the outset of the war, our guiding principle has been that Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans.  The United States does not aspire to own it, or run it. 

This philosophy shaped how we approached the military campaign.  We did not send a massive invasion and occupation force.  Instead, we kept the coalition footprint modest, and adopted a strategy of teaming with local Afghan forces that opposed the Taliban.

The careful use of precision-guided weapons helped ensure that there were fewer civilian casualties in this war than perhaps any war in modern history.  As a result, we did not alienate the Afghan people.

Not only did we make every effort to avoid civilian deaths, we worked hard to save civilian lives.  Coalition aircrews dropped more than 2.4 million humanitarian daily rations to Afghan villages, reinforcing the message that we were coming not as a force of occupation, but as a force of liberation. 

These principles, which brought success in war, are now guiding our efforts to shape the peace: Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans. 

The objective is not for us to engage in "nation building"-it is to help Afghans, so they can build their own nation.  That is an important distinction.

In some "nation building" exercises, well-intentioned foreigners arrive on the scene, look at the problems, and say, "let's go fix it for them."  This can be a disservice.  Because when foreigners come in with international solutions to local problems, it can create a dependency.  


A long-term foreign presence in a country can be unnatural.  It is much like a broken bone.  If it is not set properly at the outset, eventually, the muscles and tendons will grow around the break, and the body will adjust to the abnormal condition.  This is what has happened in a number of places with a large foreign presence.  Economies remain unreformed, distorted and dependent.  Educated young people make more money as drivers for foreign workers, than as doctors or civil servants.  

Despite the good intentions and fine work of humanitarian workers, there can be unintended adverse side effects.  For example, East Timor is one of the poorest countries in Asia-the average income is about a dollar a day.  Yet the capital is now one of the most expensive cities in Asia.  Local restaurants are out of reach for most Timorese, and cater to international workers who are paid 200 times the average local wage.  At the city's main supermarket, prices are reportedly on par with supermarkets in London and New York.

Or take Kosovo, where a driver shuttling international workers around the capital earns ten times the salary of a university professor.  A recent Wall Street Journal story described how, three years after the war, the United Nations still runs Kosovo by executive fiat.  The UN issues postage stamps, passports, and driver's licenses.  Decisions made by the elected local parliament are invalid without the signature of the UN Administrator, and Kosovar ministers have a UN overseer with the power to approve or disapprove their decisions.

This is the opposite of what the coalition is trying to accomplish in Afghanistan.  Our goal is not to create another culture of dependence, but rather to promote Afghan independence-because long-term stability comes not from the presence of foreign forces, but from the development of functioning local institutions.

That is why, in the area of security, we have been training an Afghan National Army-so that Afghans can, over time, take responsibility for their own security and stability, rather than depending on foreign forces. 

Our challenge, in the period ahead, is to put the same principles to work to guide our efforts to aid Afghan reconstruction.  The U.S. has already provided $850 million for that task, with another $3.3 billion authorized over the next four years.  That is a sizeable investment.  More is needed from the international community.

Just as important as who pays, is how the money is delivered.  It is critical that international assistance be distributed through the Afghan government, so that the Afghan people can see their own leaders' role in their improved circumstance. 

This year we will embark on a major international effort to bolster the new Afghan government.  Our goal is to begin moving toward an end state, in which the Afghan government is sufficiently established that it can provide for security and stability across the country.

Some ask what lessons our experiences in Afghanistan might offer for the possibility of a post-Saddam Iraq?  The President has not made a decision to use force in Iraq.  But if he were to do so, that principle would hold true:  Iraq belongs to the Iraqis-we do not aspire to own it or run it.  We hope to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and to help liberate the Iraqi people from oppression and terror. 

If the United States were to lead an international coalition in Iraq, we would be guided by two commitments: to stay as long as necessary; and to leave as soon as possible.  We would work with our partners, as we did in Afghanistan, to help the Iraqi people establish a new government that would govern a single country; free of weapons of mass destruction; and which respects the right of its diverse population and the aspirations of all the Iraqi people to live in freedom and have a voice in their government.

The goal would not be to impose an American-style template on Iraq, but rather to create conditions where Iraqis can form a government in their own unique way, as the Loya Jirga process in Afghanistan produced representative government in a uniquely Afghan manner.

This is not to underestimate the challenges the coalition would face.  But Iraq has several advantages Afghanistan does not.  One is time.  The effort in Afghanistan had to be planned and executed in a matter of weeks after September 11th.  With Iraq, by contrast, there has been time to prepare.  We have set up a Post-War Planning Office to think problems through and coordinate the efforts of coalition countries and U.S. government agencies. 

A second advantage is resources.  Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq has a solid infrastructure, with working networks of roads and resources, such as oil, that will help give a free Iraq the means to get on its feet.

But let me be clear: whatever happens elsewhere in the world, we will not abandon Afghanistan.  Afghanistan remains an important ally, not just in the war against terrorism, but in the larger struggle for freedom and moderation in the Muslim world. 

If we succeed, Afghans will take hold of their country, develop the institutions of self-government, and reclaim their place as responsible members of the international community.  And the world will have a model for a successful transition from devastation to self-reliance. 

Such a transformation is possible because of the courage, and the sacrifice, of the many brave Americans serving today in Afghanistan.

A few weeks ago, I was at Walter Reed Army Hospital visiting American servicemen who had been wounded in Afghanistan.  There was one young man, who had his left hand blown off, his jaw was wired, and his right hand strapped to his right leg for skin grafting.  I asked his wife where she was staying.  She said: "the Fisher House, right here at Walter Reed.  It's wonderful.  It's $10 a night, the accommodations are terrific, and I get to be with the wives and families of others who are in the hospital.  I'm so grateful."

And then, out of the blue, she said: if you ever seen Mr. Fisher, please tell him thank you so much.  I told her about Mr. Fisher, and explained that I'd be here tonight and would do the next best thing, and thank you-the family, friends and supporters of the Fisher House Foundation-who are doing so much to carry on that fine gentleman's work.

Thank you for all you do for our country, and God bless you all