President Discusses War on Terror, Progress in Iraq in West Virginia

George W. Bush

Capitol Music Hall

West Virginia

March 22, 2006

Thank you all very much. Please be seated. Thanks for coming. First of all, Terry, thanks for the invitation. My purpose is to share with you what’s on my mind, and then I look forward to hearing what’s on yours.

I regret only one thing, Terry, and that’s that Laura didn’t come with me. No, I know, most people generally say, you should have brought her and you should have stayed at home. (Laughter.) They love Laura, and so do I. And she is a fantastic First Lady. She is a great—(applause.) And she is a great source of comfort and strength for me, and I wish she were here.

I want to thank the Chamber and the Board of Directors of the Chamber for allowing me to come. You know, I’m—as Terry said, I’m the Commander-in-Chief; I’m also the Educator-in-Chief. And I have a duty to explain how and why I make decisions. And that’s part of the reason I’m here.

I want to thank your Governor for being here. Joe Manchin is a—(applause.) He’s a good, decent man. He showed his heart during the mine tragedies. He asked the country—(applause.) He represented the best of West Virginia. He showed great compassion, great concern. He asked the nation to pray on behalf of the families. We still must continue to pray for those who lost their loved ones. (Applause.) Joe is a problem-solver, see. He said, we’re going to deal with this issue head on. And I appreciate you working closely with the federal government to make sure that there are safety regulations that work, that the inspection process works so that the miners here in this important state are able to do their job and their families can be secure in them doing their job.

So, Joe, thank you very much for yourleadership. Thanks for bringing Gayle. Like you, I married well, too. (Laughter and applause.)

I appreciate Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito. Thanks for being here. I appreciate working with you. (Applause.) She’s a good one, as we say in Texas. (Laughter.) I probably shouldn’t bring up Texas too much today, given the fact—yeah, I know—(laughter.) Never mind. (Laughter.) I’m a little worried for my Long Horns, though, I tell you that. I’m fully informed—(applause.) I’m fully informed that they’re going to play a fine team.

I want to thank the Mayor for being here. Mr. Mayor, I’m honored that you were at the airport. I appreciate you coming. Thanks for serving your great community. God bless you, sir. (Applause.)

Members of the statehouse greeted me. I appreciate Senator Mike Oliverio. He’s here. Mike I think did the country a great service when he worked on behalf of Judge Sam Alito to get him approved by the United States Senate. I appreciate your—I want to thank you for that, Mike. (Applause.) I want to thank—Mike said, don’t hold it against me, I’m a Democrat. I said, Mike, what we—first and foremost, we’re all Americans. (Applause.)

I thank Chris Wakim. He also was out at the airport. It’s a little chilly for you all standing out there without your overcoats on, but it’s all right. Thanks for being here, Chris. Thanks to all the members of the statehouse and local officials who’ve joined us today. Thank you for serving your state and your community.

I want to thank John Anderson and Janis LaFont. They’re from the—Valley National Gases employees. They presented me with a check for $100,000 for the Katrina Relief Fund. They represent—(applause.) I want to thank you all for doing, and I want to thank the folks you work with for doing that.

It’s an amazing country, isn’t it, when you think about it, that folks right here in this part of West Virginia care enough about folks in the southern part of our country that they would take some of their hard-earned money and contribute to a relief fund so people can get their lives back together. It means a lot to the people in Louisiana and Mississippi to know that there is love and compassion for their—and concern for their lives here in West Virginia.

Ours is an incredible nation. And you’re going to hear me talk about our military. And if you ask questions about the economy, you’ll hear me talk about our economy. But I want to remind everybody that the true strength of America lies in the hearts and souls of our citizens. That’s where America is its greatest. And I appreciate you representing that. (Applause.)

I met a woman named Kristen Holloway at the airport. Kristen, where are you? There you go. Gosh, you thought you had a better seat, but nevertheless—(laughter.) She came out to say hello. I had a chance to thank her for her being the founder of Operation Troop Appreciation. She has decided to support those who wear our uniform in any way she can. Listen, I understand war is controversial, and I’m going to talk about the war. But America has got to appreciate what it means to wear the uniform today, and honor those who have volunteered to keep this country strong. (Applause.)

It doesn’t matter whether—it doesn’t matter whether you agree with my decision, or not. But all of us should agree with the fact that we have a remarkable country, when people who know that they’re going to be sent into harm’s way raise their hand and say, I volunteer to serve. And no state has presented—had more people volunteering to serve than the great state of West Virginia. (Applause.) Now, they’ll say, maybe some states have more people, but they got greater populations. But 75 percent of your National Guard has gone into harm’s way. And we appreciate that service. And I want to thank those of you who wear the uniform for your service. I want to thank your loved ones for supporting those who wear the uniform. And I want you to hear loud and clear, the United States of America stands with you and appreciates what you’re doing. (Applause.)

The enemy, a group of killers, struck us on September the 11th, 2001. They declared war on the United States of America. And I want to share some lessons about what took place on that day. First of all, I knew that the farther we got away from September the 11th, 2001, the more likely it would be that some would forget the lessons of that day. And that’s okay. That’s okay, because the job of those of us who have been entrusted to protect you and defend you is really to do so in such a way that you feel comfortable about going about your life, see. And it’s fine that people forget the lessons. But one of my jobs is to constantly remind people of the lessons.

The first lesson is, is that oceans can no longer protect us. You know, when I was coming up in the ’50s in Midland, Texas, it seemed like we were pretty safe. In the ’60s it seemed like we were safe. In other words, conflicts were happening overseas, but we were in pretty good shape here at home. And all that was shattered on that day when cold-blooded killers hijacked airplanes, flew them into buildings and the Pentagon, and killed 3,000 of our citizens. In other words, they declared war, and we have got to take their declaration of war seriously. The most important responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief and those who wear the uniform and those who are elected to public office is to defend the citizens of this country. That is our most vital and important responsibility. I have never forgotten that, from September the 11th on. It’s just been a part of my daily existence.

Secondly, the best way to defend America is to stay on the offense. The best way to protect you is to rally all the strength of national government—intelligence and military and law enforcement and financial strength—to stay on the offense against an enemy that I believe wants to hurt us again. And that means find them where they hide, and keep the pressure on, and never relent, and understand that you can’t negotiate with these folks, there is no compromise, there is no middle ground. And so that’s exactly what we’re doing.

And there’s some unbelievably brave troops and intelligence officers working around the clock to keep an enemy that would like to strike us again on the move, and to bring them to justice. And we’re making progress about dismantling al Qaeda. Al Qaeda, after all, was the enemy that launched the attacks.

The second part of a lesson that we must never forget is the enemy, in that they’re not a nation state—in other words, they don’t represent a nation state like armies and navies used to do—need safe haven. They need places to hide so they can plan and plot. And they found safe haven, as you all know, in Afghanistan. And they were supported by a government that supports their point of view, which is a government that absolutely can’t stand freedom. That was the Taliban. If you were a young girl growing up under the auspices of the Taliban, you didn’t have a chance to succeed. You couldn’t go to school. If you dissented in the public square, you’d be in trouble. If you didn’t agree with their dark vision, whether it be religion or politics, you were in trouble. In other words, they can’t—they couldn’t stand this concept of a free society—and neither can al Qaeda. See, we’re dealing with ideologues. They have an ideology.

Now, I understand some say, well, maybe they’re just isolated kind of people that are angry and took out their anger with an attack. That’s not how I view them. I view them as people that believe in something; they have an ideological base. They subverted a great religion to meet their needs, and they need places to hide. And that’s why I said early on in the war that if you harbor a terrorist, you’re equally as guilty as the terrorist, understanding the nature of the enemy, and understanding they need safe haven. In order to protect ourselves, we must deny them safe haven.

By the way, if the President says something he better mean it, for the sake of peace. In other words, you want your President out there making sure that his words are credible. And so I said to the Taliban, get rid of al Qaeda, or face serious consequences. They didn’t, and they faced serious consequences, and we liberated Afghanistan. We removed the Taliban from power. We denied al Qaeda safe haven. And that young country, that young democracy is now beginning to grow; 25 million people are liberated as a result of the United States defending itself. And that’s important for us to realize, that not only are we defending ourselves, but in this instance, we’ve given chance to people to realize the beauties of freedom.

An interesting debate in the world is whether or not freedom is universal, see, whether or not—people say, there’s old Bush imposing his values. See, I believe freedom is universal. I believe liberty is a universal thought. It’s not an American thought, it is a universal thought. And if you believe that, then you ought to take great comfort and joy in helping others realize the benefits of liberty. The way I put it is, there is an Almighty God. One of the greatest gifts of that Almighty God is the desire for people to be free, is freedom. And therefore—(applause)—and therefore, this country and the world ought to say, how can we help you remain free? What can we do to help you realize the blessings of liberty?

Remember, as we debate these issues—and it’s important to have a debate in our democracy, and I welcome the debate—but remember, we were founded on the natural rights of men and women. That speaks to the universality of liberty. And we must never forget the origin of our own founding, as we look around the world.

Afghanistan—I went there with Laura. We had a good visit with President Karzai. I like him—good man. You can imagine what it’s like to try to rebuild a country that had been occupied and then traumatized by the Taliban. They’re coming around. They got elections. They had assembly elections. He, himself, was elected. We expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom. I’m troubled when I hear—deeply troubled when I hear the fact that a person who has converted away from Islam may be held to account. That’s not the universal application of the values that I talked about. Look forward to working with the government of that country to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to worship.

There’s still a Taliban element trying to come and hurt people. But the good news is, not only do we have great U.S. troops there, but NATO is now involved. One of my jobs is to continue to make sure that people understand the benefits of a free society emerging in a neighborhood that needs freedom. And so I’m pleased with the progress, but I fully understand there’s a lot more work to be done.

Another lesson of September the 11th, and an important lesson that really does relate to the topic I want to discuss, which is Iraq, is that when you see a threat now, you got to take it seriously. That’s the lesson of September the 11th—another lesson of September the 11th. When you see a threat emerging, you just can’t hope it goes away. If the job of the President is to protect the American people, my job then is to see threats and deal with them before they fully materialize, before they come to hurt us, before they come and strike America again.

And I saw a threat in Iraq. I’ll tell you why I saw a threat. And by the way, it just wasn’t me. Members of the United States Congress in both political parties saw a threat. My predecessor saw a threat. I mean, my predecessor saw a threat and got the Congress actually to vote a resolution that said, we’re for regime change. That’s prior to my arrival. The world saw a threat. You might remember I went to the United Nations Security Council; on the 15-to-nothing vote, we passed Resolution 1441 that said to Saddam Hussein, disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. We saw a threat.

I’ll tell you why I saw a threat. I saw a threat because, one, he’d been on the state—he was a state sponsor of terror. In other words, our government—not when I was President, prior to my presidency—declared Saddam Hussein to be a state sponsor of terror. Secondly, I know for a fact he had used weapons of mass destruction. Now, I thought he had weapons of mass destruction; members of Congress thought he had weapons of mass destruction; the world thought he had weapons of mass destruction. That’s why those nations voted in the Security Council. I’m finding out what went wrong. In other words, one of the things you better make sure of when you’re the President, you’re getting good intelligence, and, obviously, the intelligence broke down. But he had that capacity to make weapons of mass destruction, as well. He had not only murdered his own people, but he had used weapons of mass destruction on his own people.

That’s what we knew prior to the decision I made. He also was firing on our aircraft. They were enforcing a no-fly zone, United Nations no-fly zone, the world had spoken, and he had taken shots at British and U.S. pilots. He’d invaded his neighborhood. This guy was a threat. And so the world spoke. And the way I viewed it was that it was Saddam Hussein’s choice to disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. And he made the choice, and then I was confronted with a choice. And I made my choice. And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. (Applause.)

The biggest threat America faces is that moment when terror and weapons of mass destruction come together. And if we ever suspect that’s happening, we got to deal with that threat seriously. Committing our troops into harm’s way is the most difficult decision a President can make. I’m going to meet with some—two families of those who lost a loved one. It’s my duty to do so. I’m looking forward to being able to hug them, weep with them. And so for anybody out there in West Virginia who thinks it’s easy to commit troops—it’s hard. It’s the last option of the President, not the first option. The first option is to deal with things diplomatically; is to rally the world, to send a clear message that the behavior, in this case, of Saddam Hussein was intolerable. And we did that.

Now the fundamental question is: Can we win in Iraq? And that’s what I want to talk about. First of all, you got to understand that I fully understand there is deep concern among the American people about whether or not we can win. And I can understand why people are concerned. And they’re concerned because the enemy has got the capacity to affect our thinking. This is an enemy who will kill innocent people in order to achieve an objective. And Americans are decent, honorable people, they care. We care about human life. We care about human dignity. We value life. We value the life of our own citizens, and we value the life of other citizens. And so it’s easy for an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people to affect us.

The enemy has told us their objectives in Iraq. And I think it’s important for the Commander-in-Chief to take the words of the enemy very seriously. They have said that they want to spread their philosophy to other parts of the Middle East. They have said that. They have said they want to attack us again. They believe that democracies are soft, that it’s just a matter of time for the United States to lose our will and create a vacuum in Iraq so they can use their terror techniques and their willingness to kill to develop a safe haven from which to launch attacks. That’s what the enemy has said. This is—I hope the citizens of this country understand that we have intercepted documents and we put them out for people to see. I take the words very seriously.

Iraq is a part of the global war on terror. In other words, it’s a global war. We’re dealing with a group of folks that want to spread an ideology, and they see a problem developing in Iraq, and so they’re heading into Iraq to fight us, because they can’t stand the thought of democracy. Democracy trumps their ideology every time. Freedom and democracy represent hope; their point of view represents despair. Freedom represents life and the chance for people to realize their dreams; their philosophy says, you do it my way or else. And so they’re trying to fight us in Iraq.

And we have a strategy for victory in Iraq. It’s a three-pronged strategy, starting with—it’s politics, it is a—it’s security, and it’s economy. On politics, was to get the people to the polls to see if they even cared about democracy, give them a chance to vote, see what the people thought. And you might remember the elections—it probably seems like an eternity. It was just a year ago that they started voting—a little more than a year, in January of last year. And the first election round came off okay, but the Sunnis didn’t participate. They were a little disgruntled with life there. They liked their privileged status and they were boycotting the elections. Then they wrote a constitution, which is a good constitution. It’s a progressive constitution for that part of the world. More people came out to vote then last December. About 75 percent of the eligible voters said, I want to be free; I want democracy; I don’t care what Mr. Zarqawi and his al Qaeda killers are trying to do to me, I’m going to defy them, and go to the polls.

And the people have spoken. And now it’s time for a government to get stood up. There’s time for the elected representatives—or those who represent the voters, the political parties, to come together and form a unity government. That’s what the people want; otherwise they wouldn’t have gone to the polls, would they have?

I spoke to our Ambassador today, and General Casey, via video conferencing, and we talked about the need to make it clear to the Iraqis, it’s time; it’s time to get a government in place that can start leading this nation and listening to the will of the people. It’s a little hard. You can imagine what it’s like coming out of the—having been ruled by a tyrant. People are—when you spoke out before, no telling what was going to happen to you. It generally wasn’t good. And now people are beginning to realize democracy has taken hold.

By the way, if you look at our own history, it was a little bumpy on our road, too. You might remember the Articles of Confederation. They didn’t work too well. It took us a while from the moment of our revolution to get our Constitution written, the one that we now live by.

The second part is to help people with their economy. And we had to change our strategy there. We first went in there and said, let’s build some big plants. The problem was the big plants served as big targets for those who are disgruntled, the terrorists who are going into Iraq to use it as a safe haven, plus some of their allies, the Saddamists. These were Saddam’s inner-circle buddies and stuff like that that had received special privileges. They weren’t happy that they were no longer in privileged status. And so they were destroying some of the infrastructure we were building. So we changed our strategy and said, look, why don’t we go with smaller projects, particularly in the provinces, so people can begin to see the benefits of what it means to have a democracy unfold.

And the third aspect is security. When we got in there, it became apparent to our troops on the ground that we had a lot of training to do. We had to really rebuild an army to make sure that people had the skills necessary to be able to fight off those who want to stop the march of democracy. First we trained the army for threats from outside the country. But we realized the true threats were inside the country, whether it be the Saddamists, some Sunni rejectionists, or al Qaeda that was in there torturing and killing and maiming in order to get their way.

And we’re making progress when it comes to training the troops. More and more Iraqis are taking the fight. Right after the bombing of the Golden Mosque, for example, is an interesting indication as to whether or not the Iraqi troops are getting better.

The enemy can’t defeat us militarily, by the way. They can’t beat us on the field of battle. But the only thing they can do is they can either try to stop democracy from moving—they failed on that. Last year, they failed. Their stated objective was just not to let democracy get going, and they flunked the test. Now they’re trying to foment a civil war. See, that’s the only way they can win. And they blew up the mosque. And there was some awful violence, some reprisals taking place. And I can understand people saying, man, it’s all going to—it’s not working out. But the security forces did a pretty good job of keeping people apart.

In other words, it was a test. It was a test for the security forces, and it was a test for the Iraqi government. The way I like to put it is they looked into the abyss as to whether or not they want a civil war or not, and chose not to. That’s not to say we don’t have more work to do, and we do—(applause.) But it’s important for me to continue—look, I’m an optimistic guy. I believe we’ll succeed. Let me tell you this—put it to you this way: If I didn’t think we’d succeed, I’d pull out troops out. I cannot look mothers and dads in the eye—(applause)—I can’t ask this good Marine to go into harm’s way if I didn’t believe, one, we’re going to succeed; and, two, it’s necessary for the security of the United States. (Applause.)

And it’s tough fighting. It’s tough fighting, because we got an enemy that’s just cold-blooded. They can’t beat us militarily, but they can try to shake our will. See, remember, I told you, they have said that it’s just a matter of time, just a matter of time before the United States loses its nerve. I believe we’re doing the right thing, and we’re not going to retreat in the face of thugs and assassins. (Applause.) Thank you.

It’s the Iraqis’ fight. Ultimately, the Iraqis are going to have to determine their future. They made their decision politically; they voted. And these troops that we’re training are going to have to stand up and defend their democracy. We got work, by the way, in ’06 to make sure the police are trained as adequately as the military, the army. It’s their choice to make. And I like to put it this way: As they stand up, we’ll stand down.

But I want to say something to you about troop levels, and I know that’s something that people are talking about in Washington a lot. I’m going to make up my mind based upon the advice of the United States military that’s in Iraq. I’ll be making up my mind about the troop levels based upon recommendations of those who are on the ground. I’m going to make up my mind based upon achieving a victory, not based upon polls, focus groups or election-year politics. (Applause.)

I talked about a city named Tal Afar the other day in a speech I gave in Cleveland. Just real quick, it’s an important place. It’s a place where—close to the Syrian border, where al Qaeda was moving the terrorists from outside the country inside the country, trying to achieve their objective. And right after we removed Saddam Hussein, they started moving in. And I cannot describe to you how awful these people treat the citizens there. I mean, they are—I told a story about a young boy who was maimed, taken to a hospital, was pulled out of the hospital, was killed by the terrorists. His dad went to retrieve him on the side of the road and they put a bomb underneath him and blew up the family. I mean, Americans cannot understand the nature—how brutal these people are. It’s shocking what they will do to try to achieve their objectives.

But it really shouldn’t shock us when you think about what they did on September the 11th. It’s the same folks, same attitude, same frame of mind. But they’re able to lock down cities, particularly those that are worried about their security, and so they basically took control of Tal Afar. So our troops went in with Iraqis and cleaned it out. The problem—oh, not through yet. (Laughter.) A little early on the clap. (Laughter.) The problem was, we continued to pursue the enemy, and they moved back in, these killers and murderers moved back in, and just created a mess. I mean, they—I said in my speech, they mortared children in a playground, they recruited young kids, abused them, violated them. There’s one boy in particular who told our guys, once the city eventually got liberated, his dream was to behead somebody with a—anyway, we started working with the local folks again. This time, though, we had trained more Iraqi army ready to go.

And the difference in the story between the first time we liberated Tal Afar from them and the recent liberation was that the Iraqis were in the lead. And not only were they in the lead, they stayed behind after we left. So our troops are chasing high-value targets and training, and capable Iraqi forces are providing security. And so the day of terror began to change when they saw capable forces and a new mayor and police forces.

I mean, this is—it’s hard to put ourselves in the shoes of the folks in this town that had been traumatized. But the strategy of clear, hold and build, began to create a sense of confidence. And what’s interesting is, I can say that—I got one datapoint that I can share with you—the vote in the January ’05 election was the second-lowest vote in the—as percentage of voting population, in the country, and the last vote, 85 percent of the eligible voters voted. In other words, people had a sense of security and hope.

A free Iraq is important for the United States of America. It was important to remove a threat; it was important to deal with threats before they fully materialized; but a free Iraq also does some other things. One, it serves as an amazing example—it will serve as an amazing example for people who are desperate for freedom.

You know, this is, I guess, quite a controversial subject, I readily concede, as to whether or not the United States ought to try to promote freedom in the broader Middle East. Our foreign policy before was just kind of, if the waters look calm, great. Problem is, beneath the surface was resentment brewing, and people were able to take advantage of that, these totalitarians, like al Qaeda. So I changed our foreign policy. I said, freedom is universal; history has proven democracies do not fight each other, democracies can yield peace we want, so let’s advance freedom. And that’s what’s happening. (Applause.)

It’s a big idea, but it’s an old idea. It’s worked in the past. I strongly believe that by promoting liberty we’re not only protecting ourselves, but we’re laying the foundation of peace for a generation to come. And I’ll tell you why I believe that—and then I’ll answer questions. Thank goodness Laura isn’t here, she’d be giving me the hook.

Two examples that I use that are obviously—well, I’m living one example, and that is my relationship with the Prime Minister of Japan. He is one of my best buddies—I don’t know if you’re supposed to call them “buddies” in diplomacy—one of my best buddies in working to keep the peace. I find that a really interesting statement to say to you, knowing my own family’s history—18-year-old—my dad, when he was 18, went to fight the Japanese. I think it’s really one of the interesting twists of history that I stand here in West Virginia saying to you that Prime Minister Koizumi and I talk about ways to keep the peace, ways to deal with North Korea, he’s helping in Iraq, ways to deal with other issues. And 60 years prior to that, when the country called, George H. W. said, I want to go, just like, I’m sure, relatives of you all. And Japan was a sworn enemy. And there was a lot of bloodshed in order to—remember, they attacked us, too. And yet, today, the President says, we’re working to keep the peace. And what happened? It’s an interesting lesson that I hope people remember. Something happened. What happened was, Japan adopted a Japanese-style democracy.

I believe freedom and liberty can change enemies into allies. I believe freedom has the power to transform societies. It’s not easy work, it’s difficult work. But we’ve seen history before. I know you’ve got relatives who were in World War II. On that continent, hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their lives in two world wars during the 1900s. And yet today, Europe is whole, free and at peace. What happened? Democracies don’t war. And so part of my decision-making that I’m trying to explain to you today about war, about what you’re seeing on your TV screens, about the anxiety that a lot of our citizens feel, is based upon, one, the need to protect the American people, and my deep reservoir of commitment to doing what it takes—to look at the world realistically, to understand we’re in a global war against a serious enemy.

But also my thinking is based upon some universal values and my belief that history can repeat itself, and that freedom and liberty has a chance to lay a foundation of peace so that maybe 40 years from now, somebody is speaking here in West Virginia saying, you know, a bunch of folks were given a challenge and a task, and that generation didn’t lose faith in the capacity of freedom to change, and today, I’m able to sit down with the duly elected leaders of democracy in the Middle East, keeping the peace for the next generation to come. (Applause.)

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