Remarks by the Vice President at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy in Houston, Texas
8:05 P.M. CDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you, Jim, those are very kind words and I deeply appreciate it. They mean a lot coming from you.
It's an honor to be with all of you this evening here at Rice University and the Baker Institute. And as Jim explained, our friendship goes back nearly 30 years, and I appreciate the opportunity to join you in marking the first decade of the James A. Baker Institute.
I didn't have the privilege of knowing the earlier Texans named James A. Baker, but I know the great respect they had in this community, and I know the pride they would feel in the achievements of my friend, James A. Baker III. I was interested to learn that Jim's great-grandfather had a saying about how to live your life. He said, "Work hard, study hard -- stay out of politics." (Laughter.) Jim did all right on the first two, but he tripped up on the third. I'm glad he did, because it was in politics that our paths first crossed, and it was in public life that the many gifts of this man were put to their highest use.
In his memoir, Jim tells a story about our early dealings, back in the 1970s, when I was White House Chief of Staff and Jim was at the Commerce Department. This was before Jim Baker had mastered all the ways of Washington. Early during the 1976 election campaign, Jim was at a private gathering in Oklahoma and somebody inquired whether Henry Kissinger would be asked to stay on as Secretary of State if President Ford won that year's election and won a second term. Jim said, no, Kissinger would probably be moved along. Unfortunately, there was a reporter in the room, and the story ended up on the wires. Secretary Kissinger was very surprised -- (laughter) -- to see the Under Secretary of Commerce commenting on the end of his career as Secretary of State. (Laughter.) So as Chief of Staff, I had to have a little talk with Jim. He was very apologetic, but I told him not to worry -- all he had to do was pick up the telephone and set everything right with Henry. (Laughter.)
I'm sure Jim counts that experience as a fine lesson in diplomacy. (Laughter.) Looking at Jim's career, that's about the closest thing you'll find to a misstep. Within five years, he had my job -- and in eight years, he had Henry's job. (Laughter.) This is a man who was Chief of Staff on day one of the Reagan years, and Chief of Staff 12 years later on the last day of former President Bush's administration. In between, he led the Treasury Department, oversaw two landslide victories in presidential politics, and served as our nation's 61st Secretary of State during a period of truly momentous change.
During Jim's years at the State Department, the world saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Persian Gulf War, and a crisis in Panama. These were the busiest of times for America's chief diplomat, and they were pretty busy for me, as well, over at the Pentagon. Every person who sat at the Cabinet table during those years will tell you that Jim Baker commanded the utmost respect for the work he did, for the intellect he brought to bear on every issue, and for the example he set for all of us every day. In times when others get rattled, Jim is always calm. In politics and in government, his instincts are superb. He could read any situation, and handle it with confidence and skill and with character and wit.
Jim and I have always spent time together on the trails of Wyoming, and on ranches here in Texas. He knows how to handle a shotgun and a fly rod, and around the campsite, as he's already explained, he's handy with a dish rag. In all the hours we've spent together over the decades, my respect and appreciation for Jim has only increased. There is a certain kind of man you only encounter a few times in life -- what I call a hundred-percenter: a person of ability, judgment, and absolute integrity. My own career has brought many opportunities, and there's none that I prize more than being in the company of a man like James A. Baker of Houston, Texas. (Applause.)
The Baker Institute was founded to bring voices of experience and learning into the discussion about American foreign policy and national security. After the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War, some wondered what the great, defining challenges would be for this generation of leaders. Two years after the attacks of September 11th, few can doubt now what those challenges are. The events of 9/11 changed everything for this country. We're fighting a war against terror -- a war requiring critical choices already made, and new choices still before us.
On 9/11 we came to recognize our vulnerability to the threats of a new era. We saw the harm that 19 evil men could do, armed with little more than airline tickets and box cutters and driven by a philosophy of hatred. We lost some 3,000 innocent lives that morning, in scarcely two hours' time.
Since 9/11, we have learned much about these enemies and what they intend for us. One member of al Qaeda said 9/11 was the "beginning of the end of America." And we know to a certainty that terrorists are doing everything they can to gain ever deadlier means for striking us. From the training manuals we found in the caves of Afghanistan, to the interrogations of terrorists that we've captured, we've learned of their ambitions to develop or acquire chemical, nuclear or biological weapons. And if terrorists ever do acquire that capability -- on their own or with the help from a terrorist regime -- they will use it without the slightest constraint of reason or morality. Instead of losing thousands of lives, we might lose tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives in a single day of horror. Remembering what we saw on the morning of 9/11, and knowing the nature of these enemies, we have as clear a responsibility as could ever fall to government: we must do everything in our power to keep terrorists from ever acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
This great and urgent responsibility has required a shift in our national security policy. The strategy of deterrence, which served us for the decades of the Cold War, will no longer do. Our terrorist enemy has no country to defend, no assets to hold at risk in order to discourage an attack upon the United States. Strategies of containment will not assure our security, either. There is no containing terrorists who will commit suicide for the purposes of mass murder. There is also no containing a terror state that secretly passes along deadly weapons to a terrorist network. There is only one way to protect ourselves against catastrophic terrorist violence, and that is to destroy the terrorists before they can launch further attacks against the United States.
For many years prior to 9/11, it was the terrorists who were on the offensive. We treated their repeated attacks against Americans as isolated incidents, and answered -- if at all -- on an ad hoc basis, and never in a systematic way. From the attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, to the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 -- and many others in between -- there was a tendency to treat incidents like these as individual criminal acts, to be handled primarily through law enforcement. Ramzi Yousef, who perpetrated the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, is a case in point. The U.S. government tracked him down, arrested him, got a conviction. After he was sent off to serve a 240 year sentence, some might thought, "case closed." But the case was not closed.
The leads were not successfully followed, the dots were not adequately connected, the threat was not recognized for what it was. For al Qaeda, the World Trade Center attack of 1993 was the first attack on the continental United States. For us, that war started on 9/11. For them, it started years ago, when Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States. In 1996, Khalid Shaykh Muhammed, the mastermind of 9/11 -- and the uncle of Ramzi Yousef -- first proposed to bin Laden that they use hijacked airliners to attack targets in the U.S. And during this same period, thousands of terrorists were trained at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.
Since September 11th, the terrorists have continued their attacks in Riyadh, Casablanca, Mombassa, Bali, Jakarta, Najaf and Baghdad.
Against that kind of determined, organized, ruthless enemy, America requires a new strategy -- not merely to prosecute a series of crimes, but to conduct a global campaign against the terror network. That strategy requires several key elements. We've strengthened our defenses here at home, organizing the government to protect the homeland. But a good defense is not enough. We are also going after the terrorists wherever they plot and plan. Of those known to be directly involved in organizing the attacks of 9/11, most are now in custody or confirmed dead. The leadership of al Qaeda has sustained heavy losses, and they will sustain more.
We also are dismantling the financial networks that support terror -- a vital step never before taken. The hidden bank accounts, the front groups, the phony charities are being discovered and their assets seized to starve the terrorists of the money that makes it possible for them to operate.
Our government is also working closely with intelligence services all over the globe, including those of governments not traditionally considered friends of the United States.
And we are applying the Bush doctrine: Any person or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit of the murder of the innocent, and will be held to account. The first to see this doctrine in action were the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan by violence while turning that country into a training camp for terrorists. With allies at our side, we took down the regime and shut down the al Qaeda camps. Our work there tonight continues -- confronting Taliban and al Qaeda remnants, training a new Afghan army, providing security as the new government takes shape. Under President Karzai's leadership, and with the help of the coalition, the Afghan people are building a decent and just society, and a nation fully joined in the war on terror.
In Iraq, we took another essential step in the war on terror. The United States and our allies rid the Iraqi people of a murderous dictator, and rid the world of a menace to future peace and security. Saddam Hussein had a lengthy history of reckless and sudden aggression. He cultivated ties to terror -- hosting the Abu Nidal organization, supporting terrorists, and making payments to the families of suicide bombers. He also had an established relationship with al Qaeda -- providing training to al Qaeda members in areas of poisons, gases and conventional bombs. He built, possessed, and used weapons of mass destruction. And he refused or evaded all international demands to account for those weapons.
Twelve years of diplomacy, more than a dozen Security Council resolutions, hundreds of U.N. weapons inspectors, thousands of flights to enforce the no-fly zones, and even strikes against military targets in Iraq -- all of these measures were tried to compel Saddam Hussein's compliance with the terms of the '91 Gulf War cease-fire. All of these measures failed.
Last fall, the United States Congress voted overwhelmingly to authorize the use of force in Iraq -- and the U.N. Security Council passed a unanimous resolution finding Iraq in material breach of its obligations, and vowing serious consequences in the event Saddam Hussein did not fully and immediately comply. When Saddam Hussein failed then even to comply, our coalition acted to deliver those serious consequences. In that effort, the American military acted with speed and precision and skill. And once again, our men and women in uniform have served with honor, reflecting great credit on themselves, and on the United States of America. (Applause.)
In Afghanistan, in Iraq, and on every front in the war on terror, the United States has cooperated with friends and allies, and with others who recognize the common threat we face. More than 50 countries are contributing to peace and stability in Iraq today -- including most of the world's major democracies. And an equal number are with us in Afghanistan. The United States is committed to multilateral action wherever possible. Just this week we achieved another unanimous vote on another U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq. Yet, this commitment must not require us to stop everything, and neglect our own defense, merely on the say-so of a single foreign government. Ultimately, America must be in charge of her own national security. (Applause.)
This is the debate before the American people, and it is of more than academic interest. It comes down to a choice between action that assures our security, and inaction that allows dangers to grow. And we can see the consequences of these choices in real events. The contrast is greatest on the ground in Iraq. Had the United States been constrained by the objections of some, the regime of Saddam Hussein would still rule Iraq, his statues would still stand, and his sons would still run the secret police. Dissidents would still be in prison, and the apparatus of torture would still be in place, and the mass graves would be undiscovered.
Those who declined to support the liberation of Iraq would not deny the evil of Saddam Hussein and his regime. They must concede, however, had their advice been followed, that regime would rule Iraq today.
President Bush declined the course of inaction, and the results are there for all to see. The torture chambers are empty, the prisons for children are closed, the murderers of innocents have been exposed, and their mass graves have been uncovered. The regime is gone, never to return -- and despite difficulties we knew would occur, the Iraqi people prefer liberty and hope to tyranny and fear. Our coalition is helping them to build a secure, hopeful, and self-governing nation that will stand as an example of freedom to all the Middle East. We are rebuilding more than a thousand schools, supplying and reopening hospitals, rehabilitating power plants, water and sanitation facilities, bridges and airports. We are training Iraqi police, border guards and a new army, so that the Iraqi people can assume full responsibility for their own security. Iraq now has its own Governing Council; has appointed interim government ministers; and is moving toward the drafting of a new constitution, and toward free elections.
The contrast of visions is evident as well throughout the region. Had we followed the counsel of inaction, the Iraqi regime would still be a menace to its neighbors, still be a destabilizing force in the Middle East. Today, because we acted, Iraq stands to be a force for good in the Middle East.
In that region and beyond, we will continue to encourage the advance of free markets, democracy, and tolerance -- because these are the ideals and aspirations that overcome violence, and turn societies to the pursuit of peace. Already there are signs of progress outside Iraq -- from the recent announcement that the Saudis will hold municipal elections, to education reforms in Qatar, which give more choices to parents, to the acceleration of Jordan's market economic reforms, and to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize for the first time to an Iranian -- a Muslim woman who speaks out with courage for human rights, for democracy and for peace. (Applause.)
I believe the current debate over America's national security policy is the most consequential since the early days of the Cold War and the emergence of a bipartisan commitment to face the evils of communism. All of us now look back with respect and gratitude on the great decisions that set America on the path to victory in the Cold War -- and kept us on that path through the tenures of 12 Secretaries of State, including Jim Baker, and through nine presidencies. I believe that one day scholars and historians will look back on our time and pay tribute to our 43rd President, who has both called upon and exemplified the courage and perseverance of the American people. In this period of extraordinary danger, the President has made clear America's purpose in the world, and our determination to overcome the threats to our liberty and our lives.
Sometimes history presents clear and stark choices, and we have come to such a moment. Those who bear the responsibility for making those choices for America must understand that while action will always carry costs, measured in effort and in sacrifice, inaction carries heavier costs of its own. As in the years of the Cold War, much is asked of us and rides on our actions. A watching world is depending on the United States of America. Only America has the might and the will to lead the world through a time of peril, toward greater security and peace. And as we've done before, we accept the great mission that history has given us.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 8:25 P.M. CDT
Richard B. Cheney, Remarks by the Vice President at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy in Houston, Texas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/280944