The Vice President's Remarks to the Heritage Foundation
10:42 A.M. CDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's quite a welcome. Well, thank you very much. Ed, I appreciate the introduction, and the opportunity to come speak with all of you today. You've chosen one of America's truly great cities for your meeting. I'm delighted to be in Chicago once again, to have the opportunity to speak about some important issues facing the country. I used to come to Chicago a lot, because our oldest daughter and her husband lived here while she went to law school at the University of Chicago, and I brought her back with me today. My daughter, Liz, is traveling with us today. (Applause.)
I've attended many Heritage events over the years. I've benefited greatly from the scholarly work that Heritage does. And one of the things I like about the Heritage Foundation is that it resides in the city of Washington, but it's not of the city of Washington. Rather, it reflects the wisdom, the traditions, and the common sense of the nation as a whole. For more than three decades, policy makers have looked to Heritage as a clear and an honest voice for the cause of freedom at home and abroad, limited government as envisioned by the Founders, and a healthy free enterprise system, and the value of personal responsibility.
The whole enterprise has been strengthened, of course, by the leadership of Dr. Ed Feulner. President Bush once observed that in Washington, presidents come and go -- except at the Heritage Foundation. (Laughter.) There's good reason for this. Ed is a man of ideas, energy, incredible talent; he's won the admiration of us all. I also want to recognize another "lifer" at Heritage, your vice president, Phil Truluck, and your trustee chairman, David Brown. It's a pleasure to be in their company once again. (Applause.)
My most recent visit to Heritage was last September, when David and Ed hosted a dinner honoring Lady Thatcher and naming the Thatcher Center. Since that time, a good many events have unfolded in the political world. The American people spoke in the mid-term elections, the 110th Congress has arrived in Washington, D.C., and for the first time since 1995 the Democratic Party now controls both the House and the Senate. It was, in retrospect, a narrow victory. A shift of only 3,600 votes would have kept the Senate in Republican hands, and a shift of fewer than 100,000 votes would have maintained Republican control of the House of Representatives.
This weekend marks the 100th day of this Congress, and it's not too soon to assess the direction in which the new majority is attempting to move the country. The Democrats, as all of us remember, came in with high expectations, many pledges to bring change, and a promise of something new. What we've seen, however, is not really that new -- in fact, it's kind of familiar to those of us who've been around a while and can remember the early 1970s.
Thirty-five years ago, the standard-bearer for the Democrats, of course, was Senator George McGovern, who campaigned on a far-left platform of heavy taxation, a greatly expanded role for government in the daily lives of Americans, and a major retreat from America's commitments in the Cold War. Senator McGovern was, and is, an honest and a straightforward man. He said what he believed and he told people where he stood. And on Election Day, Senator McGovern lost every state but one, and collected just over 3 percent of the electoral vote.
That was the last time the national Democratic Party took a hard left turn. But in 2007, it looks like history is repeating itself. Today, on some of the most critical issues facing the country, the new Democratic majority resembles nothing so much as that old Party of the early 1970s.
On taxes, the Democratic leadership has made clear its opposition to the Bush tax cuts that have fueled this economy and helped to create nearly 8 million new jobs. The budget passed by the House assumes that all of the Bush tax reductions will be swept from the books within just a few years. The result would be a staggering tax increase on the middle class, on families and small businesses, and a return of the federal death tax from zero back up to a confiscatory 55 percent. This would constitute the largest tax increase in American history.
On the spending side of the ledger, it's enough, I think, to offer this example: Last month, in response to President Bush's request for an emergency war supplemental, the House and Senate tacked on billions of dollars to cover items on their wish list -- from fighting crickets to spinach subsidies. Even though it's still early in the session, when it comes to the appetite for tax dollars, the new Congress has already earned a place in the big-spending hall of fame.
But the Democrats' return to old patterns is most dramatic, and most consequential, in the field of national security. This will be the focus of my remarks today. In the early 1970s, the far left wing turned the Democratic Party away from the confident Cold War stance of President Truman, President Kennedy, and Senator Scoop Jackson. The result, as we know, was not merely defeat at the polls, but the beginning of a long period in which the American people largely declined to trust the Democratic Party in matters of national security. In fact, that period ended only when the Cold War itself came to an end, during the administration of former President Gerald Bush -- George Bush.
Today, as the United States faces a new kind of enemy and a new kind of war, the far left is again taking hold of the Democratic Party's agenda. The prevailing mindset, combined with a series of ill-considered actions in the House and Senate over the last several months, causes me to wonder whether today's Democratic leaders fully appreciate the nature of the danger this country faces in the war on terror -- a war that was declared against us by jihadists, a war in which the United States went on offense after 9/11, a war whose central front, in the opinion and actions of the enemy, is Iraq.
An early sign of unseriousness was the comment by Howard Dean, now the party chairman, that the capture of Saddam Hussein did nothing to make America safer. He made that statement several years ago while running for president, and a number of his fellow Democrats sharply criticized him. Yet now we hear almost daily the claim that the fight in Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terror. Opponents of our military action there have called Iraq a diversion from the real conflict, a distraction from the business of fighting and defeating Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network. We hear this over and over again, not as an argument, but as an assertion meant to close off argument.
Yet the evidence is flatly to the contrary. And the critics conveniently disregard the words of bin Laden himself. "The most serious issue today for the whole world," he said, "is this third world war [that is] raging in [Iraq]." He calls it "a war of destiny between infidelity and Islam." He said, "The whole world is watching this war," and that it will end in "victory and glory or misery and humiliation." And in words directed at the American people, bin Laden declares, "The war is for you or for us to win. If we win it, it means your defeat and disgrace forever."
This leader of al-Qaeda has referred to Baghdad as the capital of the caliphate. He has also said, "Success in Baghdad will be success for the United States. Failure in Iraq is the failure of the United States. Their defeat in Iraq will mean defeat in all their wars."
Obviously, the terrorists have no illusion about the importance of the struggle in Iraq. They have not called it a distraction or a diversion from their war against the United States. They know it is a vital front in that war, and it's where they have chosen to make a stand. Our Marines are fighting al Qaeda terrorists in Anbar province. U.S. and Iraqi forces recently killed al Qaeda terrorists in Baghdad, who were responsible for numerous bomb attacks. Iraq's relevance to the war on terror simply could not be more plain. Here at home, that makes one thing, above all, very clear: If you support the war on terror, then it only makes sense to support it where the terrorists are fighting us. (Applause.)
The Democratic leadership has assured us that, in any event, they support the troops in the field. They did vote to confirm General Dave Petraeus unanimously in the United States Senate -- and for good reason. General Petraeus is one of the finest military officers of his generation, an expert in counterinsurgency, a leader committed to victory, and with a strategy to achieve it.
The senators knew something else about General Petraeus. They knew he had told the Armed Services Committee that he could not do his job without reinforcements. Yet within days of his confirmation a large group of senators tried to pass a resolution opposing those very reinforcements, thereby undermining the General's mission. Over in the House of Representatives, such a resolution actually passed on the floor. As President Bush said, this may be the first time in history that a Congress "voted to send a new commander into battle and then voted to oppose the plan he said was necessary to win that battle."
In the weeks since that vote, the actions of the Democratic leadership have moved from the merely inconsistent to the irresponsible. It's now been 67 days since the President submitted the emergency supplemental request. As most Americans know by now, the House of Representatives has voted to provide the funding, but also to require that we cut the number of troops below the level that our commanders in Iraq say is necessary for victory, and further require that American forces begin withdrawing from Iraq according to a set timetable, and be gone next year regardless of circumstances on the ground.
Not before that vote had the Democrats ever managed to find enough members of the House to support a planned retreat from Iraq. So how did they manage to pass it this time? They did it by horse-trading -- by adding in all that pork-barrel spending we've heard about. And when they had the votes they needed, they stopped adding the pork, and they held the vote.
Such an outcome raises more than a little concern about the future of fiscal discipline on Capitol Hill. The implications for national security are equally obvious, and far more critical to the future of the country. An editorial by The Washington Post aptly termed the House bill an "unconditional retreat ". The legislation that passed in the Senate is no better, and that bill, also, calls for the withdrawal of American troops according to a pre-set timetable determined by members of Congress.
So this is where things stand today. The Democratic Congress has approved appropriations for a war, and attached detailed provisions for the timing and the movement of American troops. It is unacceptable, of course, from an institutional standpoint. Under the Constitution, Congress has the purse strings and the power to confirm officers. But military operations are to be directed by the President of the United States, period. (Applause.) By the wisdom of the framers, that power rests in the hands of one Commander-in-Chief, not 535 commanders-in-chief on Capitol Hill.
I might add that we don't need 535 secretaries of state, either. (Laughter and applause.) It didn't help matters when the Speaker of the House showed up in Damascus for a sit-down with Syrian president Bashar Assad. Here again, we have an instance of the new congressional leadership making a bad move and sending mixed signals about the policies and the intentions of the United States.
It is strange enough that the Speaker should do anything to undermine America's careful, and successful, multilateral effort to isolate the Syrian regime. But at least one member of the Speaker's delegation saw the trip in even grander terms. He said the delegation was offering, quote, "an alternative Democratic foreign policy." Once again, we must return to a basic constitutional principle. No member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, has any business jetting around the world with a diplomatic agenda contrary to that of the President and the Secretary of State. It is for the executive branch, not the Congress, to conduct the foreign policy of the United States of America. (Applause.)
In America, above all, the Democrats -- excuse me, in Iraq, above all, the Democrats' attempt to micromanage our commanders is an unwise and perilous endeavor. It is impossible to argue that an unconditional timetable for retreat could serve the security interests of the United States or our friends in the region. Instead, it sends a message to our enemies that the calendar is their friend, that all they have to do is wait us out -- wait for the date certain, and then claim victory the day after.
This notion of a timetable for withdrawal has been specifically rejected by virtually every mainstream analysis. The report of the Baker-Hamilton commission recommended against it. The National Intelligence Estimate produced by the intelligence community said a rapid withdrawal would be ill-advised. Our military commanders believe a rigid timetable is not a good strategy. It does, perhaps, appeal to the folks at MoveOn.org.
Recently the National Commander of the American Legion said, "You cannot support the troops if you want them to cut and run. It's time for the President to veto this surrender bill and for Congress to pass a serious war-funding bill, which would provide the money without the micromanagement." (Applause.) Standing here today, I can assure the American Legion, and the VFW, and all the veterans organizations, and all the men and women serving at this very hour, that the President of the United States will, indeed, veto this irresponsible legislation. (Applause.)
Rarely in history has an elected branch of government engaged in so pointless an exercise as Congress is now doing. And yet the exercise continues. Three days ago the President invited the Democratic leaders to meet with him next week to discuss the supplemental. The majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, at first declined to do so. When Nancy Pelosi flies nearly 6,000 miles to meet with the president of Syria, but Harry Reid hesitates to drive a mile and half to meet with the President of the United States, there's a serious problem in the leadership of the Democratic Party.
Senator Reid has threatened that if the President vetoes the timetable legislation, he will send up Senator Russ Feingold's bill to de-fund Iraqi operations altogether. Yet only last November, Senator Reid said there would be no cutoff of funds for the military in Iraq. So in less than six months' time, Senator Reid has gone from pledging full funding for the military, and then full funding, but with a timetable, and then a cutoff of funding. Three positions in five months, on the most important foreign policy question facing our country and our troops.
Senator Reid, of course, was one of the many Democrats who voted for the use of force in Iraq. They are entitled, if they want now, to oppose this war. Yet Americans are entitled to question whether the endlessly shifting positions that he and others are taking are reflections of principle, or of partisanship and blind opposition to the President.
In their move to the left, many leading Democrats have turned not just against the military operation in Iraq, but against its supporters, as well. I think of the case of Senator Joe Lieberman. I've known Joe since I was secretary of defense, and we debated each other when he was Al Gore's running mate in 2000. I've run for office eight times in my career, and I have to say that Joe is the toughest opponent I've ever faced, and also the one I've most admired.
Joe and I see many issues differently. He's a center-left Democrat, and he has been throughout his career. Yet last year Joe was targeted for political extinction by his fellow Democrats. Al Gore himself, who famously endorsed Howard Dean in 2004, refused to help his former running mate, Joe Lieberman, on grounds that he doesn't get involved in primaries. Senator Lieberman's Connecticut colleague and best friend in the Senate, Chris Dodd, campaigned against him. In a tough political fight, Joe Lieberman was abandoned simply because of his firm stand on the war -- a stand he has consistently held regardless of whether the news was good or bad, or whether snapshot polls agreed or disagreed with him.
Not surprisingly, Joe Lieberman was re-elected, winning more votes than the Democratic and Republican candidates combined. The campaign against him was the political equivalent of street theater, and the voters of Connecticut showed little interest. It is tempting, I suppose, to view the current situation on Capitol Hill in the same way -- as mere posturing by a liberal element that has no chance of prevailing. But it's far more serious than that. We're talking about a congressional majority with real power and a liberal agenda that, if followed, would have serious consequences for the country.
In light of recent events, it's worth asking how things would be different if the current Democratic leadership had controlled Congress during the last five years. Would we have the terrorist surveillance program? Or the Patriot Act? Or military commissions to try unlawful combatants? All these measures have been essential to protecting the American people against enemies who are absolutely determined to cause another 9/11, or something far worse. And it's an open question, I think, whether the current Democratic leadership would have put these protections in place.
They've even created controversy over the words we use to describe the challenges now facing America. According to news accounts, one committee in the House has decided to stop using the phrase, "Global War on Terrorism." I'm left to wonder -- which part of that phrase is the problem? Do they deny the struggle is global, after the enemy has declared the ambition of building a totalitarian empire that stretches from Europe around to Indonesia? Do they deny this is a war, in which one side will win and the other will lose? Do they deny that it's terror that we're fighting, with unlawful combatants who wear no uniform, who reject the rules of warfare, and who target the innocent for indiscriminate slaughter?
That's the nature of the fight we're in. We can't wish it away, or define it away. In Iraq, while extremists are trying to stir an endless cycle of violence, where al Qaeda is operating and trying to open new fronts, where an elected government is going about the hard work of political reconciliation, the United States has interests at stake, and promises to keep.
The ultimate solution in that country will be a political solution, but reconciliation cannot be reached in an atmosphere of violence and instability. So we are there, alongside Iraqi forces, to bring security to Baghdad. Together our forces have carried out thousands of patrols. We have set up joint security stations and combat posts in the capital city, we've seized hundreds of weapons caches, found and cleared hundreds of improvised explosive devices, detained suspected killers and bomb makers, and found and destroyed car bomb factories.
Our new strategy in Iraq is still in its early stages of implementation. Roughly half of the reinforcements have arrived, and as General Petraeus has said , it'll be a while before we can fully assess how well it's working. But there's one thing the American people already know: The men and women we've sent to carry out this mission are brave and decent. They and their families represent the best in the American character, and we are proud of each and every one of them. (Applause.)
The good men and women serving in the war on terror, on every front, are staring evil in the face. Some of them will not make it home. They can never be sure what the next day will bring. But they're giving it all they have, and we owe them the same. Both political parties, both elected branches, both houses of Congress need to unite and back up our military 100 percent, leaving no uncertainty about whether this country supports them and what they're doing. (Applause.) They deserve this support so they can finish the job and get it done right, and return home to an America made safer by their courage.
The United States is keeping its commitments, and persevering despite difficulty, because we understand the consequences of getting out before the job is done. History provides its own lessons, and none perhaps is better than the example of Afghanistan in the 1980s. During those years, Afghanistan was a major front in the Cold War. The strategic significance was clear to all, and the United States was heavily engaged in the area, supporting the Mujahedin against the Soviets. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, everybody walked away from Afghanistan. From that point on, extremist factions began to vie for power. Civil war broke out. By the end of the 1990s, the Taliban had an iron grip on the country, and was hosting Osama bin Laden and the training camps for terrorists that led directly to the attacks of September 11th, 2001.
The consequences of walking away from Afghanistan were severe, but perhaps hard to foresee prior to 9/11. But no one could plead ignorance of the potential consequences of walking away from Iraq now, withdrawing coalition forces before Iraqis could defend themselves. Moderates would be crushed. Shiite extremists backed by Iran could be in an all-out war with Sunni extremists led by al Qaeda and remnants of the old Saddam Hussein regime.
As this battle unfolded, Sunni governments might feel compelled to back Sunni extremists in order to counter growing Iranian influence, widening the conflict into a regional war. If Sunni extremists prevailed, al Qaeda and its allies could recreate the safe haven they lost in Afghanistan, except now with the oil wealth to pursue weapons of mass destruction and they could underwrite their own designs, including against our friends in the region. If Iran's allies prevailed, the regime in Teheran's own designs for the Middle East would be advanced, and the threat to our friends in the region would only be magnified.
We must consider, as well, just what a precipitous withdrawal would mean to our efforts in the war on terror, and to our interests in the broader Middle East. Having tasted victory in Iraq, jihadists would look about for new missions. Many would head for Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. Others would set out for capitals across the Middle East, spreading more discord as they eliminate dissenters and work to undermine moderate governments, in what the terrorist Zawahiri has called a "jihad wave." Still others would find their targets and victims in other countries on other continents.
What would it say to the world if we left high and dry those millions of people who have counted on the United States to keep its commitments? And what would it say to leaders like President Karzai in Afghanistan and President Musharraf in Pakistan, who risk their lives every day as fearless allies in the war on terror? Critics enjoy pointing out mistakes through the perceptive power of hindsight. But the biggest mistake of all can be seen in advance: A sudden withdrawal of our Coalition would dissipate much of the effort that's gone into fighting the global war on terror, and result in chaos and mounting danger. And for the sake of our own security, we will not stand by and let it happen. (Applause.)
This nation has chosen a better course. Instead of allowing problems to simmer, instead of allowing threats to gather thousands of miles away and assume they won't find us at home, we've decided to face our challenges squarely. We offer a vision of freedom, justice, and self government as a superior alternative to ideologies of violence, anger, and resentment. We believe, and we know, that free institutions and human liberty provide the best long-term hope of progress for nations, and peace for the world.
The course we have chosen is not an easy one for America. But it will be far easier on the conscience of America when we see it through, sparing millions from suffering, and leaving behind a free and democratic Iraq. Although the current political environment in our country carries echoes of the hard left in the early '70s, America will not again play out those old scenes of abandonment, and retreat, and regret. Thirty-five years is time enough to have learned the lessons of that sad era. When the United States turns away from our friends, only tragedy can follow, and the lives and hopes of millions are lost forever.
Ladies and gentlemen: not this time. Not on our watch. (Applause.) This cause is bigger than the quarrels of party and the agendas of politicians. At this hour in our history, it is the cause of America -- and the best among us are fighting and sacrificing for its success. And if we in Washington, all of us, can only see our way clear to work together, then the outcome is not in doubt. We will press on in this mission, and we will turn events towards victory.
Thank you very much.
END 11:13 A.M. CDT
Richard B. Cheney, The Vice President's Remarks to the Heritage Foundation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/284753