Remarks by the Vice President at a Bush-Cheney '04 Reception
Civic Center Music Hall
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
6:03 P.M. CDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, Don. I really appreciate those kind remarks. And Don Nickles is going to be missed. I got to tell you I understand -- (applause) -- I understand. I talked to Don the other day, just before he made his announcement, on the telephone. And I couldn't lean on him too hard because he reminded me that after 25 years of service, I hung it up and went to the private sector, and thought I'd found a home. (Laughter.) But I got drafted back, and we may get him back at some point. But Don and Linda have just done a superb job. (Applause.)
It's always been remarkable to watch Don operate. Of course, he arrived there at a tender age of what, about 30 or 31. But he always had a basic, fundamental set of principles that he operated by. And Washington is full of people who aren't quite sure what they believe, or they believe one thing one moment and something else the next. Don Nickles -- you knew that he had a basic fundamental set of values that he cared about, that he believed in, and that he lived his life by and that he helped govern by. And he's been a great senator for the last 24 years, and he will be missed. But we're going to get a lot of work out of him before he hangs it up. So anyway, I'm delighted to be here tonight. And, Don, I want to thank you for those remarks and for all that you've done for Oklahoma and for America. It's all right, you can applaud. (Laughter and applause.)
Also, I know Jim Inhofe well. Jim and I served together in the House. And as Don pointed out, as the President of the Senate now, I go up and have lunch on Tuesdays with my fellow colleagues, the Senate Republicans -- because I am the President of the Senate. I actually get paid by the Senate. That's where my paycheck comes from.
Until the Eisenhower administration when Richard Nixon was Vice President, the Vice President didn't even have an office downtown in the executive branch. Vice Presidents lived on Capitol Hill, in the Senate. They were creatures of the Senate.
And my predecessor, John Adams, of course, who was our first Vice President, he not only got to cast tie-breaking votes, he also had floor privileges. He could go down into the well of the House -- the well of the Senate and debate the issues of the day, engage in give-and-take. And then he did a few times and they withdrew his floor privileges. (Laughter.) They've never been restored. So I'm not allowed to speak, but I do get to cast the tie -- key votes.
You've also got some great Republicans in your congressional delegation in the House: John Sullivan, Frank Lucas, Tom Cole, and Ernie Istook. I loved the House of Representatives. As Don pointed out, I served there 10 years. I was the congressman from Wyoming. Wyoming only has one congressman. (Laughter.) It was a small delegation. (Laughter.) But it was quality. (Laughter.) And I really enjoyed my time in the House.
But I've also gotten to know Mayor Humphries over the years and watched him with great interest. He's been, as Don said, a great mayor. And I want to wish him well. And I know the Lieutenant Governor, Mary Fallin, is here today, as well, too. I want to thank her for being here. (Applause.)
I had sort of a political speech I was going to give today, but when I came down, I had some extra time. And since I've been involved with the Oklahoma City Memorial early on, Polly Nichols and Frank Keating and some others recruited me in that effort, which I was happy to do. I'd never had a chance to go back and visit the memorial since it was completed, the museum and so forth. And I did that today. And it has enormous impact. All of you who live here in Oklahoma City and went through those events in 1995 obviously know the consequences of terror firsthand. And I'm a little reluctant to talk about some of those problems with people who have such personal experience with it. But I think it's important for us to spend a few minutes on it today.
And I thought that what I'd do is talk about our current situation because I really think this election next year, that you've signed on to be a part of now by being here this afternoon, by contributing your money and your time to the effort, it's going to be a very important election.
We've had to make some fundamental choices since 9/11. And the nation will have to make some fundamental choices as we go forward. And I thought I'd just take a few minutes this afternoon and try to put those circumstances in context, if you will.
In a sense 9/11 changed everything for how, as a government, we think about national security, about how we defend America, about we protect ourselves. What we discovered on 9/11 is that we were, in fact, at war. Our adversaries had figured that out sometime before. If you go look back at recent history, 1993, the first attack on the World Trade Center in New York, now, was probably the first al Qaeda attack against the United States. We had a series of attacks -- not only domestic, homegrown terrorists, such as here in Oklahoma -- but especially the foreign-bred kind, if you will: the attacks on Khobar Towers, 1996; the bombing of our embassies in East Africa, in '98; the USS Cole, in 2000, et cetera.
We tended to look at each of those as isolated, separate incidents. And we didn't come to realize until 9/11 that we were up against an enemy who had been plotting and carrying out attacks against us for some considerable period of time. We now know from having captured Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, the mastermind -- the apparent mastermind of the attacks of 9/11, that he first broached the subject to Osama bin Laden of using airplanes in an attack against the United States in 1996, five years before the actual attack occurred.
And what we discovered was that we'd had a series of attacks that the United States had never responded very effectively to, that we were -- had not developed a strategy that would work. The old Cold War military strategy that was so successful for us in the last half of the 20th century, when we defeated communism, the idea of holding the Soviet Union at risk so they were never tempted to launch an attack against the United States, a strategy of deterrence, containment with our allies and so forth, those were concepts that don't really apply when you're talking about an organization like al Qaeda. They don't have anything they value highly enough that you can put at risk in order to deter them from attacking the United States.
So we needed a new strategy. And that's what we've developed. First and foremost, of course, we've worked to harden the target, to make it more difficult to launch strikes against the United States, created the Department of Homeland Security, the biggest reorganization of the federal government in over 50 years. But we also know that a perfect defense is not enough. You've also go to go on offense. You've got be prepared to go eliminate the terrorists, take down the terrorist structure and network before they can launch further attacks against the United States. And of course, we've done that. We've now wrapped up a large portion of the known terrorists who were involved in the 9/11 attacks. And we've had enormous success. We've still got more to do. But without question, we've put a real dent in their organization.
We had to put together an effort to go after their financial networks and support because they can't operate without that kind of support. They get it from various places around the world, and for the first time, we've got a fairly effective strategy for going after their financial networks.
We've worked very closely with intelligence organizations all over the world -- in some cases with intelligence organizations from countries that aren't necessarily, ordinarily deemed to be friends of the United States.
But most significantly was the doctrine that President Bush announced that first night after the attack on 9/11, what's come to be known as the Bush doctrine, that we would hold accountable -- just as we went after the terrorists, we would hold accountable those who supported terror, those who sponsored it, states that provided safe harbor and sanctuary for terrorists. And that's exactly what we've done.
Now, that's been somewhat controversial. We've had some suggest, for example, that we should never use U.S. troops without the approval the U.N. Security Council. But that, in effect, would put us in a position where faced with a serious threat, which we believe we had to act against, of allowing one nation, or a handful of nations to veto U.S. military action.
The problem we have now is that the biggest threat of all is the possibility of the terrorists acquiring deadly weapons -- deadlier than anything we've ever known. And we know from the training camps in Afghanistan, and the people we've captured and interrogated that the al Qaeda organization wants to do everything they can to try to acquire weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons.
And the ultimate nightmare is the idea of a cell of the al Qaeda organization loose in one of our cities with a nuclear weapon or a biological weapon. That's the ultimate threat today. And given that, it's important for us not to fall back on the arguments that some have made that we should not act until the threat is imminent or until we've been struck. We cannot afford to have such an attack ever take place against the United States. And the only way to prevent that is to ensure that, first of all, the terrorists never acquire or develop weapons of mass destruction, and, secondly, that we go out and defeat the terrorists on their home ground before they ever get a chance to launch an attack again inside our cities.
This is a somewhat controversial strategy, but I think it's exactly the right strategy. It's a decision the President made early on. It is a significant departure from the past. But I would argue that we were struck on 9/11 when we lost some 3,000 of our people that day; that it was a more devastating attack than what happened to us at Peal Harbor, in terms of loss of life; and that whatever rationale or justification we needed to use military force to defend America, we got on that day.
The campaign itself and the efforts that have been mounted have been, I think, very successful. In Afghanistan, we went in and took down the Taliban and the al Qaeda organization. Now we've stood up a new government in its place. They'll hold free elections next year. We've got Mr. Karzai in charge on an interim basis. There's a lot of work to be done yet. We'll have to have American forces in there. We've got some 9,000 or 10,000 American troops there tonight. But we'll have to stay until we can root out all the bad guys, until we can make sure the new government is strong enough to sustain itself. We're building an Afghan National Army. They'll be able, at some point, to be able to take over and undertake these tasks and assignments for themselves.
But it's very important we get it right. We do not want Afghanistan to revert back to what it was before 9/11, when it was a failed state, when it couldn't guarantee the security of its own territory, when terrorists were able to come into Afghanistan, for years, operate training camps to train thousands of terrorists and then ultimately launch attacks against the United States.
The consequences of what went on in Afghanistan, we're having to live with today. Because not only have we had the attacks in New York and Washington on 9/11, we've also had attacks in Mombasa, Riyadh, Casablanca, Bali, Jakarta, Baghdad -- attacks perpetrated, in many cases, by people who received training in those training camps in the late '90s in Afghanistan.
If we fail to act now, the cost will be greater, and it'll take a longer period of time, and the task will be even more difficult. So it's important we get it right in Afghanistan today.
We obviously moved on Iraq, as well, too. And Iraq was a special problem because not only did you have a state that was run by one of the most brutal dictatorships of modern times, but a state that acquired and used weapons of mass destruction, and that sponsored and provided safe harbor to terrorists, and had for many years. That regime is no more. Thanks to the magnificent work of the American Armed Forces, Saddam's government is gone. It will never return.
And again, we're making major progress there in standing up a new government, getting power restored. We're back up to prewar levels in terms of electricity now. The oil industry is coming back. This is a nation that has potential significant wealth. And if we can get them back on their feet, they'll be able to establish in the Middle East, in the heart of the area that's been responsible for the attacks launched against the United States, a vibrant, viable, representative government, democratically elected, that will set a model for that part of the world and will demonstrate that there is an alternative -- an alternative that works -- to the kind of radical, hate-filled philosophy that drives the terrorists who have attacked us and so many other places around the world.
We can do it. We know we can do it. As I say, as a former Secretary of Defense, I've never been more proud of the job that the men and women in the U.S. military are doing for us. They've been superb. (Applause.)
As we go forward, next year, the campaign is going to come in due course. Some would say it's already here. And it will be a tough, hard fought campaign, as it should be. Selecting the President of the United States is important business. And it's vital that we get it right because we are faced with a whole new set of challenges in a new century. I'm optimistic that we can do it, confident that we can, in fact, prevail in the course that we've now embarked upon because I think the America people support it. I think it's exactly the right thing to do, and what it needs most of all at this stage is strong, firm, decisive leadership. Weakness, vacillation, indecision in the face of a threat invites attack. We know that now. The turn-the-other-cheek strategy for dealing with terror will not work. It never has, and it won't now.
So our task is to do everything we can to achieve our objectives and to make this nation much more safe and secure for our kids and grandkids that if it would be if we tried to pass this threat on to the next generation and refused to face up and deal with it now when it's a manageable proposition for us.
So I want to thank all of you for being here tonight. I want to thank you for your willingness to sign on, as I say, to support the effort. The President and I are deeply grateful for the support you provided. Oklahoma gave us a great vote in 2000. We didn't need a recount here in Oklahoma. (Laughter.) And we won't need one next time either, right, Don? (Applause.)
But thank you all for what you've done for all of us, and we'll do our level best to give you the kind of government you can be proud of. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 6:20 P.M. CDT
Richard B. Cheney, Remarks by the Vice President at a Bush-Cheney '04 Reception Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/280876