Remarks at a Luncheon for Gubernatorial Candidate Robert R. Riley in Birmingham, Alabama
Thanks for coming. It is a joy to be back in Alabama, and I appreciate your warm welcome. I am proud to stand with one of the Nation's finest Governors and ask for your help in reelecting Bob Riley as Governor of Alabama.
He deserves to be reelected because he's got a record he can run on. He has made you proud. He listens to the people. He shares your values for the good of Alabama and for the good of all citizens, regardless of their political party. Bob Riley needs to be reelected as your Governor.
I'm proud to be here with Patsy, first lady of the great State of Alabama. Riley and I married well, and we're both wise enough to listen to our wives. [Laughter] So Laura said, "When you get down to Alabama, say hello to our friends on her behalf," and so I do. I bring greetings from Laura Bush, a wonderful mother, a fantastic wife, and a great First Lady for the United States of America. And Patsy, thank you for being here. Thank you for serving your State with dignity, just like Riley is serving the State with dignity.
I'm also proud to recognize the candidate for the Lieutenant Governor, a man who will stand tall for the State of Alabama— [laughter]—my friend Luther Strange. I have gotten to know your State attorney general, Troy King. He is an accomplished attorney, who brings great credit to the office he holds. I can say without a doubt, he's the right candidate to serve as the State attorney for this great State of Alabama. Troy, thanks for serving; it was an honor to meet your wife, Paige. I want to thank the State auditor, Beth Chapman, who is with us here today. I thank Twinkle Cavanaugh, who is the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, and I want to thank all the grass roots activists who have joined us here today.
This is a fantastic fundraiser. The next thing that needs to be done is a fantastic grass roots effort to turn out the vote. For those of you who are stuffing the envelopes and putting up the signs and getting on the telephones, and turning people out to vote, I want to thank you in advance for what you're going to do for this excellent Governor.
You win campaigns by having somebody who has got a vision and can carry the message, and you also win campaigns by finding your voters and turning them out. For all the grass roots activists here today, thanks for coming, and thanks for what you do.
I want to thank the State and local officials who are here. Thanks for serving. I appreciate your willingness to be a public servant. I want to thank the Selma High School Choir. I appreciate you lending your beautiful voices to this important occasion.
One of the most important jobs of a Governor is to set a tone for a State. Bob Riley and I share a philosophy about the role of government when it comes to the economy. The role of government is not to create wealth; the role of government is to create an environment in which the entrepreneurial spirit can flourish, in which small business grow to be big businesses, an environment in which people are able to find work.
I was noticing that the unemployment rate in the great State of Alabama is 3.5 percent, which says Riley knows what he's doing when it comes time to this economy. When you have people working, it makes sense to put the man in charge of setting the tone for the State back in office.
You know, one of the things Bob and I understand is that one way to grow the economy is to let people keep more of their own taxes. You see, we believe that when you've got more of your own money in your pocket to save, spend, or invest, the economy grows.
He told me that he's running on cutting taxes, another reason to put him back in office as the Governor of Alabama. And I'm telling you, cutting taxes works.
You might remember what this economy of ours has been through. We've been through a recession and corporate scandals, a terrorist attack, a war, hurricanes, and high gasoline prices. Yet we're growing, and we intend to keep growing. And the best way to keep growing is to keep the people's taxes low.
The the tax cuts we passed are working, and it's a campaign issue as far as I'm concerned. There's no doubt in my mind that if the national Democrats had control of the House or the Senate, they'd raise your taxes. And there's no doubt in my mind raising your taxes will hurt this economy. The best way to keep the people in Alabama working and the best way to keep the people across this country working is to make the tax cuts we passed permanent.
When I was the Governor of Texas, I used to tell people education is to a State what national defense is to the Federal Government. The single most important priority of a State is to make sure the people get educated. And Bob Riley has made the school system of Alabama his top priority, but he's made the school system in Alabama a priority in a different kind of way. See, he refuses to accept the status quo when he finds mediocrity or failure.
You know, I was talking to Margaret Spellings. She's my buddy from the State of Texas who is now the Secretary of Education. And Margaret Spellings, if she were here, would tell you that Alabama has some of the most innovative programs in the United States of America when it comes to making sure every single child gets an education. You got a Governor who is an education Governor and needs to be returned to your State capitol.
He is spending money on schools, and that's important. But he also understands money alone won't bring excellence to the classrooms. And that's why he has set high standards, and that's why he insists upon strong accountability measures. The best way to achieve educational excellence for every child in your State is to measure, is to determine whether a child is learning how to read, write, and add and subtract, and if not, correct problems early before it's too late.
I'm proud of the standards your Governor has set. I'm proud to call my friend an educational innovator. I'm proud that he has made reading a top priority. I'm proud he's challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations. I'm proud he's working hard to make sure no child is left behind in the State of Alabama.
Riley and I just went over to—excuse me—Governor Riley—[laughter]—and went over to Hoover, Alabama, today, the home of the mighty Bucs, the number one high school football team in the United States. That's kind of hard for a Texan to say. [Laughter] But we went over for a different reason, because we both understand that in order for America to remain competitive in the 21st century, in order for Alabama to remain competitive in the 21st century, we must diversify away from foreign sources of oil.
And so we went to a E-85 ethanol distribution place. See, what happened is, is that the fine mayor of Hoover and its city council decided that they were going to use ethanol as the primary fuel for their police automobiles. That's called innovation. It's called thinking ahead.
I found it to be really interesting to talk to the officers who drive the vehicles that are run on fuel that is 85 percent ethanol, in other words, fuel made from corn. So I said to the guy, do you—see, he has a choice, he can either use gasoline or ethanol. I said, "Which one do you use?" He says, "I like the ethanol." I said, "Why?" He said, "It's got a lot of get up and go to it." In other words, it works well.
What we're beginning to see is a change in how we fuel our automobiles. We're spending a lot of money at the Federal level, your money, to try to advance new technologies to make us less dependent on oil. It's in the national interests that we become less dependent on oil from overseas. After all, a lot of the oil we get is from parts of the world that don't particularly care for us right now.
I look forward to the day when more and more of you have flex-fuel vehicles and you can go and make the decision as to whether or not you want to use ethanol as the primary source of energy in your automobile or gasoline. I look forward to the day when I can say to the American people, "Because we've got more corn growing, we're less dependent on foreign sources of oil." I look forward to the day when you can use wood chips from Alabama trees as the feedstock for ethanol. I look forward to the day when we have these great breakthroughs of research and technology done right here in Auburn University to say to the American people, the research we're doing today means your children are going to be less dependent on oil in the future.
And Bob Riley is a partner in encouraging diversification away from hydrocarbons that we import from overseas. And I appreciate his stance. I appreciate his vision. He's got a vision for the people of Alabama, and he's got the skill and capability of implementing that vision. He's done an excellent job for the people. And I want to thank you for supporting him to put him back in office. It's good for this State that Bob Riley is the Governor. I want to talk about—I want to spend a little time on what else occupies my mind, other than making sure our economy grows. And it's this: My most solemn responsibility and the most solemn duty of the Federal Government, as a matter of fact governments at all levels, is to protect the American people.
We are a nation at war. I wish I could report differently, but you need to have a President who sees the world the way it is, not the way somebody would hope it would be. In order to protect this people, we must understand the nature of the threats we face. We face an enemy that is brutal, an enemy that is determined, an enemy that has a set of beliefs that is the opposite of our beliefs.
I'll never forget the lessons of September the 11th, 2001, and I will continue to use, as I vowed then to the American people, every element of national power to defeat the terrorists and to defend the freedom of the United States of America.
And that starts with making sure those responsible for defending you have all the tools necessary to do so. As the Commander in Chief of the finest group of men and women produced in this country, I'll make you this pledge: Our troops will have whatever it takes to do the job we have asked them to do.
And we have got to make sure that our intelligence officers have the tools they need to protect you and our law enforcement officers have the tools they need to protect you. So working with the Congress, we passed what was called the PATRIOT Act, an act that broke down barriers and walls that prevented the intelligence community from sharing information with the law enforcement community.
You see, we recognize that in order to protect you, all elements of national government must be able to communicate freely to defeat this enemy. If somebody that we think is Al Qaida or an Al Qaida affiliate gets on the telephone and is making a phone call into the United States, we want to know why, in order to protect the American people.
In order to make sure we get the information necessary to protect you—see, this is a different kind of war. We cannot measure the enemy's progress based upon the movement of tanks or airplanes. These people hide in remote regions of the world and then strike with lethality, as we learned firsthand in our country.
And therefore we must find kernels of information that then will enable us to track them down and bring them to justice before they hurt Americans. And that's why it's essential that I created a program with the professionals in the Central Intelligence Agency to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives that were captured on the battlefield. As a result of this program, we have—we've learned information that enabled us to save American lives.
I also believed it was important to set up military commissions that will enable us to bring to justice the people that ordered the attacks on the United States of America. The Supreme Court said, you must work with the legislature to achieve these objectives, and we're doing just that.
Last night—yesterday afternoon, the House of Representatives voted on the legislation we put forward to create military commissions and to continue that vital program of questioning detainees. The bill passed, but I want to remind you about the vote. The bill passed over the objections of 160 House Democrats, including the entire Democrat leadership.
We must give our professionals the tools necessary to protect the American people in this war on terror, and those in the House of Representatives were wrong to vote against this bill.
Ours is an important job to protect you. We have to be right 100 percent of the time, and the enemy only has to be right once. And that's why it's important that we do the—pass the laws that we've asked the Senate and the House to pass. And that's also why it's important that we must defeat the enemy overseas so we do not have to face them here at home.
And there's a lot of debate in Washington about this war on terror. And perhaps you heard something about what's called a National Intelligence Estimate. The National Intelligence Estimate is a classified document that, in this case, analyzed the threat we faced from terrorists and extremists.
As you know, parts of that classified document were recently leaked to the press, a sure sign that elections are right around the corner. Some in the other party have been quoting selectively from the document for partisan political gain, and so I felt that it was important for people to actually see what was in the document, and so I declassified it.
And I'd like to share some thoughts about what was in the NIE with you today. It offers a frank assessment of where we are in the war on terror. It confirms that we face a determined and capable enemy. It lists four underlying factors that are fueling the extremist movement: longstanding grievances such as corruption and injustice, or fear of Western domination; the second such factor was the jihad in the Iraq; the third was the slow pace of reform in Muslim nations; and the fourth factor that the leaders of this extremist movement were using to recruit was anti-Americanism.
It concludes that the terrorists are exploiting all these factors to enhance their movement. The debate over this document raises really an important question about the war on terror: Should we be on the offense or not? Some in Washington—some decent people, patriotic people—feel like we should not be on the offensive in this war on terror. Here's what a senior Democrat in Congress put it when she was discussing Iraq. She said, "The President says that fighting them there makes it less likely we'll have to fight them here. The opposite is true." She went on to say, "Because we are fighting them there, it may become more likely that we'll have to fight them here."
History tells us that logic is false. We didn't create terrorism by fighting terrorism. Iraq is not the reason why the terrorists are at war against us. Our troops were not in Iraq when the terrorists first attacked the World Trade Center. They were not in Iraq when they blew up our Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. They were not in Iraq when they bombed the USS Cole. And we were not in Iraq when the extremists killed nearly 3,000 of our people on September the 11th, 2001.
Five years after the 9/11 attacks, some in Washington, DC, still don't understand the nature of the enemy. The only way to protect our citizens at home is to keep the pressure on the enemy across the world. When terrorists spend their days working to avoid capture, they are less able to plot and plan and execute new attacks. We will stay on the offense. We will fight them across the world, and we will stay in this fight until the fight is won.
In order to win this war, we need to understand that the terrorists and extremists are opportunists. They will grab onto any cause to incite hatred and to justify the killing of innocent men, women, and children. If we weren't in Iraq, they would be using our relationship and friendship with Israel as a reason to recruit, or the Crusades, or cartoons as a reason to commit murder. They recruit based upon lies and excuses, and they murder because of their raw desire for power. They hope to impose their dominion over the broader Middle East and establish a radical Islamic empire where millions are ruled according to their hateful ideology. We know this because Al Qaida has told us.
The terrorist Zawahiri, number two man in the Al Qaida team—Al Qaida network, he said, we'll proceed with several incremental goals. The first stage is to expel the Americans from Iraq; the second stage is to establish an Islamic authority, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of caliphate; the third stage, extend the jihad wave to secular countries neighboring Iraq; and the fourth stage, the clash with Israel.
This is the words of the enemy. The President of the United States and the Congress must listen carefully to what the enemy says in order to be able to protect you. It makes sense for us to take their words seriously, if our most important job is the security of the United States. Mr. Zawahiri has laid out their plan. That's why they attacked us on September the 11th. That's why they fight us in Iraq today. And that is why they must be defeated.
Some Democrats in Congress say that we should not be fighting the terrorists in Iraq; it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first place. I believe these Democrats need to answer a simple question: Do they really believe that we would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power? In a recent interview, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee was asked this very question. And his answer was, "Yes, yes, and, yes."
If this is what the Democrats think, they need to make this case to the American people; they need to make the case that the world would be better off it Saddam Hussein were still in power. If Saddam Hussein were still in power, he would still be sponsoring terror and paying families of suicide bombers. If he were still in power, he would still be pursuing weapons of mass destruction. He would still be killing his own people. He would still be firing at our pilots. He would still be defying the United Nations. He would still be bilking the Oil-for-Food Programme and using one of the largest oil reserves in the world to threaten Western economies and to fuel his ambitions.
After the attacks of September the 11th, it became clear that the United States of America must confront threats before they come and hurt us. Saddam Hussein's regime was a serious threat, a risk the world could not afford to take. America, Iraqis, and the world are safer because Saddam Hussein is not in power.
In a recent series of speeches, I made it clear that we're in the early hours of a long struggle for civilization. I have made it clear that we're in the ideological struggle of the 21st century. I've also made it clear that the safety of the American people depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad.
I strongly believe that Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. The Democrats may not think so, but Usama bin Laden does. Here are the words of bin Laden, "I now address the whole Islamic nation: Listen and understand. The most serious issue today for the whole world is this third world war is raging in Iraq." He calls it "a war of destiny between infidelity and Islam." He says, "The whole world is watching this war," and that it will end in "victory and glory or misery and humiliation."
For Al Qaida, Iraq is not a distraction from their war on America; it is a central battlefield where there's—outcome of the struggle will be decided.
The NIE I quoted earlier says this about Iraq. It said, "Perceived jihadist success there," in Iraq, "would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere." It also says that "Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight."
Democrats in Washington have been quoting the NIE a lot in recent days, but you don't hear them quoting that part of the document. The Democrats can't have it both ways. Either they believe that Iraq is a distraction from the war on terror or they agree with the intelligence community and the terrorists themselves that the outcome of Iraq is important in the war on terror. Truth is, the Democrats are using the NIE to mislead the American people and justify their policy of withdrawal from Iraq.
The American people need to know what withdrawal from Iraq would mean. By withdrawing from Iraq before the job is done, we would be doing exactly what the extremists and terrorists want. The terrorists' entire strategy is based on the belief that America is weak and does not have the stomach for the long fight. Bin Laden has called American withdrawals from places like Beirut and Somalia as proof that if the terrorists are patient, America will lose her nerve and withdraw in disgrace.
The greatest danger is not that America's presence in Iraq is drawing new recruits to the terrorist cause; the greatest danger is that an American withdrawal from Iraq would embolden the terrorists and help them find new recruits to carry out even more destructive attacks on the American homeland. And that is why the United States of America will stand with the brave Iraqis and defeat the terrorists in Iraq.
The stakes are high in this war. It's really important that the United States of America understands the nature of this enemy and understands what it would mean to leave Iraq before the job is done. If we were to abandon this young democracy to the extremists, imagine what other reformers and people of moderation would think about the United States of America. If we were to abandon our mission in Iraq where many have sacrificed, imagine what the enemy would think about the United States of America and our will.
If we were to abandon Iraq and create a vacuum in that country and that country were then taken over by the extremists, make no mistake about it, they would have mighty assets to use in order to inflict economic pain on the United States of America. We're not going to let this happen. America is a nation that keeps its commitments to those who long for liberty and want to live in peace. America is a nation that will keep its commitment to make sure that you're secure. America is a nation that does not retreat in the face of thugs and assassins.
We're going to help the Iraqi people. Remember, 12 million of them voted in elections last December. That probably seems like a decade ago to you, but when the history is finally written, it will be just a comma. Twelve million people stood up in the face of assassins and car bombers and said, "We want to be free."
I'm not surprised. I was pleased. I'm not surprised because I believe in this principle, a principle which should be a guiding light of American foreign policy: There is an Almighty, and a gift of that Almighty to every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth is freedom. I believe deep in the soul of every person is the desire to live in liberty, and I know that liberty will yield the peace we want for generations to come.
From the beginning of the struggle, I've made it clear that we will defend this country by giving people the tools needed, that we'll defend America by staying on the offense, that we will find the terrorists and bring them to justice so they can't hurt us here at home. But I've also made it clear that defeating the terrorists in the long run requires defeating their hateful ideology.
The NIE explicitly states, the National Intelligence Estimate, that I have been discussing and has been widely discussed in the newspapers states this, that the terrorists greatest vulnerability is that their ideology is "unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims." People want to be free. People want to be able to express themselves freely. Mothers in the Muslim world share the same thing as mothers here; they want their children to grow up in a peaceful world.
And that's why it's essential that the United States of America stand with moderates and reformers and peaceful people, millions of men and women in the Muslim world who want a normal life and a more hopeful future for their children and their grandchildren. And as this powerful majority gains control over the destiny—over their destiny through the democratic progress, they will marginalize the radicals and extremists and their hateful vision of the world.
The transition from tyranny to democracy is tough work, but it's necessary work. It's the calling of history. It's the challenge to our generation to defend America and to lay the foundation of peace for generations to come. The extremists and the radicals will exploit these difficulties in every way they can. They will try to shake our will. They will use the murder of innocent men and women and children in order to convince America that the fight isn't worth it. Yet in the long run, America, if we keep our faith in our principles, will prevail.
Encouraging the rise of free societies across the broader Middle East is the only way to overcome the threat of terrorism and to protect the American people in the long run. We owe it to a generation of children to come to do the hard work now. Imagine a Middle East where there's competing factions of extremism. Imagine a Middle East where the radicals control oil. Imagine a Middle East where there's an armed theocracy with a nuclear weapon. Fifty years from now, people will say, "Couldn't they see it; why couldn't they see the threat?"
Now is the time for the United States of America to lay the foundation of peace, to confront the challenges we have square on, to protect our country, to do our duty so that generations will look back and say, "Thank God this generation of Americans was willing to serve and serve strong."
The stakes in this war are high, and so are the stakes this November. Americans face the choice between two parties with two different attitudes on this war on terror. Five years after 9/11, the worst attack on American homeland in our history, the Democrats offer nothing but criticism and obstruction and endless second-guessing. The party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut-and-run.
Our party's record is clear. We see the stakes. We understand the nature of the enemy. We know that the enemy wants to attack us again. We will not wait to respond to the enemy. We're not going to wait for them to attack us in order to respond. We will fight them wherever they make a stand. We will settle for nothing less than victory.
Thanks for coming. God bless.
NOTE: The President spoke at 1:34 p.m. at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Tony Petelos of Hoover, AL; former President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; and Usama bin Laden, leader of the Al Qaida terrorist organization.
George W. Bush, Remarks at a Luncheon for Gubernatorial Candidate Robert R. Riley in Birmingham, Alabama Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269180