Bill Richardson photo

Speech in Coralville, Iowa: The Difference

December 29, 2007

Just a few days from now, Iowans like you will make a very important choice. You will not just be standing up for a nominee. You will be standing up for what you believe America's role in the world should be.

Just two days ago we were given a stark and terrible reminder of why real foreign policy experience matters when choosing a President. When terrorists killed Benazir Bhutto on Thursday, they sent a message to the world -- that those who treasure and fight for democracy do so at great risk. It also reminds us that the world looks to America and depends on our leadership and our powerful positive influence. We must move swiftly and strongly in support of democracy and insist on elections and a coordinated effort to track and defeat terrorists in Pakistan and wherever they operate.

Over the last eleven months, I've been able to share with Iowans what I've been fighting for my entire life: an American foreign policy based on American principles.



Human dignity.

These are the values that every American has inherited.

And today, I want to tell you how we can be worthy of them.

Americans are a generous people, and a courageous people. We rescued Europe from fascism, and generations from despair. Our farms have been the breadbasket to the world ... and our scientists have saved millions of lives through discoveries like antibiotics and the polio vaccine. And we are the nation that lit the fire of human freedom.

The world looks to America for leadership.

But the Bush Administration has failed to live up to our unmatched record of human achievement. Many of the fights that America used to lead are now being lost.

The first task we will have to handle in rebuilding our global leadership and our foreign policy ... is to end the war in Iraq.

George Bush's failed policies have sapped our moral leadership around the world. He has sullied America's good name. He's broken the backbone of our strength.

But all the blame doesn't belong at the feet of the President. Washington itself is broken. Congress, which was elected to end this war ... has not done so. They have not merely failed our party ... they have failed our country. And they have failed the brave men and women in Iraq ... who deserve to come home.

Americans -- whether they reside in red, blue, or purple states -- have lost faith in this government. Too many lies were told about Iraq. There were too many flawed plans and too much ineptitude in their execution.

Bush and Cheney failed to understand that American leadership in the world requires the faith and the backing of the American people here at home.

The Commander-in-Chief is our voice in world, and must represent our entire nation ... not a narrow set of ideologues from one political party.

And the Congress has abetted this failure.

It's a failure that cannot stand.

There is a choice.

The differences I have with my opponents in this race are not personal. I refuse to engage in negative character attacks. But there is a profound difference on the war in Iraq.

In a recent debate, Senators Clinton, Obama, and Edwards were asked to pledge to have all our troops out by 2013. 2013. They would not do so. I have made that pledge. In fact, I will get them all out in a year.

2013 is over five years from now. If we still have troops in Iraq in 2013, the Iraqis won't think the war is over. And neither will the American people.

Five more years of our brave troops being killed and wounded. I won't allow it. Our troops have done a magnificent job.

The bottom line is this: my opponents believe in changing the mission. They wish to task our troops with new combat roles, new training roles, and new policing roles.

I see it differently. Changing the mission is not ending the war.

One year from now, I don't want to have to wake up and lower my state's flags for another New Mexican killed in Iraq.

Three years from now, I don't want to read in the morning newspaper about bombing attacks against Americans ... because our presence in Iraq continues to inflame the Muslim world.

Five years from now, I don't want to see kids who are eighth-graders today, patrolling and dying on the streets of Baghdad.

To everything, there is a season.

A time to keep silent ... and a time to speak.

A time for war ... and a time for peace.

Now is the time for peace.

Now is the time to stand up and be counted.

Our presence in Iraq is blocking reconciliation by the parties and fueling hatred of the United States around the world. We must face this fundamental reality: we are less safe staying in Iraq than we are leaving.

The US Military just conducted focus groups all over Iraq ... with Iraqi citizens of all stripes. And the Iraqis -- Kurds, Shia, and Sunnis -- agreed on two major things: the American military invasion is the principal reason for division in that country. And that in order for reconciliation and peace to take place ... American troops must leave.

Have we not learned that no matter how noble or how well-meaning ... our troops cannot secure a nation where they are not wanted.

That is one of the lessons of this war that many have not learned. As we move forward to restore American leadership ... we must learn from our mistakes in Iraq.

I fear that some of my opponents have not learned these lessons.

Those who foresee us staying in Iraq -- with even a small force -- for years to come have failed to learn that our very presence occupying a Muslim nation is undermining nearly every goal of our foreign policy.

Keeping troops in Iraq blocks our ability to build global coalitions to fight poverty, AIDS and disease. It undercuts our ability to lead this planet to a solution to the climate crisis.

And let me be clear: Leaving forces in Iraq severely hinders our ability to build coalitions to fight terrorism.

These are not the only lessons we must learn.

In confronting international problems, diplomacy must be our first resort ... and war must be our last.

And while international cooperation will not always succeed ... cowboy diplomacy will almost always fail.

Our foreign policy decisions must be based in reality, not ideology. We must never again allow politics to trump the hard work of our intelligence agencies.

Nor should foreign policy decisions be dictated by a Washington conventional wisdom that was wrong before, during, and after our invasion of Iraq.

Those who subscribe to the new Washington wisdom that we must leave our troops in Iraq indefinitely ... are getting it wrong again.

Only in Washington, would people suggest that leaving a smaller force behind could accomplish what a much larger force has not yet done. We have been down the road of an undermanned force before. And we paid the costs dearly. For the sake of our troops, we cannot make that mistake again.

A smaller force is the worst of both worlds. Not strong enough to stabilize Iraq. But large enough to block political reconciliation and remain a target in the middle of a civil war.

Before I discuss a new vision for a post-Iraq foreign policy, let me talk about the fears that we all have.

I know that many of you want to get the troops out ... but are worried about what will happen once we leave. Americans across Iowa and across the country share your concern. I share your concern.

So, let me address this directly.

First and foremost: the safety of our brave men and women in the field is our most important duty. We owe them more than we owe anyone.

Our troops have done a magnificent job. They have done all that has been asked of them, and more. It is long past time for the Iraqi factions themselves to take responsibility for bringing peace to their own country.

The Iraqi government has failed on almost every relevant measure ... to take advantage of the security we have provided.

Only when we leave will they lift themselves off the crutch of American military force. To those who say they will not do so, I say they must do so.

Does anyone honestly believe that it is America's job to fight the Iraqi civil war? Because I believe it is up to the Iraqis to put an end to their civil war.

And we won't just wave goodbye.

What Iraq needs now is not more troops, more guns, more fighting. What Iraq needs now is more money for its economy, for roads, for schools.

Iraq will not be rebuilt at the point of a gun. We need an international donors' conference to share the burden of stabilizing Iraq.

Security cannot be provided by American forces that have become targets. We are both ally and enemy of Iraqi factions. We have long known that two-thirds of Iraqis think it's ok shoot American troops. Indeed, there are 3,000 attacks on our brave men and women every month.

As I said before, according to new military intelligence ... most Iraqis, no matter what ethnic or sectarian group they're from, believe that the key to their national reconciliation is the departure of American troops. They consider us foreign occupiers.

We cannot rescue a country that does not want to be rescued. And if we persist in trying to do so, it will undermine our ability to turn the corner and once again be the conscience and the leader of the world.

What we can do is build a multinational peacekeeping force which will provide security in Iraq. I know the region -- I have negotiated with many of the leaders there. I faced down Saddam Hussein.

And after careful consideration, it is clear to me that a partition will not work. The United States must show resolve -- we need to be a tough but honest broker that brings the parties together -- but we do not want Iraq to disintegrate. The U.S. must lead the parties to a solution -- not impose one on them. The Iraqis don't want it. Historically, foreign-imposed solutions like a partition have ended in bloody failure. And by leaving our troops in Iraq, the fundamental problem will still be there.

We need to work with nations in the region -- we have common interests in avoiding a failed Iraq. Iraq's neighbors do not want instability on their borders. They do not want streams of Iraqi refugees destabilizing their own countries. But they will not work with us untilwe get our troops out of Iraq.

Only when we have put this disaster behind us, we can begin to restore our reputation and rebuild our capacity for global leadership.

Just look at what's happened in Basra, where the British pulled out all their forces. That area has seen a ninety percent reduction in violence. That is what we need to achieve across Iraq.

We need a "New Realism" in our foreign policy. A policy that sees the world as it really is, but is dedicated to making it a better place. In this complex, interdependent world, this means rejecting the simple-minded unilateralism of the Bush administration -- because it does not work. It means embracing American global leadership -- because it does.

In the 21st century, America can defend its national interest only by leading other nations to embrace thoughtful and global solutions. We need to blend our interests with theirs, as we seek common solutions to common problems.

We can meet urgent challenges. International terrorism. Nuclear proliferation. Climate change. Environmental degradation. Economic and political instability.

These are not just the problems of individual nations. They are the problems of an interdependent world.

Consider that more than a billion people survive on less than a dollar a day, and that nearly half of the world's 2 billion children live in poverty.

In my travels abroad, I have seen human desperation -- first hand. In the Sudan, I have been to camps filled with families who have lost every worldly possession.

I was on the ground in Turkey during a terrible earthquake, where I saw impoverished mothers on their knees, digging through rubble for their lost children.

We urgently need to find the courage and the will to once again lead the fight against global problems. Not only because we are a decent and compassionate people, but also because of this inescapable reality: America will never be safe in a world riddled by poverty, desperation, hatred and violence.

A hungry world will also hunger for scapegoats. A thirsty world will thirst for revenge. A world in crisis will be a world of anger and violence and terrorism.

And unless and until we have the wisdom and the skill to secure all the nuclear weapons and fissile material in the world ... that terrorism could result in unthinkable death and destruction.

I have travelled the world again and again, on many international delegations and personal missions. And it has been me -- the American -- from which the most has been asked.

And so it should be. The world expects much from America. And we must expect even more from ourselves.

Consider the menace of global warming.

The ice caps and glaciers are melting.

Sea levels are rising.

300 million human beings live less than fifteen feet above sea level. Unless we act now, homes, villages, cities, and entire nations will be submerged.

In America ... in a nation that has long fed the world...catastrophically rising temperatures threaten to decimate our farmland.

Here in Iowa, the foundation for an entire way of life could melt away.

We must lead the world in the development of clean, alternative energy. We must work with other governments and private business to make sure that new technologies are adopted worldwide.

Along the way to making New Mexico the Clean Energy State, I learned some lessons. The most important is that Americans are ready to act. All they need is a President who is ready to lead. Once you lead, you find allies in corners that you never knew existed. Businesses. Non-profits. Activists. Former enemies and future friends. We can build the first true global coalition since America united the world to defeat communism.

We must also strengthen and expand the international coalition fighting the rising threat of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. It is a war we are in danger of losing, and one we cannot afford to lose.

Our own National Intelligence Estimate tells us that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are resurgent. This has been the deadliest year for American forces in Afghanistan. Almost half the country is now too dangerous for aid workers to operate in.

We must redeploy five brigades -- twenty thousand troops -- to Afghanistan to hunt down terrorists and fight the Taliban. But we can only do it if we end the war in Iraq, which has stretched our forces to the limit.

To those who want to keep our troops in the middle of Iraq's civil war ... I say: it's finally time that we commit the forces to defeating those who actually attacked us on 9/11.

As we gather our strength to meet our many global challenges ... we must remember that preserving popularity is no recipe for inspiring a nation, let alone the world.

Now is not the time for polls or consultants or political calculation. Now is not the time for more division or on-the-job training. Now is the time for leadership that has been tes ted. My colleagues in this race have my respect, but it's a simple fact that the next international deal negotiated by any one of the frontrunners ... will be their first.

We cannot afford another President who thinks that stubbornness is strength. Consultation with friends, coordination with allies -- and negotiation with enemies -- is not weakness. It is what you need to do to get things done.

I ask all Americans to join me in making our nation once again ... the world's beacon of hope.

Together we need:

The compassion to commit the necessary resources.

The courage to stand fast in the face of inevitable setbacks.

The determination to put our troops first.

And the resolve to shunt aside the naysayers and the Washington conventional wisdom ... and simply do what we know is right.

If George Bush had listened to me when I entered this race, all of our troops would now be out of Iraq. And most of them would have spent this Christmas with their families.

Let's make absolutely sure that next Christmas ... all of them do.

If you caucus for me ... together ... we can make it happen.

Thank you.

Bill Richardson, Speech in Coralville, Iowa: The Difference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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