Thank you. Thank you very much. And welcome to all of you and to the men and women who are all across the globe joining us on the Pentagon Channel and watching this town hall session.
My friend Dick Myers, thank you very much for both your kind words, but also for your superb service to the United States of America over so many decades. We are very much in your debt.
We thank you for coming. Independence Day certainly offers all Americans an opportunity to reflect on the truly daring efforts of our country's Founders. They defied the expectations of skeptics, they cast off tyranny and they built a free system of government.
Historian, author David McCullough recently reflected on what might have become of our country had the country faced the media realities that Dick Myers was talking about back in 1776. And he noted the setbacks that the Continental Army faced. He said,
"If the American Revolutionary War had been covered by the media and the country had seen how horrible conditions were and what a very serious soup we were in, I think that would have been it."
But it is a different world we're living in. It's important that we understand it and that we adapt to it.
But Americans succeeded back then because they marshalled the will and the resolve to see that difficult effort through -- and it was difficult. And the skeptics who were certain it wouldn't work were proven wrong.
I was thinking about this the other day as we prepared to update the Congress on the situation in Iraq. General Myers and General Abizaid and General Casey and I went up -- I think we were there for some nine-and-a-half hours testifying. We've heard and seen a good deal about how difficult things have been in Iraq -- and it has been difficult, to be sure.
There are many extremists in the world who want democracy to fail in Iraq and in Afghanistan. I suppose that, lacking any other context, much of the world sees the daily volume of violence and the headlines on television and the graphic pictures, and they have to wonder whether the fight is worth the cost -- or if the coalition is losing in Iraq.
However different the circumstances between America in 1776 and today in Iraq, they do demonstrate the difficulty of trying to judge a conflict based on circumstances at any given moment. If the last impression you saw is your conclusion about things, why, we'd be just going from this to that with oscillations all day long. Balanced assessments certainly require time, they require patience, and they require perspective.
Think about the short-sighted predictions that have been made during prior conflicts in our history:
- During the Civil War, for example, the Union Army suffered one bloody defeat after another in the summer before the 1864 elections. Editorialists harshly criticized the general, Ulysses S. Grant, but his strategy ultimately led to victory on the battlefield and the preservation of our country;
- President Harry Truman ended his administration with some of the lowest approval ratings any President ever had. He was down at 23 percent when he left office. And today he's widely admired for having put in place policies and institutions that really helped to re-build Europe and that contained communists -- communism over so many decades; and
- During the 1980s millions of people in the United States and Europe demonstrated against President Reagan's national security policies -- policies opposed by many so-called opinion leaders in this country and around the world who favored a different sort of accommodation with the Soviet Union. It even became a fad of sorts to blame America for being uncompromising in that administration, uncompromising with the Soviets.
Think of how differently history views those conflicts today, and consider what the world would look like if America had not sent its best men and women to defend freedom abroad. And think what would happen if America failed today to help the Afghans and the Iraqis defeat the terrorists that are seeking to rule those countries.
Now, make no mistake, the enemies we face in Iraq today come from the mold similar to those who killed 3,000 people on September 11th -- and many of those worked here in this building. Indeed, al Qaeda operatives are among those fighting in Iraq today. They call murder martyrdom. And they call bin Laden their leader.
These extremists have made plain their intention to kill Westerners, moderate Muslims as well. They have access to money -- they have access to weapons -- and they are seeking even more dangerous weapons. And have no doubt, if we do not battle them and defeat them in Iraq, we will most certainly have to face them again here at home in a very different circumstance.
Each of you -- military and civilians -- here in this building and elsewhere across the globe -- are playing important roles in this fight. Those of you that work in the Pentagon are tackling tasks that make this Department run -- tasks which are essential to supporting the truly outstanding troops that we have serving our country. Those troops and their families are showing every day that the spirit of July 4th is as strong today as it was in 1776.
A few years ago, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was here in the United States and he addressed a Joint Session of the United States Congress. He told Americans that it was up to us, "to bequeath to this anxious world the light of liberty." He said:
"I know it's hard on America, and in some small corner of this vast country there's a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happy, minding his own business, saying to the political leaders of the country, 'Why me?' and 'Why us?' and 'Why America?'" And he went on to say that the only answer is because "Destiny put you in this place in history at this moment, in this time, and the task is yours to do."
There are some who approach this Independence Day concerned about America and its place in the world. Now, I'm not one who gets up every morning and -- looking for ways to prove that America is what's wrong with the world. America isn't what's wrong with the world, and let there be no doubt. And deep down, I know that most people in the world know that.
- Consider the millions who have risked their lives escaping other countries to try to come to our shores seeking safety, seeking opportunity, in many cases seeking citizenship;
- Or the pro-democracy students who stood defiantly before tanks in Tiananmen Square -- holding up their own Statue of Liberty, and holding up copies of the Declaration of Independence or;
- The 16 million Iraqis and Afghans who voted in their countries' truly historic elections, exercising freedoms that Americans have helped bring to others for generations.
America still remains what President Lincoln called "the last best hope on earth." And certainly on this coming Independence Day, reflect on how truly fortunate each of us is -- to be able to live in this blessed country -- the United States. And most of all, we all should pause and remember and honor all of those who are undertaking the truly noble work of preserving our freedom. We are deeply in their debt.
Now with that, I would be delighted to respond to some questions.
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