Bill Richardson photo

Speech: Pakistan and American Values

December 28, 2007

Yesterday we were all reminded that we live in a dangerous and violent world.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a tragedy. For her family. For her country. And for people all over the world who love peace and freedom.

Benazir Bhutto devoted her life to bringing democracy to the people of Pakistan. People who have known far too much of tyranny and violence and far too little of liberty.

She could have chosen to live a life of comfort in exile. But instead, she risked her life for the things that she believed in. The principles of democracy. The dignity of human beings.

These were her ideals. These are our ideals.

I've represented America around the world. In refugee camps. In prisons run by dictators. In the midst of civil wars. And I have learned that people are often sustained and moved by little more than an unshakeable belief in these ideals.

Benazir Bhutto's assassins were taking aim at democracy. They have taken sides against the global struggle for human rights.

America itself is challenged by this horrible tragedy. A question is put before us. It is a question that is asked us every day, with greater and greater urgency.

That question is: what will our nation stand for?

Even as we mourn the death of one voice for freedom ... we must answer clearly and forcefully the question of America's role in a dangerous world.

We must answer. For though America under Bush has lost its way as the leader of the world - billions of people still yearn for our basic principles:



Human dignity.

These are the values that America must stand for.

These are the values that I will fight for as President.

Some say standing for such principles ... weakens us. They say that we cannot fight evil without sacrificing our core beliefs.

They are wrong.

If we have learned anything over the last 7 years -- it is that when America fails to live up to its own ideals, we are weaker, not stronger, as a result.

When we live our democratic principles, as we have in the past, we are stronger. We are stronger at home. We are stronger abroad. And our strength makes us safer.

But history has taught us that we are only as strong as our leaders are willing to be when faced with the politics of expediency, when they choose power over principle, tyranny over freedom.

I pledge to you today, with all my being and with all my resolve I will never compromise our nation or show weakness in the face of tyranny.

America must always lead in the name of freedom and we should never allow our nation to perpetuate dictatorships or provide support to tyrants to oppress their people.

These policies not only betray our values, they make us weaker and less safe ... turning whole populations against us. We are at our strongest when we stand for principle over power.

Yesterday, I called for President Musharraf to step down.

Today, as a nation I am calling on the administration to stand firm for our ideals in the face of terrorism and in respect for the ideals Bhutto stood for.

Anything less would send a dangerous signal to the world that terrorism alters our resolve.

We must learn that when our policies and our actions conflict with the democratic goals of a nation, of their own people, we fail.

The world looks to America for leadership.

But the Bush Administration has failed to build a foreign policy worthy of our ideals. Instead, Mr. Bush has given us Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, secret prisons, wiretapping, and torture. Our moral leadership around the world has been tarnished.

And make no mistake: This administration is losing the war on terrorism.

Yesterday's assassination tells us this. The resurgence of Al Qaeda and the Taliban -- especially along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border -- tell us this. Our continuing presence in Iraq tells us this.

Bush's foreign policy has failed ... but not for lack of opportunity to make it better.

When Musharraf declared martial law, we could have stood up. But we did not.

When he suspended the Constitution, we could have stood up. But we did not.

Now after yesterday's terrible murder ... the United States must stand up.

President Bush should immediately suspend non-terrorism related military aid to Pakistan until President Musharraf resigns.

Not one penny more ... until Musharraf is gone and the rule of law is restored.

Months ago, when the constitutional crisis erupted ... I said that we must stand with the Pakistani people. That we must use our military aid as leverage to force elections. Instead, Bush chose to continue to support the dictator ... and the terror went on unabated.

Pakistan is a state with nuclear weapons, and our current policies are pushing it in the wrong direction.

We have subsidized oppression for too long ... and the costs have not only been paid in dollars. We have paid with our security. We have paid with the safety of American lives.

Some of my Democratic opponents have misplaced faith in Musharraf. Like the Bush Administration, they cling to a misguided notion that Musharraf can be trusted as an ally to fight terrorism or to change his despotic ways.

Despite their faith, Musharraf has thumbed his nose at America again and again. How many times does the Washington conventional wisdom need to be proven tragically wrong ... before Washington insiders give up on it?

Musharraf must step aside now ... and allow a technocratic caretaker government to lead the country until free and fair elections are held. And those elections should be held very soon.

Some say there are risks to Musharraf stepping down. But the risks are greater if he does not.

His inadequate attempts to disrupt terrorist activities on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan ... have only encouraged tribal leaders to cooperate with the Taliban.

Indeed, the border area has been turned into a safe haven for terrorists.

And though some stoke the fears of an Islamist takeover of Pakistan ... the reality is that the vast majority of Pakistanis will vote for the mainstream democratic parties -- as they always have in the past.

Currently, polls show that only fifteen percent of Pakistanis would vote for the Islamist parties. But if we continue to support tyranny in Pakistan ... that number will only grow -- a lesson brought home to us all too painfully by yesterday's violence.

Musharraf's narrow political base plays into the hands of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Only a broadly-based, democratically-elected government will be able to wage what Musharraf promised, but did not deliver -- an effective war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

President Bush faced a choice with Pakistan -- he needed to choose whether to support the dictator or the Pakistani people. He chose the dictator. Repeatedly. And by doing so, he has let down both the American and the Pakistani people.

We cannot afford another President who is a foreign policy novice. We cannot afford another President who takes the easiest path ... rather than the right path. A President who makes wrong choices, because he doesn't know how to make the hard but right choices.

The next President must be a leader who has been tested.

In the course of this campaign, all the candidates were asked whether there were times when we should put human rights before our security. That question is a symptom of the thinking that is leading us astray. It is a false choice.

Our principles are the backbone of our security. They give us direction. They bring us allies. They make us strong. Some of us have always known that.

Nearly ten years ago, Al Qaeda first attacked America in East Africa. Months before that attack, I went to Afghanistan to press the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden. They refused. So we imposed tough UN sanctions on them, and began building a coalition to keep America safe.

After my trip to Afghanistan, bin Laden put out a threat on my life, but I knew that we were doing the right thing.

Unfortunately, President Bush reversed course. Until 9-11, he ignored the many experts who warned him that Al Qaeda was planning to attack us at home. And then, after the Afghanistan campaign, he took his eye off the ball again. He squandered our resources and international support by conducting a disastrous war of choice in Iraq.

Because of his inexperience, he listened to the ideologues.

That war has diverted critical intelligence and military resources from the fight against Al Qaeda and terrorism. We let up the pressure and Al Qaeda recovered.

So the result today is an Al Qaeda which is more diffuse and more deadly than ever. Our intelligence services say it is headquartered in Pakistan, along the Afghanistan border, and that it is planning and training to attack America at home again.

We need to address the threat of international terrorism with the focus it deserves.

The war against Al Qaeda is a tough military fight, but that it is more than just a military fight. It is also a fight for the hearts and minds of the world's Muslims. And Bush's botched occupation of Iraq has played right into the hands of the Jihadists -- bolstering their propaganda that the US wants to kill Muslims, and that we invaded Iraq so that we could control the Muslim world's oil.

Never has America been as unpopular as it is today. In Iraq, and in many other Muslim countries, polls show that our credibility has plummeted.

As a direct result of the President's poor choices, large majorities of Muslims now say they distrust America. Such sentiment facilitates Jihadist recruitment and boosts their popular support.

And to hear the Republican candidates for President ... they would continue this nation on a truly dangerous path. They fail to recognize that the enduring power rests not just in our military strength -- but in our ideals.

We must win the war of ideas with Al Qaeda. The people of the world will embrace us if we return to an American foreign policy based not only upon our power, but also upon our values.

I will close Guantanamo and all secret prisons.

We will again honor the Geneva conventions and we will require other nations to honor the treaty in protecting our soldiers.

When I am President, I will put an end to torture. And there will be investigations. We will find out who was responsible for the torture that America has engaged in, and they will be prosecuted.

No one will be above the law. NO ONE.

We will lead the world once again as a champion of democracy and human rights. We will care about places like Darfur. We will lead the people of the world to stop the genocide there. We will not turn a blind eye to human suffering.

We will again lead the fight against disease and poverty across the planet.

America is better than the Bush-Cheney administration. To win the war against Al Qaeda ... we must return to our proud traditions.

To defeat Al Qaeda, we must get our troops out of Iraq and reinforce our presence along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. We must enhance our commitment -- military, political and economic -- to Afghanistan. To finally defeating the murderers who attacked this country on 9-11.

Defeating the resurgent Taliban will require a significant increase in NATO forces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. And that will require restored American credibility and skillful American leadership.

Americans deserve to know today ... what the candidates' plans are -- not the day one of us is inaugurated.

I have been clear.

I believe our obsession with Iraq undermines our ability to fight the real terrorists. We must get all our troops out of Iraq and as quickly and responsibly as possible. Only then, will we have the resources and credibility to destroy the organization that attacked us on 9/11.

I have also been more specific than my colleagues about Afghanistan. I am calling for five additional brigades to be deployed to Afghanistan. That's 20,000 troops.

Two brigades should be sent to the border to stop terrorists from infiltrating Afghanistan through the Pakistani border. I would send two brigades to the south to fight a resurgent Taliban there. And one brigade should redeploy to the west to deter Iran from any thoughts of expansionism.

We also need a civilian surge in war against terrorism. The military cannot and should not shoulder the entire burden of our foreign policy -- the whole government must pitch in. That means activating engineers, diplomats, and other essential professionals to contribute to the broader effort.

We cannot win the war against Al Qaeda alone. It is urgent that we rebuild our alliances, so that we can once again lead other nations. Trust is critical to getting allies to work with us in the secret world of counter terrorism and in the open world of public diplomacy. This administration has driven away our allies with swagger and saber rattling. I will rebuild our alliances by making common cause with partners who share our values and interests.

The people of the world are thirsty for America to once again stand for the great ideals of human history.

Americans want our global leadership to be worthy of the principles, values, and traditions we have inherited.

Our people do not lack the courage to stand for a foreign policy that is both strong and decent.

What the American people ARE missing ... what our country DOES desperately need ... is a leader who has been tested. A President who has been there, and who knows what the real choices are and how to make them. A President who has the experience to lead in dangerous times.

We need a President who recognizes that this is not the time for consultants and political calculation. A President cannot decide what is right by taking a poll.

We need someone who is true to America's optimistic spirit. Anger, bickering, mistrust ... should not define our nation. We need to stand united once again: clear about who we are and what we need to do to meet the serious challenges we face.

And so today, in the wake of tragedy, I see hope. I see a new way forward for American leadership in the world.

And I offer not perfection, not some set of consultant-driven sound bites. I offer authentic leadership. I have been tested.

I have represented America all over the world. I have delivered for my country -- from bringing hostages home to negotiating ceasefires to protecting us from nuclear terrorism.

The American people should not settle for untested leadership. And I will not settle for global leadership unworthy of the American people.

In negotiating with the worst the world has to offer, I have come to understand what is best in humanity.

And today, I ask you to join my fight for what's best about America, and what's best about our world.

I ask you to stand for me at the caucuses. I ask you to stand for a new foreign policy and for someone with the experience to make it happen.

Thank you.

Bill Richardson, Speech: Pakistan and American Values Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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