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VFW Community Service and Legislative Conference
As Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England, Washington, D.C., Monday, March 03, 2008

George (Lisicki)… Thank you… it’s a genuine honor to be here… and although I’m flattered by your kind words… I’m well aware that I wasn’t your first choice.  My boss, Secretary Gates was the logical first choice, but was unable to make it….  He’s asked that I extend his admiration and appreciation for the extraordinary work you do.

I understand that many of you will engage with members of Congress during the course of the conference… so along with a DoD update, I’ll also address our budget requirements to help inform your Congressional engagement.

The simple fact is… we do live in a dangerous world… (A world that is likely to become more dangerous before it becomes less so)... and confront a complex security environment; one distinguished by a variety of challenges.

Last night, I returned from New Orleans where the Navy christened one of the new ships to be called NEW YORK.  During that christening, I commented that some people still question why terrorists killed 3,000 people of 60 nationalities that day. 

I’ve concluded that they killed 3,000 because they did not know how to kill 30,000, 300,000, or 3 million, but they would have if they could have… and they are still trying.

Other challenges have not gone away:
* Ethnic, tribal, and sectarian conflict;
* Potential WMD proliferation;
* Failed and failing states; and,
* Emerging powers whose intentions are unclear.

Each of these poses unique challenges and demands discrete capabilities.  Our security, however, relies on a comprehensive approach distinguished by a balanced set of capabilities for the entire spectrum of challenges.  As is often said, the one certainty of the future is its unpredictability.  With that in mind… and history as our guide, we are compelled to prepare for the full range of contingencies.  This fundamental sensibility guides the Department’s efforts. 

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been called the first campaigns of a long war… I believe that to be the case… and believe it important that the nation understands that reality as well.  We are in for a long, tough fight and must never forget it.  As people like you know… far better than most… we’ve seen such times before and likely will so long as mankind lives on this planet.

Iraq and Afghanistan are today the front lines in the war on terror… but they will one day surrender that distinction to some, as yet unknown, challenge.   They are also not the sum total of the war on terror.  Instead, Iraq and Afghanistan are a lot like Korea… distinct campaigns in a broader war… and nearer the beginning… than the end.

There are no clear, easy answers in Iraq.  All war is tough and dirty and dynamic… you know that better than I… but we’ve never fought a war quite like this one before.

But meaningful progress is being made… where it counts… on the ground.   Violence and casualties have been markedly reduced, economic development and reconstruction efforts are proceeding, foreign investment has increased… and even without the degree of national-level reconciliation progress we’d like to see… there have been recent legislative developments to give cause for guarded optimism.

What is clear is that the surge has provided the Iraqi people and government the time required to move forward.  We have not yet, however, achieved what I would characterize as irreversible momentum.  If we are patient… it will come… and lead to the essential empowerment of the Iraqis and the prudent transition of security responsibilities. 

We must now stay the course… and avoid the temptation to either overestimate progress or succumb to war weariness. 

Regarding Afghanistan… the returns are mixed.

Significant progress has been made in many areas….  There have been free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections, the economy continues to grow, infrastructure is being rebuilt, access to health care has improved, and educational opportunities have been extended throughout the country.  Aggressive military operations have kept the Taliban’s leadership off balance and disrupted operational and tactical plans.  The Afghan National Army is performing well… and the Afghan National Police have improved.  

Notably, there is also a general, resilient sense of optimism and determination among the Afghan leaders and people. 

Yet all indicators are not positive.  Levels of violence have increased.  Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFPs) similar to those found in Iraq have appeared in Afghanistan.  Suicide bombings have increased.  The Government of Afghanistan and the international community are not meeting popular expectations regarding governance, security, and development.  Narcotics production has continued to grow… despite counter-narcotics programs. 

Clearly, much remains to be done and we must continue to work with the Afghan people and our many partner nations.  As in Iraq, we must remain steadfast in our determination to finish the job and bring peace and security to Afghanistan.

We shouldn’t think of Iraq and Afghanistan in isolation. 

Iran is reasserting itself… and intends to be a player on the world stage.  It is not helpful to coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and continues to supply Shi’a militia groups in Iraq with training, funding, and weapons, including EFPs.
It also continues to provide money and weapons to Hezbollah, which threatens the legitimate government of Lebanon. 

I said earlier that the war was bigger than Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our security concerns and challenges extend beyond a single region or theater of operations.

Major states… whose future paths are not yet clear… continue to pursue sophisticated military modernization programs.  They are not “problems” right now… but we have to prepare for an uncertain future.

Meanwhile, in a globalized world, the risks of proliferation will only grow, as access to technology… and the ability to move technology… increase.

As we look to future conflicts, I think it sound to conclude that major clashes of great armies on the open battlefield are probably less likely than in the past.  Future conflicts may look more like Hezbollah’s attack on Israel… when attackers launched rockets from the middle of town, and hid among civilian populations.  It’s harder to locate that kind of adversary, and while it’s still reasonably easy to kill him, it’s very hard to do so without harming the civilian populace.

As it was throughout the 20th century, technology is still an integral part of the threat… and the solution… to emerging challenges… but, in the 21st century, technology will be brought to bear in some new ways… Cyber warfare is already here… and it’s the challenge that keeps me up at night.

As I said earlier… we face many challenges.  And, although the greatest short-term threat to the United States may be a terrorist attack... I believe the greatest long-term threat is failing to acknowledge the complexity of the security environment and the challenges confronting the nation.

The President’s FY 2009 base budget request of $515.4 billion provides the essential resources necessary to execute the National Military Strategy.  When appropriated, the budget will sustain an enterprise of immense scope and complexity. 

In summary, the budget:

* Supports the President’s commitment to prevail in Iraq and Afghanistan and grows the U.S. ground forces required to do so;
* Maintains the high rate of military readiness commensurate with our nation’s global responsibilities;
* Prepares for a wide range of dangers that may threaten the nation today and in the future; and
* Provides high quality health care for our all-volunteer force and their families.
While $515.4 billion is a lot of money, I think it important to consider it in terms of historical context as well as contemporary requirements.  Total defense spending has grown since 9-11 to around 4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.  That percentage, however, is the lowest ever invested by the nation in its defense during time of war.  While, such comparisons are imperfect… for point of reference… 9 percent was invested during Vietnam and 11.7 percent during the Korean War.

Last year, Congress appropriated $86.8 billion of the President’s $189.3 billion request for the Global War on Terror (GWOT).  As you well know, operations continue unabated in both theaters, but Congress has not yet appropriated the outstanding balance of funds required to sustain our forces in combat. 

I cannot overstress the importance of this funding.  It’s required to pay our military personnel, continue operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, reconstitute our forces, provide force protection for the troops, and fund the Iraqi and Afghan security force.  Delays will degrade our ability to provide our forces the support they require and make it increasingly challenging to manage the Department in a fiscally sound manner.  Failure to act on the request may result in the disruption of operations at home and abroad. 

While challenges to our nation’s security will endure… I am constantly inspired by our men and women in uniform.  All Americans can take comfort in their dedication and courage.  As they have proven time and time again… like the generations who have came before them… when given the support required… they are up to any challenge.

On 9-11, a reporter asked a little 9-year-old girl, “What is patriotism?”  And she said… and remember, she was only 9 years old… “Patriotism is taking care of America.”

I thank each of you for your patriotism… your long, selfless service to the nation… and for everything you do, every day, to make the world a better place for our children and grandchildren.  God bless all of you.