George W. Bush photo

Remarks at Fort Lewis, Washington

June 18, 2004

The President. Thank you all very much. It's great to be here in the State of Washington. I think the Senator would say it's great to be out of Washington—the other Washington. [Laughter] We're honored to be in your presence. We're honored to be with the soldiers who proudly wear our uniforms. And we're honored to be here with the families that support them.

I want to thank Senator John McCain for joining us. It is a privilege to be introduced to our men and women in uniform by a man who brought such credit to the uniform. When he speaks of service and sacrifice, he speaks from experience. The United States military has no better friend in the United States Senate than John McCain.

The men and women of Fort Lewis, Washington, have contributed mightily— mightily—to our efforts to defeat the terrorists, and I'm here to thank you for your efforts. I'm here to thank you on behalf of a grateful nation for what you have done, what you are doing, and what you will do to make sure America is more secure and the world is more peaceful.

Many of you have recently returned from Iraq. Thank you for your service. Some have returned from Afghanistan. Some are preparing to head out for a second tour. You're defending your fellow citizens. You're extending the reach of freedom. You're making America incredibly proud.

I appreciate General Jimmy Collins' hospitality. He found a pretty good sack for me last night. [Laughter] I also want to thank Linda for her hospitality as well.

Today Senator McCain and I are joined by another fine Member of the United States Senate, Senator John Ensign from the State of Nevada. Appreciate you coming.

Audience member. Yeah!

The President. Have you actually heard of Ensign, or are you from Nevada?

Audience member. I'm from Las Vegas.

The President. Vegas—okay, good. [Laughter] Congressman Adam Smith is with us today. I appreciate you being here, Congressman. Thank you for coming.

The Lieutenant Governor of the State of Washington, Brad Owen, and his wife, Linda, is with us. Thank you for coming, Governor. I appreciate you being here. I know we've got State and local officials here. If there's any mayors here, make sure you fill the potholes. [Laughter]

Yesterday I met Nadine Gulit. Nadine and her daughter, Sheryl, started what's called Operation Support Our Troops. I see a lot of heads nodding. You see, these women are soldiers in the army of compassion. These are volunteers who have decided to take time out of their lives to help others. Oftentimes we talk about the great strength of America being our military. We'll keep it strong. But the greatest strength of America is the hearts and souls of our fellow citizens, those of you who are willing to mentor a child, those of you who are willing to feed the hungry or find shelter for the homeless, those of you who are willing to love your neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourselves. The reason I bring up—I want to thank Nadine for her compassion and for the example she has set.

I'm especially grateful to the families who are here today. I see the pictures and the ribbons. Military service is a family commitment. And it's a big commitment, especially when you have a loved one serving in faraway lands or preparing to deploy. By loving and supporting a person in uniform, you're serving your country, and our Nation is really grateful to you.

It's great to be here with "America's Corps." I'm told the I Corps is the most decorated corps in the United States Army. You have a proud history, and you continue to make history. You're bringing great credit to the United States of America. Each of you is a volunteer. You sacrifice in the service of a higher calling, the cause of your Nation, and we are grateful for that sacrifice. People all over our country will join me in saying, "Thank you for what you're doing for our country."

Our Government owes you more than gratitude. I've made a commitment—Senator McCain and Senator Ensign have made the same commitment—to the men and women of our military and their families: You will have all the resources and all the capabilities you need to fight and win the war on terror.

On September the 11th, 2001, we learned that threats gathering on the other side of the world can arrive suddenly and bring tragedy to our great Nation. On that day, the enemy declared war on the United States of America, and war is what they got. I vowed to use every power, every tool, every asset at our disposal to bring justice to our enemies and to protect the American people. And that is exactly what we're doing today.

This is a different kind of war, as you all have learned. Against this kind of threat, our military must be able to move swiftly to strike the enemy with precision and lethal power. And so, as we fight the war to protect America, we are transforming our forces and investing in the future. And much of that transformation takes place here at Fort Lewis. You're on the leading edge of change. You're on the leading edge of making sure this country will protect our citizens.

We're working to develop more unmanned vehicles in space and on land, in air, and at sea. We're building better precision-guided munitions so we can strike freedom's enemies with greater effectiveness at greater distance and spare the innocent. We're developing better surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities so we can continuously locate and track moving targets from the air and from space, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

We're seeing every day that advanced weapons can make a critical difference in the war on terror, but the major difference in winning the war on terror is the people. The major difference is those who wear the uniform, a highly skilled, highly motivated, fantastic group of men and women.

The soldiers of Fort Lewis are serving on the frontlines of the war on terror, and you're on the cutting edge of military transformation, and I thank you for that. This is the home of the Army's first two Stryker Brigades. These combat teams are built around 21st century armored vehicles that can maneuver in urban terrain and get soldiers to the fight with unmatched speed and stealth and power. In Samarra, Iraqis have taken to calling the Stryker Brigades the "Ghost Riders" because they arrive in near total silence and strike the enemy without warning. The terrorists in Iraq have plenty to fear from the "Ghost Riders" of Fort Lewis, Washington.

Fort Lewis is also home to many of our Nation's Special Operations forces, who are redefining war on our terms. In Afghanistan, Special Ops with high-tech weapons joined with tribal warriors on horseback to help remove the Taliban regime in just 49 days. In Iraq, Special Operations teams fanned out across the country, pinpointing targets and preparing landing strips and securing oilfields and hunting for Scuds, all before the dictator even knew what hit him. Today, our Special Operation forces are hunting the enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, carrying swift justice to those who would harm Americans.

These great capabilities are deployed in a great cause. America and free nations face a new totalitarian threat, a real threat to our security. It's not just from a single superpower but from networks of terrorists, allied with outlaw regimes. This enemy seeks to control nations in the Middle East. They seek to destroy moderate governments. They seek to impose a dark, dim vision of the world, a vision which subjugates women to second-class citizenry, a vision which will not allow others to express their opinion, a vision which will stamp out all forms of religion except their narrowly constructed view of religion.

These killers will kill innocent people in order to shake our will and confidence. They want us to forget our duty. They want us to cower in the face of their cowardice. They have vowed to destroy America. They want to gain weapons of mass destruction. But like aggressors of another time, the terrorists have chose the wrong enemy in the United States of America.

You can't reason with these people. There's no need to negotiate with them. Therapy is not going to work. [Laughter] To win this war, we will stay on the offensive and bring them to justice. Thanks to your hard work, we're making progress. We are slowly but surely dismantling the Al Qaida network. There is no cave or hole deep enough to hide from American justice.

We will be strong and we will be relentless in our duty to protect our fellow citizens. To win this war, we will deal with states that harbor the terrorists. Right after September the 11th, I laid out a new doctrine which said, "If you harbor a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorists." I also am mindful of this: When the President of the United States speaks, he must mean what he says.

I mean what I said, and the Taliban found that out, thanks to the United States military and our friends. Today, because our coalition acted, there are no terror training camps in Afghanistan. And if there are, if they're thinking about them, we will find them and destroy them. The Taliban regime no longer is in power. The country is free. Thanks to our coalition, hospitals and clinics are being built and rehabilitated. Thanks to the actions your loved ones and you have taken in Afghanistan, many young girls now go to school for the first time in their life. And this September, Afghans will hold free elections.

To win this war, we are confronting regimes with ties to terror that arm to threaten the peace. We will remove threats before they arrive, instead of waiting for the next attack, the next catastrophe. That is one of the lessons of September the 11th we must never forget.

Saddam Hussein's regime posed a threat to the American people and people around the world. Iraq was a country in which millions of people lived in fear and many thousands disappeared into mass graves. This was a regime that tortured children in front of their parents. This was a regime that had invaded its neighbors. This is a regime that had used chemical weapons before. It had used weapons not only against countries in its neighborhood but against its own citizens. This is a regime which gave cash rewards to families of suicide bombers. This is a regime that sheltered terrorist groups. This is a regime that hated America.

And so we saw a threat, and it was a real threat. And that's why I went to the United Nations. The administration looked at the intelligence, saw a threat, and remembered the facts and saw a threat. The Congress, members of both political parties, looked at the intelligence. They saw a threat. The members of the United Nations Security Council looked at the intelligence and saw a threat and voted unanimously to send the message to Mr. Saddam Hussein, "Disarm, or face serious consequences." As usual, he ignored the demands of the free world. So I had a choice to make, either to trust the word of a madman or defend America. Given that choice, I will defend America every time.

Thanks to our troops and thanks to the troops of our friends, one of the most evil and brutal regimes in history no longer exists. Iraq is better off today; America is more secure today because Saddam Hussein sits in a prison cell.

To win this war, we will not only keep the pressure on the enemy; we will spread freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East. We will spread freedom and democracy as an alternative to bitterness and terror. We believe that when men and women are given the opportunities and choices of a free society, they will turn their energy to the pursuits of peace. That's what we believe. We fully understand freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is the Almighty God's gift to every man and woman in this world.

And our enemies understand the power of free societies. They understand that the spread of freedom will be a major defeat for their dark vision. And so freedom— those who long for freedom in Iraq and those who help the Iraqis to see freedom and those who long for freedom in Afghanistan and those who are helping the Afghans achieve freedom faced deadly and determined enemies. We're fighting those enemies with skill and courage.

You know, our American soldiers not only are showing great courage and bravery, but they're showing great respect for the cultures of those countries. That's because we have sent decent people into harm's way, good, honorable men and women who represent the best of America.

These are difficult tasks, I know, and they're hard tasks. And people wonder whether we'll succeed. I know that. But I'm here to tell you, these are essential tasks for our security and for peace of the world. You see, by fighting the terrorists in distance land—distant lands, you are making sure your fellow citizens do not face them here at home. By helping the rise of democracy in Iraq and throughout the world, you are giving people an alternative to bitterness and hatred, and that is essential to the peace of the world.

This week, President Karzai came to the White House and the U.S. Capitol and thanked the American people and thanked our soldiers and their families for helping to free his country and for being a friend. The President of Iraq came to America last week and expressed his gratitude as well. These are thankful people, because they know what you've done. They've seen firsthand the power of liberation. See, they have seen our mission. We don't come to conquer. We come to liberate, and we will stand with them until their freedom is secure.

We're moving forward with a five-point plan for Iraqi self-government. We're handing over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government. We're encouraging more international support for the Iraqi transition. We're helping the Iraqis take responsibility for their own security. We're continuing to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, and we are moving toward free elections. A turning point will come in less than 2 weeks. On June the 30th, full sovereignty will be transferred to the interim government. The Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist. An American Embassy will open in the capital of a free Iraq.

Iraq's new leaders are rising to their responsibilities. That's what you're seeing. They're assuming responsibility. Our coalition and the United Nations are working to prepare the way for national elections. The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to endorse the Iraqi interim government and their plans for political transition. The Iraqi people are making steady progress toward a free society in a partnership with the United States of America and many other nations. And we will not let thugs and killers stand in the way of democracy in Iraq.

It is essential that Iraq gain the means of self-defense. So we're now leading an international effort to train new Iraqi security forces. You see, there are now 200,000 Iraqis on duty or in training in various branches of the Iraqi security operations. And we need work. We need more—there's more work to do. They need to work better. I know that, and one way to do so is to build Iraqi chains of command, because Iraqi citizens, naturally, want to take orders from Iraqi officers. So we're helping to prepare a new generation of Iraqi military commanders who will take the lead in defending their country.

And we're beginning to see results of people stepping up to defend themselves. Iraqi police and Civil Defense Corps have captured several wanted terrorists, including Umar Baziyani. He was a key lieutenant of this killer named Zarqawi who's ordering the suiciders inside of Iraq. By the way, he was the fellow who was in Baghdad at times prior to our arrival. He was operating out of Iraq. He was an Al Qaida associate. See, he was there before we came. He's there after we came. And we'll find him, and he will be brought to justice, for the sake of peace and security.

The commander of Task Force Olympia—you might have heard of him—Brigadier General Carter Ham said recently about a response by Iraqi forces in Mosul that the Iraqi forces stood strong. I suspect General Ham is someone who likes to tell the truth. In Najaf, Iraqi police are back on the streets. The citizens are glad to see them there. See, they want what we want. They want their families to grow up in a peaceful society. In Al Kharma, soldiers of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps were awarded medals for valor after battling insurgents and rescuing a wounded marine. "I feel very, very bad the marine was shot because they're like my brothers," said one of the decorated Iraqi soldiers, "but I'm ready to go out again. I'm always ready," he said.

You see, these brave Iraqis are setting an example for their fellow citizens. They're staying in the fight. They're taking the battle to the terrorists and the foreign fighters and the Saddam holdouts. They're securing a future of liberty and opportunity for their children and their grandchildren. And when the history of modern Iraq is written, the people of Iraq will know their freedom was finally secured by the courage and the sacrifice of Iraqi patriots.

The future of a free Iraq is now coming into view. As the interim government assumes sovereignty and Iraqi security forces defend their country, our coalition will play a supporting role. And this is an essential part of our strategy for success. Terrorists who attack a self-governing Iraq are showing who they really are. They're not fighting foreign forces. They're fighting the Iraqi people. They're the enemies of democracy and hope. They are the enemies of a peaceful future for Iraq.

As President al-Yawr of Iraq said last week, "These people who are doing these things are the armies of the darkness." That's what the President said, of Iraq. These are the enemies of the Iraqi nation. They are trying to take Iraq back to the dark ages that we used to live in, until last year. The President and I share the same resolve. Iraq will never return to the dark ages of tyranny. Iraq will be a free nation.

At the same time that we're helping the Iraqis bring the terrorists to justice, we're helping the Iraqi people to rebuild the basic infrastructure of their country. This is tough work. It's hard work. It's hard work to go from a society terrorized by a tyrant to a free society, but we have done this kind of work before.

I want you to listen to how the New York Times described conditions in Germany in November 1946. This was 18 months after the fall of Berlin. "Germany is a land in an acute stage of economic, political, and moral crisis. The basic elements of recovery and peace are lacking. European capitals are frightened by the prospect of a German collapse. In every military headquarters, one meets alarmed officials doing their best to deal with the consequences of the occupation policy they admit has failed."

Fortunately, the pessimists did not have their day. Fortunately, our predecessors had great faith in the power of free societies to change society. Fortunately, our predecessors stood firm in the face of cynicism and doubt. Because, you see, we helped the German people rise above hunger and hopelessness. We helped them resist the designs of the Soviet Union. We overcame many obstacles because we knew that the hope for a secure America was a peaceful and democratic Europe.

We face the same challenges today. It's just in a different part of the world. There are those who doubt. There are those who are pessimistic. Fourteen months have passed since the fall of Baghdad—14 months. And today, in spite of the insurgency, in spite of the attempts of the terrorists, Iraq's economy is moving forward and democracy is taking hold. Most Iraqi cities and many towns now have local councils chosen by their communities, which are handling problems such as trash collection and traffic, sanitation, and education. More than 170 newspapers have begun publishing. Dozens of political parties have formed. At one Iraqi university, a team is translating the great works of democracy into Arabic.

Life is getting better for the Iraqi people, who have suffered for decades. Our coalition has rehabilitated thousands of schools. We're training thousands of secondary school teachers in modern teaching methods. Electric power is being restored, despite continued attacks, and is no longer distributed based on loyalty to Saddam Hussein. Iraqi oil revenues have now reached more than $11 billion since liberation. And as Prime Minister Allawi pointed out last week, those revenues are not being used to build gaudy palaces for Saddam Hussein; they're being used to serve the Iraqi people.

With each step forward on the path to self-government and self-reliance, the terrorists will grow more desperate and more violent. They see Iraqis taking their country back. They see freedom taking root, and these killers know they have no future in a free Iraq. They want us to abandon our mission. That's what they want. They want us to break our word. And so they're attacking us, and they're attacking free Iraqis. They don't understand our country. They don't understand our resolve. When America says we'll do something, we are going to do it and finish the job.

We're not intimidated, and neither is the new Iraqi Prime Minister. He went to the scene of yesterday's bombing in Baghdad. He stood amongst the rubble. He said, "This was a cowardly attack." He said, "We're going to face these escalations. The Iraqi people are going to prevail, and the government of Iraq is determined to go ahead in confronting the enemies, whether they are here in Iraq or anywhere else in the world." That's what the Prime Minister of Iraq said. He and I share the same determination.

You see, these terrorists will fail. They will fail because the Iraqi people will not accept a return to tyranny. They will fail because the resolve of America and our allies will not be shaken. And they will fail because of the courageous men and women like you who are standing in their way.

All who serve in the United States military can take great pride in the work you've accomplished. Your fellow citizens know your work is not easy. The days are hot. The mission is hard work. Many of you face long deployments, sometimes longer than you expected. You've missed your families, and believe me, they miss you. You've said farewell to brave friends who did not return. We pray for their families. We pray that the good Lord will comfort them in their grief. Our Nation will never forget their sacrifice and their service.

All of you are sacrificing for the cause of this country, and America has needed that sacrifice. By standing for the cause of freedom, you're making our world more peaceful. By fighting terrorists abroad, you're making the American people more secure at home. And by acting in the best traditions of duty and honor, you're making our country and your Commander in Chief very proud.

May God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:10 a.m. In his remarks, he referred to Gen. James M. Collins, USA, deputy commanding general, I Corps and Fort Lewis; President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan; President Ghazi al-Ujayl al-Yawr and Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of the Iraqi interim government; and senior Al Qaida associate Abu Musab Al Zarqawi and his lieutenant Umar Baziyani, who was captured in Baghdad, Iraq, on May 30.

George W. Bush, Remarks at Fort Lewis, Washington Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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