Hey, listen, thanks for that warm desert welcome, and I mean warm. Let me first introduce you to the leaders of the United States Congress. This is Speaker Tom Foley, the Speaker of the House. Next to him, Senator George Mitchell, the leader of the United States Senate. Senator Bob Dole, minority leader. And Congressman Bob Michel of Illinois, the minority leader. And to you, Ted -- Colonel Reid -- thank you, sir. And let me give a special salute, if I might, to the host unit for our visit, the 2d Battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment.
I can't do much about this warm weather, but I hope you're getting enough MRE's. [Laughter] I'm told that's a military term meaning "I'd rather have a Bud Light." [Laughter] Now, look, look, we know that the days can get pretty long out here, and you'll be glad to know that if it goes on too long we have a secret weapon in reserve. If push comes to shove, we're going to get Roseanne Barr to go to Iraq and sing the national anthem. Baghdad Betty, eat your heart out. [Laughter]
Barbara and I are very, very pleased to be here today, joined by the bipartisan leadership of the Congress on this mission of peace, this mission of pride. And we're honored to be here to tell you that on this special Thanksgiving Day, Americans will thank God for many things, but first they will thank God for each one of you.
The 18th Airborne, with the strength of the 197th Infantry Brigade and the 24th Infantry Division -- [applause] -- okay, you're entitled to 2 seconds -- [laughter] -- and so many other brave Americans, has spearheaded what history will judge as one of the most important deployments of military power in the last half century. You've done it for principle, you've done it for freedom, and you've done it to make America proud. And so, I've come out here today personally to thank you, the men and women who endured much and sacrificed more to stand tall against aggression.
I hope you'll excuse a personal reference, but seeing you all here brings back a personal memory of another Thanksgiving -- another group of young Americans far from home -- and for me it was November 23, 1944. And I was 20 years old and 6 days away from my last mission as a carrier pilot. And our ship, the San Jacinto, laid off the coast of the Philippines. And while we celebrated without family that year, like you, we all came together as friends and as part of something bigger than ourselves to thank God for our blessings. And we joined together then, as you are now, as a part of a proud force for freedom.
You know, back then, the 24th was there in the northern Philippines, as I was flying raids in the south on Manila Bay; and 10,000 miles away in another theater where the stakes were just as high -- one well-known to some standing right with me -- the predecessor of today's 197th were on the front lines of the fight for Europe. And they don't call you "forever forward" for nothing. And now, almost 50 years later, there are still proud troops like you, commanders like you, Americans like you ready to stand in defense of peace and freedom. And the whole world -- and believe me -- I'm just here from Paris where I met with all the CSCE countries of Europe -- the whole world thanks you.
Today we face a similar mission, but in a world far different than the one we faced in 1944. Today we have a vision of a new partnership of nations united by principle and seeking a lasting peace for this generation and generations to come. And that is why we are here in this land so far from husbands and wives and parents and children on this day, this special day for Americans, this Thanksgiving Day. And that's why we sacrificed, so that those kids and all children can grow up in a new world, a safer and a better world.
And simply put, we are here to guarantee that freedom is protected and that Iraq's aggression will not be rewarded. We must send a signal to any would-be Saddam Husseins that the world will not tolerate tyrants who violate every standard of civilized behavior -- invading, bullying, and swallowing whole a peaceful neighbor. We will not tolerate the raping and the brutalizing and the kidnaping and the killing of innocent civilians. And we will not tolerate those who try to starve out foreign embassies, breaking a diplomatic code of conduct that has been in place for centuries.
You see, we must also ensure our future. Clearly, our national security's at stake here in the Gulf, not just from the threat of force but from the potential economic blackmail of a Gulf dominated by a power-hungry Iraq. Even now, without an actual shortage of oil, Saddam's aggression is directly responsible for skyrocketing oil prices, causing serious problems at home and throughout the entire world, especially for smaller countries who are hurt the most.
You know, in Eastern Europe, the economic shock wave of the Gulf threatens to disrupt the already difficult process of creating both new and democratic governments and free market economies. And while Saddam loudly professes his desire to help the most impoverished nations of the region -- the have-nots, he calls them -- his aggression is taking a terrible toll on the already hard lives of millions. And we can't hope to achieve our vision of a new world order, the safer and better world for all our kids, if the economic destiny of the world can be threatened by a vicious dictator. The world cannot, must not and, in my view, will not let this aggression stand.
And finally -- and I know you don't forget it, and I hope no American forgets it on this special day when we give our thanks to our God -- finally, innocent lives are at stake here. The cynical manipulation of civilians, be it as bargaining chips or as pawns to deter attack, is an affront to acceptable behavior. And nothing is more cynical than Iraq's announcement earlier this week that the hostages would be freed in batches like chattel, beginning Christmas Day. There is no reason to wait for Christmas. I say to him today: Free the hostages -- all the hostages -- and free them today, or you're going to pay the price.
And it is also time that Saddam conformed to the unanimous demand of the United Nations. And remember, we're not in this alone -- all the countries in the United Nations standing up. It is the United Nations against Saddam Hussein. It is not Iraq against the United States. It's also time, then, that he conformed to the unanimous demand of the United Nations that our Embassy be resupplied and that our diplomats treated with the respect they deserve under international law. The outrageous treatment of the United States Embassy in Kuwait must stop.
So, to sum it up, the United States is joined in the Gulf with other members of the United Nations for these three simple reasons: First, to ensure that freedom will be protected and aggression will not be rewarded; second, to protect our future by ensuring our national security; and finally, to protect innocent lives.
Any one is reason enough why Iraq's unprincipled, unprovoked aggression must not go unchallenged. And together, as 10 United Nations Security Council resolutions make clear, they are a compelling argument for your important mission. All of us know only too well the inevitable outcome of appeasement. The kind of aggression we see in Kuwait today is not just a threat to regional peace but a promise of wider conflict tomorrow.
And we understand that we can sacrifice now, or we can pay an even stiffer price later as Saddam moves to multiply his weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological and, most ominous, nuclear. And we all know that Saddam Hussein has never possessed a weapon that he hasn't used. And we will not allow the hope for a more peaceful world to rest in the hands of this brutal dictator.
Our goals in the Gulf have never changed. We have no quarrel at all -- and I'll repeat it here -- we have no quarrel with the Iraqi people. It is with the outrageous aggression of Saddam Hussein. We want the immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait. We want the reestablishment of Kuwait's legitimate government. We want the protection of lives of American citizens and the restoration of the security and stability of the Gulf.
No President, believe me, no President is quick to order American troops abroad. But there are times when all nations that value their own freedom and hope for a new world of freedom must confront aggression. You know, you guys know it, all of you men and women out here in the sands know it, and we still live in dangerous times. And those in uniform, I guess, will always continue to bear the heaviest burden. We want every single American soldier home.
And this we promise: No American will be kept in the Gulf a single day longer than necessary. But we won't pull punches. We are not here on some exercise. This is a real world situation. And we're not walking away until our mission is done.
I think Americans understand the contribution that you are making to world peace and to our own country. And on this very special Thanksgiving Day, when every American thanks God for our blessings, we think of you. Barbara and I will always remember this time out here that we've shared with you all today. And so, we want you to know that you have our love and our prayers, and we're proud of each and every one of you.
May God bless you and watch over you. And may God bless the greatest country on the face of the Earth, the United States of America. Thank you. God bless you all.