Richard B. Cheney photo

The Vice President's Remarks at 2003 Air Force Convention

September 17, 2003

Marriott Ballroom, Marriott Wardman Park Hotel

Washington, D.C.

10:53 A.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you all for that welcome. And thank you very much, Jim. It's a privilege to be here today to address such a distinguished group of leaders and air and space enthusiasts. I'm also delighted today to spend a little time with my old friend General John Jumper. John was my senior military assistant many years ago when I was Secretary of Defense, and he was one-star. And he claims credit for teaching everything I know, and he's right. (Laughter).

But it's delighted - a pleasure for me to be back with so many people committed to the Air Force and all that you've meant to our nation. I'm also pleased today to have the opportunity to spend some time with the representatives of so many nations who've been deeply involved in the global war on terror. I want to welcome all of you to Washington.

I also want to commend the Air Force Association for the tremendous role that you've played in advocating air and space power for the nation. Tomorrow is the Air Force's 56th birthday, and its role in defending the peace and defeating our adversaries has never been more important than it is today.

Six days ago, America commemorated the second anniversary of the September 11th attack on our country - a watershed event in American history. The fires of September 11th signaled the start of a new war - and the lessons of September 11th have a profound effect on the way the United States is fighting that war.

I think it's accurate to say, for all Americans, the weeks and months since 9/11 have been dominated by that event. It's certainly had a huge impact on all of us working in the administration. 9/11 demonstrated how vulnerable we are as a nation - how it was possible for terrorists to take advantage of our open borders and open society and use them against us. We saw that it was relatively easy for a small number of terrorists to launch an attack and kill some 3,000 Americans in a couple of hours in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania.

We also began to understand, particularly from the evidence that we uncovered in Afghanistan, that our enemies are determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. And we have every reason to believe that if they succeed, they will use them, launching attacks far more deadly than anything we've ever experienced.

To counter these threats, we have been forced to think anew about how we defend our country, and about what constitutes a viable National Security Strategy for the nation. We've come to realize that if we are to protect the American people against determined enemies, we cannot rely upon the old Cold War remedies. The kind of strategy we used against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, where we put at risk those things they valued in order to deter them from ever launching an attack against the United States, simply will not work where terrorists are concerned. There is nothing they value highly enough that we can put at risk to keep them from launching an attack against the United States. So no treaty or arms control agreement or strategy of deterrence will end this conflict. This is a new kind of war, against a new kind of enemy. We must fight this war on many fronts. And we must not relent until we prevail.

We are working aggressively to toughen our defenses here at home. We've created the Department of Homeland Security - the largest reorganization of the federal government in over 50 years - and we've taken other unprecedented measures to make America a tougher target.

But we know that a good defense is not enough. The problem with terrorist organizations is that even if you build defenses that are 99 percent successful, the 1 percent that gets through can still kill you. We need a strategy that puts us on the offense, that lets us go after those who pose a threat to the United States or our friends and allies - a strategy that allows us to destroy the terrorists before they can launch attacks against us. We cannot wait to act until after another day like 9/11, or a day far worse. And a good part of our new strategy is based upon the President's determination to change the way we think about states that sponsor terror.

Prior to 9/11, too many nations tended to draw a distinction between terrorist groups and the states that provided these groups with support, sanctuary and safe harbor. They were unwilling to hold these terror-sponsoring states accountable for their actions.

After 9/11, President Bush decided that the distinction between the terrorists and their sponsors could no longer be permitted to stand. The Bush doctrine makes clear that those states that support terrorists, or provide sanctuary for terrorists, are just as guilty as the terrorists themselves of the acts they commit. So in addition to going after the terrorists, we are also taking on states that sponsor terror.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban regime harbored al Qaeda and brutalized an entire population. That regime is no more. In Iraq, where a vicious dictator built, possessed and used weapons of mass destruction, supported terrorists, and defied the clear demands of the U.N. Security Council for 12 years, the United States launched one of the most extraordinary military campaigns in history. And that regime is no more. (Applause.)

Some people - both in this nation and abroad - have questions about that strategy. They suggest that somehow it's wrong for us to strike before an enemy strikes us. But as President Bush said, "If the threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations, would come too late." Make no mistake: President Bush is acting to protect the American people against further attacks, even when that means moving aggressively against would-be attackers.

So the war on terror continues. It's a war being fought all around the globe - witness the attacks that have already occurred in New York and Washington, but also in Bali, Mombassa, Riyadh, Casablanca, Jakarta, Jerusalem, Bombay, Baghdad and Najaf. It's a war that involves not just the United States - but all of the nations of the civilized world. And it is a war that will continue well into the foreseeable future.

In this global war on terror, U.S. and allied forces are heavily engaged when and where they need to be, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. We will stay in Afghanistan and Iraq to make absolutely certain the job is done before we move on.

Our military is confronting the terrorists, along with our allies, in Iraq and Afghanistan so that innocent civilians will not have to confront terrorist violence in Washington or London or anywhere else in the world.

We are working with the people of Iraq to create a free, functioning and prosperous society - and we're making progress. Most of Iraq today is relatively stable and quiet. There are still on-going incidents, attacks on coalition forces and on others, either from remnants of the old regime or from terrorists, many of whom were in Iraq before the war, and some of whom have arrived since the conclusion of major combat operations. There are two main sources of terror that coalition forces must deal with, and we are. We have already captured or killed 42 of the 55 most wanted former Iraqi leaders, and with the growing number of tips we're receiving from the Iraqi people themselves, it's only a matter of time until we get the rest of them. According to General Abizaid, the actual number of daily incidents this month is significantly below what it was last month, and we're determined to make sure those numbers keep going in the right direction.

We're also working very aggressively to restore sovereignty and authority to the Iraqi people. We have created a 25-person Governing Council, made up of representatives of Iraq's diverse ethnic groups. Iraqis are now in charge of each ministry in the government. Over 90 percent of the cities and towns and villages of Iraq are now governed by local councils. Iraq's schools are open; Iraq's hospitals are functioning. We're making major progress in restoring electricity. We're rebuilding the oil system and the infrastructure of the country. In the months ahead, the Iraqis will draft a new constitution, for themselves, and when this constitution has been ratified by the Iraqi people, they will enjoy free and fair elections. Then the coalition will yield its remaining authority to a sovereign Iraqi government. (Applause.)

The United States is not acting alone in Iraq. Thirty countries have contributed more than 20,000 troops to help maintain security. And it's important to remember that the second largest security contingent in Iraq today -- right behind the United States -- consists of some 55,000 Iraqis who have now been recruited and are being trained and serving as civil defense forces, in the police force, and as border guards. We are asking other countries to help build a free Iraq, as well. And we're working with the United Nations on a new Security Council resolution authorizing the creation of additional multinational forces in Iraq. Today, Iraq has become a central front in the war on terror, and every civilized nation has a vital stake in Iraq's successful transition to what the terrorists hate and fear most: a free society that respects human dignity and upholds human rights, and that can inspire change and hope throughout the Middle East.

The war on terror is not without sacrifice. Nearly 400 of our troops have already given their lives during this war since 9/11. And our allies, obviously, have also suffered casualties. But Americans will never forget that we lost some 3,000 of our fellow citizens right here at home on 9/11. We will be much more secure if we aggressively go after the terrorists - and after the nations and the mechanisms that support them - than if we lay back and wait for them to strike us again here in the United States.

In the battles of Iraq and Afghanistan and in other fronts in the war on terror, America's Air Force has played a crucial role, and it will continue to play a crucial role in the battles to come. The Air Force's global reach enables us to project our power anywhere in the world within a matter of hours. Its new tactics and precision weapons help us achieve our military objectives while minimizing collateral damage. It provides umbrella coverage for the defense of our homeland. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, advances in radar technology, demonstrated by Joint Stars, enabled us to carry on offensive operations even in the midst of a major dust storm. More than 40 Air Force satellites provided precise surveillance and navigation information to coalition forces. And close coordination between ground and air operations was, indeed, a major factor in our victory. As a former Secretary of Defense, I have never been more proud of the men and women of the United States Air Force. We owe them a great deal. (Applause.)

We also owe our allies in Operation Iraqi Freedom a great deal. Coalition partners were instrumental in shaping the conduct of air operations during the war. British and Australian planners helped devise a strategy and process for going after Iraqi SCUDs -- and this same process was adopted as the heart of our overall time-sensitive targeting process used with devastating success throughout Iraq.

Today, our allies continue to play a key role in the war on terror. The United States is part of a worldwide coalition that is taking terrorists into custody, freezing terrorist assets, and providing military forces and other support when necessary. We're making steady progress. Many of the senior al-Qaeda leaders involved in planning or carrying out 9/11 have been either captured or killed. More than 1,400 terrorist accounts around the world have been frozen or seized, and terrorist networks have lost access to some $200 million. Most recently, we captured a major terrorist known as Hambali, who was a close associate of the September 11th mastermind, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, suspected of planning the attack in Bali, and other attacks of terror.

The work goes on. The United States is grateful for the fine allies and tremendous friends who have joined this effort. It is a struggle against evil -- against an enemy that rejoices in the murder of innocent, unsuspecting human beings. That is why people in every part of the world, and of all faiths, stand together against this foe. That is why we will continue to stop the terrorists in their plotting and training, and bring them to justice. And that is why we can settle for nothing less than total victory. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 11:10 A.M. EDT

Richard B. Cheney, The Vice President's Remarks at 2003 Air Force Convention Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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