The Vice President's Remarks to the VFW National Legislative Conference
Omni Shoreham Hotel
10:56 A.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. Thank you for that very warm welcome. And, Gary, thank you for the kind words. It's a pleasure, as always, to be with the leaders and the rank-and-file members of the VFW, and the Lady's Auxiliary, under the fine leadership of Linda Meader. This superb organization has hosted me a number of times, as Vice President, as Secretary of Defense, and I always appreciate the opportunity to meet with you. Just a few minutes ago I finished our morning briefings at the White House, and I bring good wishes to all of you from our Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush. (Applause.)
As you may have heard, I've been away from Washington recently. Some, of course, consider that a positive. (Laughter.) I returned home last Wednesday after a trip around the world, covering about 25,000 miles. There were a lot of meetings with foreign leaders, and also a number of opportunities to visit with Americans serving abroad in our military. It was my great privilege to meet with sailors on the USS Kitty Hawk in Tokyo Bay, with airmen at Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam, and our servicemen and women at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Every time I visit a military installation, I come away inspired and filled with respect for the men and women who wear this country's uniform. They are doing a superb job for the United States of America. (Applause.)
Today's service members uphold traditions of courage and loyalty that go back to George Washington and the Continental Army, and they're a credit to every generation that has ever served in our Armed Forces. For many decades, some of our finest veterans have belonged to the VFW, so I cannot let this occasion pass without noting the departure of one of your most admired members, who was laid to rest in Oregon last Friday. He was Howard Ramsey, and he liked to tell the story of how he tried to join the Army as a young man. When Howard stepped on the scales they rejected him, saying he didn't weigh enough to be a soldier. Instead of giving up, he simply tried another strategy. He went home, stuffed himself with bananas and water, and then came back and weighed in again. He got in the second time, and before long he was serving in Europe. The year was 1918. After the war, he went on to live an extraordinary life, and his granddaughter recently said he was always proud to have served his country. Howard Ramsey was one of the longest-living veterans in history, and he passed away at the age of 108. The United States of America honors his memory. (Applause.)
Pride in service, and a willingness to give all in the defense of freedom, are familiar concepts to the people in this room. You know what it means to put the country's interest above all other considerations, and your service did not end with your discharge. The VFW's mission -- to honor the dead by helping the living -- is a daily commitment that this organization carries out nobly and well. By your service to veterans and to your communities, and by your support for a strong national defense, you're an example of good citizenship and patriotism, and you've earned the respect of our entire nation.
As always, you've got a full agenda during your time in Washington, and you've heard from your fellow veteran, Secretary Jim Nicholson. Our administration is committed to keeping every promise this nation has made to its veterans. A few weeks ago, the President was pleased to sign into law a $3.6 billion increase to fund the VA to the end of this fiscal year. We hope the Congress, with your encouragement, will pass the President's 2008 VA budget request promptly and in full.
Closer to home, there's serious concern about conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington. Secretary Bob Gates and the Defense Department have moved quickly to ensure that our injured soldiers are taken care of. The Secretary has formed an independent review group to investigate the situation and identify the necessary steps to make sure it never happens again. President Bush has made our administration's priority very clear to the Congress and to the country: There will be no excuses, only action. And the federal bureaucracy will not slow that action down. We're going to fix the problems at Walter Reed, period. (Applause.)
As we work to improve conditions at Walter Reed, we want to find out whether similar problems have occurred at other military and VA hospitals. The President has established a commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the care that America is providing our wounded servicemen and women -- from the time they leave the battlefield to their return to civilian life. These brave men and women deserve the heartfelt thanks of our country, and they deserve the very best medical care that our government can possibly provide. (Applause.)
In these and other priorities, we need the clarity and the common sense of the VFW. Today I want to underscore the important work yet to be done in the defense of this country, and the need to keep our focus in the war that we began fighting on September 11th, 2001.
The fact that we've defeated all attempts to strike the United States again for the last five and a half years does not mean that we won't be hit in the future. But the record is testimony not to good luck, but to urgent, competent action by a lot of very skilled men and women. As the Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell, said recently, "The time needed to develop a terrorist plot, communicate it around the globe, and put it into motion has been drastically reduced. The time line is no longer a calendar, it is a watch." And so we've used every legitimate tool at our disposal to counter the activities of the enemy that likely has cells inside our own country. We've improved our security arrangements, reorganized our intelligence capabilities, surveilled and interrupted and interrogated the enemy, and worked closely with friends and allies across the world.
Above all, we've stayed on the offensive -- going after terrorists and terror-sponsoring states. We've confronted dictatorships that defied the demands of the civilized world. We've helped liberate peoples to establish free governments. And we've stood by those governments in their effort to consolidate democratic gains, to achieve security, and improve the long-term prospects for freedom and security in the broader Middle East.
The work goes on, because the set of challenges that arrived on 9/11 is unlike any other this nation has ever faced. This war is not a matter of finding an opposing army and defeating it, or finding a navy and sinking it. The terrorist enemies are hidden and dispersed, and they view the entire world as their battlefield. They are determined to commit indiscriminate murder against innocent, unsuspecting men, women, and children. They serve an ideology that rejects tolerance and demands total obedience. It's an extreme and hateful ideology -- and it's what drove 19 men to get on airplanes and come kill 3,000 Americans on 9/11. Their ambitions to establish a totalitarian empire, and to arm themselves with weapons of mass destruction are well known and we have to take them seriously. (Applause.) Their prime target is the American people. Al Qaeda's leadership has said they have the right to "kill four million Americans, two million of them children, and to exile twice as many and wound and cripple thousands." That's their language.
They hate us, they hate our country, they hate the liberties for which we stand. They want to destroy our way of life, so that freedom no longer has a home and defender in the world. That leaves us only one option: to rise to America's defense, to take the fight directly to the enemy, and to accept no outcome but victory. (Applause.)
On the Afghanistan front, we'll continue the reconstruction and security assistance we've promised, and this spring U.S. and NATO forces will lead an offensive against Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.
And on the Iraq front, our goal remains a democratic nation that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides for their security, and is an ally in the war on terror. But for this to happen, Baghdad must be secured. To that end, we're pursuing a new strategy that brings in reinforcements to help Iraqi forces secure their capital. As we meet today, Iraqi and coalition forces are at work in the nine sectors of Baghdad, carrying out joint operations to track down the terrorists, insurgents, criminals, and roaming death squads that have tormented the people of that city. It is a tough job, and it's absolutely essential to move the nation forward, turning the political process toward reconciliation, and completing our mission in Iraq.
Recently, at General Petraeus's confirmation hearing, he was asked if he could do his job without the troop reinforcements requested by the President. General Petraeus said no. Yet some of the very senators who voted to send him to the Iraqi theater tried to pass a resolution opposing those reinforcements. And the House of Representatives did pass such a resolution.
The House resolution was nonbinding -- just a statement expressing the views of the members. But the fact is that every statement we make has multiple audiences. The American people listen. Our soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen listen. The enemy listens, and so do the Iraqi people. Friendly governments pay attention, and hostile governments take note as well. And they all wonder about America's commitment to the cause.
A watching world needs to know that the United States is determined to prevail because we're a nation that keeps its word -- and because we understand the consequences of failure. If our coalition withdrew before Iraqis could defend themselves, radical factions would battle for dominance. The violence would likely spread throughout the country, and be very difficult to contain. Having tasted victory in Iraq, jihadists would look for new missions. Many would head for Afghanistan and 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 friendly governments. Still others would find their targets and victims in other countries on other continents. Such chaos and mounting danger does not have to occur. It is, however, the enemy's objective.
In these circumstances it's worth reminding ourselves that, like it or not, the enemy we face in the war on terror has made Iraq the primary front in that war. The terrorists know they cannot beat us in a stand-up fight. They never have. The only way they can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission. (Applause.) Osama bin Laden has continued to predict that the people of the United States simply do not have the stomach to stay in the fight against terror. He refers to Iraq as the "third world war," and he knows the stakes as well as we do. He has 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." 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.
Very soon both houses of Congress will have to vote on a piece of legislation that is binding -- a bill to provide emergency funding for the troops. And I sincerely hope the discussion this time will be about winning in Iraq, not about posturing on Capitol Hill. (Applause.) Anyone can say they support the troops, and we should take them at their word. But the proof will come when it's time to provide the money. We expect the House and the Senate to meet those needs on time, and in full measure.
We don't know and we cannot predict every turn that lies ahead. As General Petraeus has put it, "the way ahead will be neither quick nor easy, and there will undoubtedly be some tough days. We face a determined, adaptable, barbaric enemy. He will try to wait us out. In fact, any such endeavor is a test of wills, and there are no guarantees."
The general has it exactly right. And I know he would agree that the single most reliable fact of this war is the skill and courage of the men and women fighting it. Two months ago at the White House, President Bush awarded the Medal of Honor to Corporal Jason Dunham of the United States Marines. While leading his rifle squad during an attack near the Syrian border, Corporal Dunham found himself in hand-to-hand combat with an insurgent. After being wrestled to the ground, the man rolled out a grenade that he'd been concealing. Without hesitation, Corporal Dunham threw himself on the grenade and used his helmet and body to absorb the blast. He did not survive his wounds. But by his actions, Jason Dunham saved the lives of his men. And he now ranks among the bravest citizens this nation has ever produced. (Applause.)
Wartime is always a serious test of our nation's resolve, and it naturally produces debate and discussion about the course and the strategies we ought to pursue. Yet the purposes we serve as a nation are good ones. The United States is a decent, honorable, and a generous country. The people who wear its uniform reflect the best that is in us, whether they come from the inner cities, the farms, the suburbs, or the small towns of America. As we speak, ladies and gentlemen, members of the United States armed forces are serving in nearly 80 different countries -- from the broader Middle East, to Europe, to Southeast Asia, to Latin America, to Africa. It's a messy, dangerous world, made better by the active, committed presence of the United States. The cause we serve is freedom. That cause is right. And by the valor of those who serve it, that cause will prevail.
Thank you very much.
END 11:14 A.M. EST
Richard B. Cheney, The Vice President's Remarks to the VFW National Legislative Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/285369