Secretary's Message to the Troops on Operation Iraqi Freedom

Pentagon, March 20, 2003—On Monday night, President George W. Bush, our Commander in Chief delivered an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein: to leave Iraq within 48 hours. Refusal to do so will result in military conflict. In rejecting the President’s ultimatum, the Iraqi regime has chosen war over peaceful disarmament. Saddam Hussein’s regime will be now removed from power -- and the Iraqi people will be liberated.

You are the men and women who will deliver on the President’s pledge. As you and coalition forces fulfill the mission you’ve been assigned, know that you will carry the thoughts and prayers of the American people with you into battle.

We fully recognize that lives are at stake -- American, coalition, and Iraqi; military and civilian. War is a last resort, to be undertaken only after every other alternative has been tried.

For twelve years, the international community sought to disarm Iraq peacefully. We have tried economic sanctions, inspections, and diplomacy -- all have failed. The Iraqi regime repeatedly refused to disarm.

As the President said, the Iraqi regime is a grave and gathering danger. With each passing day, Saddam Hussein advances his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, and could pass them along to terrorists. If he is allowed to do so, the result could be the deaths not of 3,000 people, as on September 11th, but 30,000 or 300,000 or more innocent people.

Our responsibility -- your mission -- is to prevent that from happening and eliminate the Iraqi regime as a threat.

You are the best trained, strongest, and most capable military in the world. We have full confidence in your ability, your courage and your dedication to our country.

As you embark on this mission, know that you are not alone. Our coalition includes dozens of countries that are helping in a variety of different ways. You will fight alongside the forces of such stalwart friends as Australia, Great Britain and many others.

You may face great challenges and dangers. Wars have their surprises.

The most difficult step a President can make is the decision to send the Armed Forces of our nation into battle.

When I returned to the Pentagon after serving here a quarter century ago, I wrote a series of guidelines to help guide my thinking regarding the use of force. They included these questions:

  • Is there a good reason to go to war?
  • Have we engaged all instruments of national power in search of a peaceful solution?
  • Is the objective achievable?
  • Have we set forth clear goals?
  • Does the objective merit risking American lives?
  • Have we made available all the resources and military capabilities needed to achieve victory?
  • Have we invested the effort and political capital to explain the need for action and to marshal and sustain public support?
  • Have we been honest -- with ourselves and with the world -- about the risks of action, but also about the less obvious risks of inaction?

The President has made the case for Iraq clear. He has set forth what is at stake, and invested the diplomatic and political effort needed to exhaust all options short of war. We are at the point at which the risk of not acting is too great to wait longer. The answers are clear. It is essential to world peace and our security that we act against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

As you prepare -- know that this war is necessary, it is just, and that you have the resources and commitment you need to achieve victory. You have the strong support of your Commander in Chief, of the Congress and of the American people.

I thank you for all you do for our country. May God bless you, and keep you, and guide you in the days ahead.