John McCain photo

Address to the Concord Chamber of Commerce

July 13, 2007

Thank you. I want to talk today about the national security challenge of our time, the war which radical Islamist extremists have been waging against us for the better part of three decades, and in which Iraq, according to the commander of our forces there, General Petraeus and our enemies, is a central front. My father's generation successfully fought the Second World War. Succeeding American generations successfully fought the Cold War. And, my friends, we will successfully defend ourselves against this new and very dangerous threat. But as we have done in the past, we must not take counsel of our fears, nor avert our eyes from the imminence and complexity of the threat, nor let our will weaken because of the sacrifices we have already made and the false assumptions and tactical mistakes we have made in Iraq and in the wider struggle against enemies who are as determined to harm us as we must be to defeat them.

Last week I was in Iraq, and I saw there the connection between our efforts to combat al Qaeda and the broader War on Terror. The final reinforcements needed to implement General Petraeus' new counterinsurgency strategy arrived several weeks ago, and they are aggressively taking the fight to al Qaeda. The U.S. military, in cooperation with Iraqi security forces, have made dramatic advances in Anbar Province, a region that last year was widely believed to be lost to al Qaeda. After an offensive by U.S. and Iraqi troops cleaned al Qaeda fighters out of Ramadi and other areas of western Anbar, the province's tribal sheikhs broke formally with the terrorists and joined the coalition side. The military is attempting to replicate this success in other parts of Iraq, including the areas south of Baghdad that have served as havens for al Qaeda and other insurgents. All U.S. soldiers in the southern Baghdad belts are now "living forward," and commanders report that the local sheikhs are increasingly siding with the coalition against al Qaeda.

In Baghdad, the military, in cooperation with Iraqi security forces, continues to establish joint security stations and deploy throughout the city in order to get violence under control. These efforts have produced positive results: sectarian violence has fallen since January, the total number of car bombings and suicide attacks declined in May and June, and the number of locals coming forward with intelligence tips has risen. Make no mistake violence in Baghdad remains at unacceptably high levels, suicide bombers and other threats pose formidable challenges, and other difficulties abound. Nevertheless, there appears to be overall movement in the right direction.

North of Baghdad, Iraqi and American troops have surged into Diyala Province and are fighting to deny al Qaeda sanctuary in the city of Baqubah. For the first time since the war began, Americans showed up in force and did not quickly withdraw from the area. In response, locals have formed a new alliance with the coalition to counter al Qaeda. Diyala, which was the center of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's proposed "Islamic caliphate," finally has a chance to turn aside the forces of extremism.

I note these items not to present a rosy scenario, but rather to illustrate the role Iraq plays in the wider effort to combat al Qaeda and other terrorist elements. Now that the military effort in Iraq is showing some signs of progress, the space is opening for political progress. Yet rather than seizing the opportunity, the government of Prime Minister Maliki is not functioning as it must. We see little evidence of reconciliation and little progress toward meeting the benchmarks laid out by the President. The Iraqi government can function; the question is whether it will. If there is to be hope of a sustainable end to the violence that so plagues that country, Iraqi political leaders must seize this opportunity. It will not come around again.

Most Americans only became acutely aware of the threat from Islamist extremists on September 11, 2001. The worst attack ever on American soil brought out the best of America as we came together to defend our freedom. Thanks to the heroism of so many, we went on the offensive, capturing and killing terrorists all over the world, rooting them out of their lairs in Afghanistan, and overthrowing their Taliban collaborators.

Many today say we are losing the war with Islamic extremists. I disagree. We have disrupted numerous plots to attack our homeland and our allies. Working with allies, we have captured or killed scores of major terrorist leaders. But there is much more that needs to be done. Osama bin Laden and his deputy remain at large, and we cannot rest until they are captured or killed. Al Qaeda remains operational, with franchises sprouting around the world. Threats from other terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah must be dealt with. The outcome in Iraq and Afghanistan is uncertain.

Today, our goal must be to effectively counter the plans of our enemies not simply with military force but with all the other tools at our disposal - economic, diplomatic, political, legal, and ideological. We must not only track down and capture or kill confirmed jihadists, we must stop a new generation from joining the fight. This Long War is not with Islam but within Islam - a small minority of extremists against the majority of moderates. My administration would pour far more resources into helping moderate Muslims - women's rights campaigners, labor leaders, tolerant imams, lawyers, journalists, and many others - resist a well-financed campaign of extremism that is tearing their societies apart.

We need not fear democracy in the Muslim world. But there is much more to democracy than simply voting. Democracy is grounded in a functioning and impartial judiciary and police force, a free press, a robust political opposition, respect for women's and minority rights, and other essential elements we often take for granted. We must press friendly Muslim states not simply to open the ballot box but to establish the building blocks of an open and tolerant society. I have proposed the creation of a "League of Democracies" where like-minded countries can work together to meet common challenges. Such a League could work to promote economic development and political pluralism in the Middle East. We must also enhance the economic freedom of the region by establishing a Free Trade Area to include all states which do not sponsor terrorism.

To talk about the struggle against Islamic extremists is, of necessity, to talk about our war with al Qaeda in Iraq. Many Democrats claim this is a conflict we cannot win. They ignore the consequences of a US defeat at the hands of al Qaeda and some ignore al Qaeda altogether. Just this week, Senators Clinton and Byrd wrote an op-ed about the war in Iraq and never once mentioned al Qaeda or the terrorist presence in Iraq. Foreign jihadists - Al Qaeda operatives - are responsible for at least 80% of the suicide bombings that are the driving force of sectarian strife. They are in this war to win and we cannot let them.

Defeatism will not buy peace in our time. It will only lead to more bloodshedand to more American casualties in the future. If we choose to lose in Iraq, our enemies will hit us harder in Afghanistan hoping to erode our political will and encourage calls in Western capitals for withdrawal and accommodation with our enemy there as well.

There is much we need to do at home. We have to make far-reaching reforms to our government. The nature of the threat confronting America changed radically between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers, and yet our governmental structures have not kept pace.

No one who has visited our servicemen and women in Iraq or Afghanistan can doubt their skills, their bravery, or their dedication. But it is equally impossible to doubt that, as I have said for years, they are overstretched and under-resourced.

I am glad to see that troop increases are in the pipeline but current plans are not enough. As president, I would bring the army and Marines from the currently planned level of roughly 750,000 to 900,000. This will cost real money, some $15 billion annually, but it will not require a draft any more than similar levels did in the 1980s. It is vitally important for the next president to issue a call to service, to summon the young men and women of America to defend their country and its noble ideals. I am confident that this generation will answer the summons just as so many of us did in previous generations.

Along with more personnel, the military will require additional equipment for the expanded force, to modernize for the future, and to make up for losses suffered in the current wars. We can partially offset some of this additional investment by cutting wasteful federal spending, including unnecessary Pentagon programs and an often dysfunctional procurement system. But we can also afford to spend more on our defense. Our defense budget currently consumes less than 4 cents of every dollar that our booming economy generates - far less than we spent during the Cold War.

While we enlarge the armed forces, we must also transform them. To a large extent, our military is still configured to fight enemies that no longer exist. Our stealth bombers, aircraft carriers, and nuclear submarines may make the difference in a future conflict, but they do little to win our current struggles against terrorists from the Horn of Africa to the Hindu Kush.

What we need today are more soldiers and more civilians with the right kind of skills to fight a global counterinsurgency. The bulk of our effort must be directed toward helping friendly governments and their security forces to resist our common foes. Toward that end, I would immediately implement an idea offered by Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, a veteran of Iraq and one of the army's brightest strategic thinkers. We should create an Army Advisor Corps with 20,000 soldiers that would work with friendly militaries abroad. I would increase the number of personnel in information operations, Special Forces, civil affairs, military policing, military intelligence, and other disciplines.

We must strive to enhance our understanding of foreign cultures - the human terrain on which we fight. We need to launch a crash program in both civilian and military schools to increase the number of experts in strategic languages such as Arabic and Pashto. We need to require students at our service academies to spend time studying abroad. And we need to enhance the Foreign Area career field within the military while creating a new field in strategic interrogation. In this way we could produce more interrogators who can attain critical knowledge from detainees using advanced psychological techniques and not the kind of repugnant tactics that are rightly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.

Even as we increase our military capacity, we must also increase our civilian capacity so that an undue burden does not again fall on our soldiers as it has in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the civilian agencies of our government have too often been missing in action. The State Department and other agencies need to enhance their ability to send more experts to rebuild war-torn lands - or, better still, bolster peaceful development to reduce the chances of war breaking out in the first place.

To better coordinate our disparate efforts, I would ask Congress for a civilian follow-on to the 1987 Goldwater-Nichols Act which fostered a culture of joint operations within the separate military services. Today we need similar legislation to ensure that civil servants and soldiers train and work together in peacetime so that they can cooperate effectively in wartime and in postwar reconstruction.

As president, I would revitalize our public diplomacy. In 1998, the Clinton Administration and Congress agreed to abolish the United States Information Agency and put its public diplomacy functions inside the State Department. This was a mistake. Dismantling an agency dedicated to promoting America's message amounted to unilateral disarmament in the struggle of ideas. Communicating our government's views on day-to-day issues is what the State Department does. But communicating the idea of America, our purpose, our past and our future is a different task. We need to re-create an independent agency with the sole purpose of getting America's message to the world - a critical element in combating Islamic extremism.

We also need to develop a deployable police presence to, when necessary, help maintain law and order where it is lacking, and to train foreign police forces to counter Islamic extremism and other threats. In the end, dollars, experts, and police must work together to address the interrelated issues of political freedom, good governance, and economic development.

I would also set up a new civil-military agency patterned after the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. A modern-day OSS could draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government. In the spirit of the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take - risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations. It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligen ce on terrorist activities that we don't get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.

These are not measures that will pay quick dividends. We must understand that we confront a lengthy struggle - a long war - that will not be won quickly or easily. But we will win it.

While our ultimate victory is not in doubt, the length and intensity of this struggle remain to be determined. It's up to us. We have historically important choices to make, all of us, the American people, their President, and their Members of Congress. We must recognize that our enemies are in this fight to win, and so must we be. We must use our strengths, our resources, our inventiveness and our fortitude - qualities that have distinguished us through history and which have never failed us - to defeat our unpardonable foe. We must act boldly and with confidence that history has not yet assigned us a challenge that we cannot meet successfully. Though we regret the mistakes we have made in this war, they must not cause us self doubt. We must learn from them, as Americans have always learned from our mistakes, and fight smarter and harder. Though we mourn the losses we have already incurred in this war, we m ust not let our grief weary us so that we cannot do the work that is ours to do.

These are the decisions confronting American voters in this election, and they will confront the person you elect President. In November, 2008 the American people will decide with their votes how and where this war will be fought or if it will be fought at all. I have told you how I intend to fight this war. Other candidates will argue for a different course. Democratic candidates for President will argue for the course of cutting our losses and withdrawing from the threat in the vain hope it will not follow us here. I cannot join them in such wishful and very dangerous thinking. Peace at any price is an illusion and its costs are always more tragic than the sacrifices victory requires. I will stand where I stand today and trust you to give me a fair hearing. There is too much at stake in this election for any candidate to do less. Thank you.

John McCain, Address to the Concord Chamber of Commerce Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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