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Secretary Rumsfeld Remarks on the USS O'Bannon

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 09, 2005

            Rumsfeld:  Thank you very much.

 

            Greetings!  At ease.  It's amazing. 

 

            Well I'm delighted to be here.  The first time I was on the flight deck of a ship, it's hard to believe but it was I think in 1942 and it was a baby aircraft carried called the [inaudible] during World War II.  My father had been sent there as an officer on the ship and they were just commissioning it.  I remember the sounds and the smells and the feeling of being on the flight deck.  It was a bit bigger than this ship, and had a different purpose, of course, but it's always a thrill for me to be back and have a chance to say hello to new folks.

 

            I know that every one of you is a volunteer.  Each of you put your hand up and said you wanted to serve our country -- some of you many years ago, some of you quite recently.  But in every case you've become a key part of history and what's taking place in this world of ours.

 

            You're aboard a ship with a distinguished name, an historic name.  You're part of the finest military on the face of the earth.  You will be able to look back on your service in five or ten or fifteen or twenty years and visit about it with your children, maybe even your grandchildren at some point, and know in your hearts that you've been part of liberating 50 million human beings, people who were living in terrorist states.  People who were living in repressive regimes.  People whose lives were threatened by the Taliban and the al-Qaida in the case of Afghanistan, that used the soccer stadiums to behead people and filled up mass graves.  And that today as we meet in this lovely setting in the south of France, Afghanistan is clearly on a path towards democracy where those people are able to get up in the morning and go where they wish and say what they wish and think what they wish.  Where there's a free press, a free political system, the first popularly elected President in the 5,000 year history of that country.

 

            I was there in Kabul for the inauguration and I will never forget it in my entire life.  It was one of the most memorable moments. 

 

            We just experienced last Sunday elections in Iraq.  Admittedly, the Iraqi people don't have much experience with democracy.  An awful lot of experts and pundits and people who observe these things and write about them have suggested that the people in that part of the world aren't ready for democracy, that they really aren't ready for freedom.

 

            We all know that if you're free, you're free to be wise but you're also free to be foolish.  You're free to be kind and you're also free to be vicious.  So freedom is not an easy thing.

 

            But if one thinks about what took place Sunday with 25 million people who have had no experience with freedom, no experience with democracy, and what's taken place every hour since last Sunday.  Instead of talking about killing people, instead of talking about invading neighbors, instead of a country that used chemical weapons against its own people and against its neighbors, what's being done today in Iraq is politics.  People are talking.  They're discussing.  They're wondering who got the most votes.  They're wondering who ought to be the President, who ought to be the Deputy Presidents and who might be Prime Minister and who should be the Ministers of the various departments and agencies of that government.  They're discussing how they can reach out to the Sunnis who didn't participate fully in the election to make sure that they have a single country.

 

            I wish I could assure you that everything was going to turn out well, but I can't.  I suspect that there are going to be more people killed, that there will be more difficulties, that it will be a bumpy road, a tough road.  But I don't believe in the history of the world there's ever been a country that has gone from a dictatorship, a repressive regime or an authoritarian regime to a democracy smoothly.  Even Thomas Jefferson said you cannot expect to go from despotism to democracy on a featherbed.

 

            Our country didn't go on a featherbed.  It's always tough.  So expect it to be tough.  But I am hopeful.  I am hopeful that when we look back we will see that these people who have every opportunity -- they have the oil wells, they have water, they have education, they're industrious people in Iraq, and we need moderate Muslim leadership in this world to help in the struggle against extremism.  We now have Musharraf in Pakistan.  We have Mr. Karzai and his team in Afghanistan.  We'll have new leadership in Iraq that will be moderate Muslim leadership in my view.

 

            If you think about the -- In my lifetime alone we've seen the rise and the fall of fascism.  We've seen the rise and the fall of communism.  And I hope and pray that I live long enough to see not just the rise but also the fall of extremism and the struggle, where we're victorious in the struggle against terrorism.

 

            So I thank you all.  What you're doing is important.  I know you're away from home for many many months and you have families and loved ones and you're missing opportunities to do things back there, but what you're doing is important, it's noble work, it's needed, and it's successful.  I thank each of you for that.

 

            So God bless each of you and God bless our wonderful country.  Thank you so much.

 

            [Applause].

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