Thank you so much, General. I appreciate those words.
General Chiarelli, thank you for your leadership.
And General [inaudible] I keep thinking he must be from Chicago. But he's not, he's from Scranton, Pennsylvania.
I'm very pleased to be here. For the past six years, I have had the privilege of serving with the greatest military on the face of the earth. And indeed, I would say it is the greatest armed force that's ever existed.
I'm told that this is my 14th trip to Iraq since 2003, and it will be my last as Secretary of Defense. And as I complete this second tour in the department, I leave understanding full well that the true strength -- of our military is not in the Pentagon, it's not in the weapons, but it's in the hearts of the men and women who serve our country.
There's not been a day since our country has been in this long struggle that I've not thought about those of you who are deployed in foreign posts and battlefields, far from home, far from your friends and loved ones.
I wish it were possible for every American to see firsthand, to even just get a glimpse of all that you do every day, the lives you touch, the lives you save. I never cease to be impressed by the courage and the resiliency of our troops.
And I should add your families as well, as I see them around the United States in various locations or see the families of those who have been wounded in Bethesda or Walter Reed. I come away from my meetings with the troops and with their families inspired by your determination and, I should add, by your unfailing good sense of humor.
I think back to a young man I met at Bethesda Naval Hospital not too long ago. He had multiple wounds. It was in the very early stages of his recovery. And he had a tube coming out of his nose, and he looked up at me, and he said, "If only the American people will give us the time, we can do it. We're getting the job done." I know he's right, and I know also that the consequences of failure here in this struggle are unacceptable.
Each of you is a volunteer. Each of you raised your hand and said, "send me." It's worth noting that the highest retention and reenlistment rates are by people who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think it says a great deal about the character and the commitment of those of you here. And it tells a couple of other things as well -- that the men and women in uniform believe in what they're doing, they know it's important, they know it's worth the cost. And they're convinced that they can succeed, and that our country can prevail if we don't lose our will.
History will record that this global campaign against violent extremists has been one of the most complicated and one of the most difficult of conflicts. It's a struggle that's unlike any our military has faced before. It's a struggle that, because it's still new and because it's unfamiliar -- is even today -- after several years, little understood by the American people, indeed by much of the free world. We're up against an enemy that doesn't have big armies, big navies, big air forces. Without the [inaudible], we couldn't lose a battle.
Instead, the enemy -- this enemy -- lurks in the shadows, targets civilians, employs every conceivable tool from box cutters and garage door openers as weapons of murder and destruction.
It's an enemy that knows full well they couldn't match this Army, this Navy, this Air Force, Marine Corps on any battle field.
But they are skillful:
· They're skillful at using propaganda.
· They use all the tools of communication.
· They have media committees.
· They consciously plan attacks for the dramatic effect.
· They use the Internet,
· They use satellite, television.
· They use digital cameras, and their goal is to manipulate the perceptions and to try to demoralize the folks back home.
You know that in every conflict in our country's history, there have been those who have said “let's toss in the towel -- it isn't working," they say. It was true in the Revolutionary War.
George Washington was almost fired. That's not quite the way the history books report it today, but it's a fact. And it's been so in every conflict as it is today. But something important is never easy. And to be sure, this struggle is not easy; it's complicated. We're in what will be a long struggle.
As General Mixon said, it's a struggle that will require patience. It will require perseverance. This conflict is unlike World War II with major land, sea and air battles. It's much more like the Cold War. And because this first war of the 21st century -- which is what it is -- is new, is unfamiliar and complex, it's understandable that there would be differences about the direction of the war. Public debate can be heated. Sometimes it can even be nasty, but that's not new. And if you think about it, no war is ever popular except in retrospect.
But we must not confuse the political debates that take place back home with a wavering of support or appreciation for your service or for your achievements. Nor can there be any doubt whatsoever about the importance of succeeding here, even as tactics and approaches are reviewed from time to time and adjusted as they must be to meet the evolving challenges of an enemy with a brain; a thinking enemy that adjusts as we do.
It's true, as some argue, that we could simply leave these extremists and terrorists here in Iraq. But the ugly truth is they will not leave us. Their goals are grandiose, and they strike at the very essence of what we are as free people.
If you think about it, the purpose of terrorism isn't so much to kill as it is to terrorize; it's to alter behavior, it's to affect people's behavior. And as free people, it's the one thing we can't accept.
The American people have a good center of gravity. Let there be no doubt about that. The elections and public opinion polls may swing one way or another from time to time, but over time, free people, given sufficient information, find their way to right decisions on big issues. That's a fact. That's our history as a country. And were it not true, our nation would have failed long ago.
When I served as Secretary of Defense 30 years ago in the height of the Cold War, that too was a difficult time for the military. And it was a difficult time for our country. But who would have thought, then when I left this post as Secretary on a cold January morning in 1977, that within 12 years the Berlin Wall would come down, and the Soviet Union would be in the ash bin of history? Very few, if any, would have imagined that. It will be interesting, I think, to see what the true historians will say of this period 20 or 30 years from now when they have that perspective of time.
One thing is for sure: The history of this period will record that after our nation was violently attacked on September 11th, literally hundreds of thousands of young men and women stepped forward to wear our country's uniform. Talented people, people who could have done something else, something easier, something safer, but instead who volunteered to defend our country knowing full well the risks and the sacrifices.
You are those young men and women, and you took up the fight against extremists, far from home, for the very good reason of preventing them from attacking our families, our neighbors back home.
When I think of these past years, many things stand out. One thing that stands out is being at the inauguration of President Karzai in Afghanistan. And in the front row -- there were some young women who -- at one point in the inauguration ceremony, sang. It was against the law to sing in Afghanistan. It was -- under the Taliban, people went to jail for singing. There were reports of young people flying kites, which was also against the law in Afghanistan. Well today, there are 25 million Afghans who have been liberated and have fashioned a constitution of their own -- not like ours but an Afghan constitution -- elected leadership and put in place a popularly elected president for the first time in, I don't know how many hundreds of years of their history.
I think of those Iraqis who, through it all, believe that their future can be right and who are working to forge something that they've never had before: a free country where they have a voice and a role in it. Twenty-five million Iraqis have been liberated.
And, of course, we'll remember the host of heroes and Medal of Honor winners, such as Paul Ray Smith and soon Jason Dunham and countless others whose names are now part of history.
I'm told that there are some microphones here. And I'm told that this is my 44th town hall -- think of that -- in six years. And that there may be some folks here who have a question.
And I'd be delighted to break here, respond to some questions, and then make a few other remarks in closing....
….. -- I'd add one other thing. I heard a truly inspirational speech when I was in school by a governor of Illinois named Adlai Stevenson. He ran for President a couple of times against Dwight Eisenhower and lost. But he was a brilliant speaker, and he gave a talk on public service that is very, very special. And as I look around this room and the public servants -- and that's what you all are -- servants of our country -- you'd almost believe that all of you had read that speech because of your dedication and your patriotism. And I'll see that General Mixon has a copy of that speech. And if anyone wants to read it, I commend it highly. But I found it inspirational.
I'm getting the hook. And I just want to close by going back to the earlier question which I think is important. The great sweep of human history is for freedom. Go back and look at what's taken place. People want to be free. The creativity that comes from free people is so much greater than can exist in a repressive system, a repressive political system or a command economic system as opposed to a market system. I keep a picture of the Korean peninsula on my desk with the demilitarized zone in the middle, same people north and south, same resources north and south. And it's a satellite shot at night, and it shows all the electricity and all the energy. In the south, it's the 10th largest economy on the face of the earth from a destroyed, war-torn nation in the 1950s. In the north, black, no electricity except a pinprick of light in Pyongyang, the capital. The people there are being allowed to go in the military -- the North Korean military -- under five feet tall, because they don't have enough people who had enough nourishment, who weigh less than 100 pounds -- these are men going into the North Korean military -- because they didn't have the food they need.
And when I say that the great sweep of human history is for freedom, I'm right. And you folks are on the side of freedom, and God bless you for it. Thank you.