Published September 27, 2004
WASHINGTON – Thank you Steve, for that generous introduction. Your many years of impressive leadership at GW have benefited the students, the faculty, and the whole city. I commend you as well for your support for the DC public schools, and your commitment to help them in their time of need, and increase opportunities for their students. Thank you for all that you do so well.
I'm honored to be at GW today, and to have this opportunity to speak to all of you at this defining moment for our nation. Five weeks from tomorrow, the American people will decide the next President of the United States.
The consequences of the election will be enormous for our country here at home and our role in the world. Every American has a responsibility to vote, and I know you'll approach that responsibility with the seriousness it deserves.
Most of you will probably be voting for the first time, as will many other college students throughout America. One of the few positive results of the Vietnam War is the irresistible momentum it gave Congress thirty-four years ago to pass legislation lowering the voting age to 18. Long-standing opposition crumbled in the face of one simple truth: "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote." Hopefully, because of the war in Iraq, young voters in communities across America will finally be moved to help our democracy work, by going to the polls in the large numbers long expected.
My topic today, as you can guess, is the war in Iraq. In another presidential election campaign 24 years ago, a Republican governor named Ronald Reagan posed the defining question to the American people in that election, when he asked, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" That simple question has even greater relevance today than when Ronald Reagan asked it.
The defining issue today is our national security. Especially in this post-9/11 world, the people have the right to ask Ronald Reagan's question in a very specific and all-important way‹are we safer today because of the policies of President George W. Bush?
Any honest assessment can lead to only one answer, and that answer is an emphatic no. President Bush is dead wrong and John Kerry is absolutely right. We are not safer today. And the reason we are not safer is because of President Bush's misguided war in Iraq.
The president's handling of the war has been a toxic mix of ignorance, arrogance, and stubborn ideology. No amount of presidential rhetoric or preposterous campaign spin can conceal the facts about the steady downward spiral in our national security since President Bush made the decision to go to war in Iraq. If this election is decided on the question of whether America is safer because of President George Bush, John Kerry will win in a landslide.
Enough time has now passed to make us sure of that verdict, beyond any reasonable doubt. Shakespeare stated the enduring age-old principle eloquently and wisely when he wrote: "Time's glory is to calm contending kings, to unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light."
No issue is more important today. The battle against terrorism is a battle we must win. To remain silent in the face of mounting failures by this president and this White House is to weaken our security even further.
I thank God that President Bush was not our president at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even after 9/11, it is wrong for this president or any president to shoot first and ask questions later, to rush to war and ignore or even muzzle serious doubts by senior military officers and senior officials in the State Department and CIA about the rationale and the justification for war and the strategy in waging it.
We all know that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. We've known it for more than 20 years. We're proud, very proud, of our troops for their extraordinary and swift success in removing him from power. But as we also now know beyond doubt, he did not pose the kind of immediate threat to our national security that could possibly justify a unilateral, preventive war without the broad support of the international community.
There was no reason whatever to go to war when we did, and in the way we did, and for the false reasons we were given. The administration's insistence that Saddam could provide nuclear material or even nuclear weapons to Al Qaeda has been exposed as an empty threat used to justify an ideological war that America never should have fought.
Saddam had no nuclear weapons. In fact, not only were there no nuclear weapons, there were no chemical or biological weapons either, no weapons of mass destruction of any kind.
Nor was there any persuasive link between Al Qaeda and Saddam and the 9/11 attacks. A 9/11 commission staff statement put it plainly: "Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between Al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." The 9/11 commission report stated clearly that there was no "operational" connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda.
Secretary of State Colin Powell now agrees that there was no correlation between 9/11 and Saddam's regime. So does Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Nonetheless President Bush continues to cling to the fiction that there was a relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda. As he said in familiar Bush-speak, "The reason that I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and Al Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda."
That's the same logic President Bush keeps using today in his repeated stubborn insistence that the situation is improving in Iraq, and that we and the world are safer because Saddam is gone.
The president and his administration continue to paint a rosy picture of progress in Iraq. Just last Wednesday, he referred to the growing insurgency as "a handful of people." Vice President Cheney says we're "moving in the right direction," despite the worsening violence. Our troops are increasingly the targets of deadly attacks. American citizens are being kidnapped and brutally beheaded. But Secretary Rumsfeld keeps saying he's "encouraged" by developments in Iraq.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has said it clearly: "We do not need to paint a rosy scenario for the American people."
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Vietnam Veteran and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated unequivocally last week, "I don't think we'reŠ.winning. The fact is we're in trouble. We're in deep trouble in Iraq."
The National Intelligence Estimate in July, although not yet made public, made this point with such breathtaking clarity that for the good of our country, unnamed officials discussed it with the press. The New York Times said the estimate "spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq."
According to the same New York Times report and other reports, the National Intelligence Estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of next year. The worst case scenario is that Iraq plunges into outright civil war. It calls the best case scenario -- the best case -- an Iraq with violence still at current levels, with tenuous political and economic stability. President Bush categorically rejected that description, saying the CIA was "just guessing." Last week, he retreated somewhat, and said he should have used "estimate" instead of "guess."
In other words, the best-case scenario for the entire coming year, is that our soldiers will be bogged down in a continuing quagmire with no end in sight.
It's easy to understand why. It's because the number of insurgents has gone up. The number of their attacks on our troops has gone up. The sophistication of the attacks has gone up. The number of our soldiers killed or wounded has gone up. The number of hostages seized and even savagely executed has gone up.
Our troops are under increasing fire. More than 1,000 of America's soldiers have been killed. More than 7,000 have been wounded. In August alone, 863 American troops were wounded. That month our forces were attacked an average of 70 times a day‹higher than for any other month since President Bush dressed up in a flight suit, flew out to the aircraft carrier, and recklessly declared "Mission Accomplished" a year and a half ago.
The president, the vice president, the National Security Council, Secretary Rumsfeld, and other civilian leaders in the Pentagon failed to see the insurgency that took root last year and that began to metastasize like a deadly cancer. How could they not have noticed that? Perhaps because they were still celebrating their mission accomplished.
For two years, terrorist cells have been spreading like cancer cells. Any doctor who let that happen would be guilty of malpractice. Is it only coincidence that one of the principal domestic priorities of the Bush administration is to protect doctors from malpractice lawsuits?
In many places in Iraq today, it is too dangerous to go out, even with guards. The State Department does not attempt to conceal the truth. Its September 17th travel advisory states that Iraq remains "very dangerous." As much as 15 to 20% of the country has inadequate security. Whole cities are considered "no-go" zones for our troops -- presumably to avoid even greater casualties until after the election. We continue to use so-called "precision" bombing in Iraq, even though the bombs can't tell whether it's terrorists or innocent families inside the buildings they hit.
What is helping to unite so many of the Iraqi people in hatred of America is their emerging sense that America is unwilling - not just unable - to rebuild their shattered country and provide for their basic needs. Far from sharing President Bush's unrealistically rosy view, they see up-close that their hope for peace and stability is receding every day. Inevitably, more and more Iraqis feel that attacks on coalition forces are acceptable, even if they would not resort to violence themselves.
For every mistake we make, for every innocent Iraqi child we accidentally kill in another bombing raid, the ranks of the insurgents climb, along with their fanatical determination to stop at nothing to drive us out. An Army Reservist described the deteriorating situation this way: "For every guerilla we kill with a 'Smart bomb,' we kill many more innocent civilians and create rage and anger in the Iraqi community. This rage and anger translates into more recruits for the terrorists and less support for us."
The Iraqi people's anger is also fueled by the persistent blackouts, the power shortages, the lack of electricity, the destroyed infrastructure, the relentless violence, the massive lack of jobs and basic necessities and services.
By any reasonable standard, our policy in Iraq is failing. We are steadily losing ground in the war. The American people are seeing through the White House smokescreen more clearly everyday - seeing the catastrophic failures resulting from the Bush Administration's gross incompetence in managing so many aspects of our occupation of Iraq.
Before the war, the president and his advisers manipulated, mishandled, and misled the American people about the intelligence, because they were so focused - so blindly focused - on removing Saddam Hussein from power.
They also bungled the pre-war diplomacy on Iraq, leaving us more isolated in the world than ever before and unable to obtain real allied support. They failed to plan for the possibility that the liberation of Iraq would not be the cakewalk they predicted. They also arrogantly rejected the counsel, the cautions, and the expertise of the professionals in the State Department most familiar with post-war and post-conflict planning.
Our soldiers were not adequately trained for the missions thrust on them. Month after month, our courageous troops could not get enough armored vests for themselves or enough armor for their humvees to protect them on patrol. What kind of leadership is it, when month after month, our troops on patrol are so desperate for protective armor that they call home and ask their loved ones to buy the armor at the local store and fed-ex it to them in Iraq?
The administration shrugged when the massive looting began after the fall of Saddam. Secretary Rumsfeld said, "Stuff happens." They foolishly disbanded the Iraqi army, but let them keep their weapons and left the ammunitions depots unguarded, creating a bonanza for the insurgents. The Bush administration has yet to effectively train a new Iraqi army, or even to provide the existing units with adequate equipment.
To our men and women in uniform and their increasingly worried families, President Bush's repeated insistence that the United States will stay in Iraq "as long as necessary and not one day longer" has a hollow and tragic ring.
President Bush speaks about his commitment to genuine sovereignty for Iraq, and about the Iraqi people governing themselves. But many signs on the ground strongly suggest that we are preparing a long-term military presence. We are also building and staffing the largest American embassy in the world, a huge additional permanent American presence.
The Bush administration has badly botched every aspect of the reconstruction of Iraq, and these failures have inflamed tensions and created serious dangers as well. Our failure to have Iraqis do as much of the work as possible may have created huge profits for outside contractors, but it also created huge numbers of disgruntled Iraqis, who were easy prey for insurgents to recruit and even pay to kill our soldiers.
The contracts themselves have led to incredible absurdities. America is actually forcing Iraqis to import cement at a far higher cost than what they could manufacture for themselves. What kind of policy is that?
As further evidence of gross mismanagement, the Bush administration can't account for 8 billion dollars in Iraqi oil funds, apparently because much of those dollars went to phantom Iraqi soldiers and policemen, thousands of whom quietly appeared on payrolls of the new Iraqi government, but who never existed. Eight billion dollars is just lost? Who is being held accountable?
The Bush administration has also mismanaged the 18 billion dollars approved by Congress a year ago for the reconstruction. Despite the vast need, only a tiny fraction of the 18 billion dollars has actually been spent.
Republican Senator Richard Lugar, the highly respected chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says the slow rate of spending "means that we are failing to fully take advantage of one of our most potent tools to influence Iraq." Of the bungled reconstruction program, he says, "This is the incompetence in the administration."
Why has the reconstruction effort been so disastrous? Only partly because the security situation is so dangerous. A more obvious reason is emerging. The Bush administration tried to carry out the reconstruction with its ideology instead of an honest strategy. Instead of trying seriously to create jobs for Iraqis, they tried to carry out a plan to privatize virtually every part of the Iraqi economy.
They didn't anticipate the obvious consequences of precipitously opening up Iraq's economy to foreign competition after decades of stagnation. They thought they could use Iraq as an experiment in laissez-faire economics, but the result has been far fewer jobs for Iraqis and far greater support for insurgents. Meanwhile, Vice President Cheney's friends at Halliburton were among the first in line for the gravy train.
Across Iraq, these blunders have unleashed powerful and violent forces that the administration did not anticipate. Their disastrous economic strategy was clearly a major factor in the rise of the armed resistance.
Twelve years ago, the first President Bush failed to win re-election because he could not understand how deeply the American people felt about the troubled economy. The fundamental concern of that time was summed up in four blunt words, "It's the economy, stupid." The fundamental concern of today takes even fewer words to sum up: "It's Iraq, stupid."
In the dirtiest tactic so far in the presidential election campaign, Vice President Cheney claims that Al Qaeda wants John Kerry to win this election. That's despicable. It's not unpatriotic to tell the truth to the American people about the war in Iraq. In this grave moment for our country, to use the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
Most likely, Mr. Cheney's ugly charge is a desperate and cynical attempt by the Bush administration to immunize President Bush if another terrorist attack takes place in our country on his watch in the remaining weeks before the election.
How dare President Bush accuse John Kerry of flip flops on the war in Iraq. My response is "Physician, heal thyself." President Bush is the all-time world-record holder for flip flops. Nothing John Kerry has said remotely compares with the president's gigantic flip flops on the reasons he went to war in Iraq.
The president keeps saying America and the world are safer and better off because Saddam is gone. In any meaningful sense, he's wrong. A brutal dictator is gone because of the war in Iraq, and that is good. But no matter how many rhetorical double-twisting back flips the President performs, his disingenuous claim that the war has made America safer is wrong and may be catastrophically wrong. Let's count the ways that George Bush's war has not made America safer.
Number 1: Iraq has been a perilous distraction from the real war on terrorism. There was no persuasive link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. We should have finished the job in Afghanistan, finished the job on Al Qaeda, and finished the job on Usama bin Laden.
Number 2: The mismanagement of the war in Iraq has created a fertile and very dangerous new breeding ground for terrorists in Iraq and a powerful magnet for Al Qaeda that did not exist before the war. We can't go a day now without hearing of attacks carried out in Iraq by insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists, and our troops are in far greater danger because of it.
Number 3: Saddam Hussein may be behind bars, and that's a plus, as President Bush says. But the war has clearly distracted us from putting Usama bin Laden behind bars and that's a huge minus. He and many of his key followers are harder than ever to apprehend.
Number 4: Because of the war, the danger of terrorist attacks against America itself has been made far greater. Our preoccupation with Iraq has given Al Qaeda more than two full years to regroup and plan murderous new assaults on us. We know that Al Qaeda will try to attack America again and again here at home, if it possibly can. Yet instead of staying focused on the real war on terror, President Bush rushed headlong into an unnecessary war in Iraq
Number 5 and most ominously: The Bush administration's focus on Iraq has left us needlessly more vulnerable to an Al Qaeda attack with a nuclear weapon. The greatest threat of all to our homeland is a nuclear attack. A mushroom cloud over any American city is the ultimate nightmare, and the risk is all too real. Usama bin Laden calls the acquisition of a nuclear device a "religious duty." Documents captured from a key Al Qaeda aide three years ago revealed plans even then to smuggle high-grade radioactive materials into the United States in shipping containers.
If Al Qaeda can obtain a nuclear weapon, they will certainly use it - on New York, or Washington, or any of America's other major cities. The greatest danger we face in the days and weeks and months ahead is a nuclear 9/11, and we hope and pray that it is not already too late to prevent. The war in Iraq has made the mushroom cloud more likely, not less likely.
Number 6: The war has provided a powerful worldwide recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. We know it is getting stronger, because its attacks in other parts of the world are increasing. In the eight years before 9/11, Al Qaeda conducted three attacks. But in the three years since 9/11, it has carried out a dozen more attacks, killing hundreds in Spain, Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere in the world.
Number 7: Because of the war, Afghanistan itself is still unstable. Taliban and Al Qaeda elements roam the country. A dangerous border with Pakistan where terrorists can easily cross continues to be unsecured. President Hamid Karzai is frequently forced to negotiate with warlords who control private armies in the tens of thousands. Opium production is at a record level, and is being used to finance terrorism. Our troops there are in greater danger. Free and fair elections are in greater danger. The war in Iraq has stretched our troops thin to the point where we can't provide sufficient troop levels to stop the rising drug trade and help President Karzai gain full control of the country.
Number 8: We've alienated many long-time friends and leaders in other nations whom we heavily depend on for intelligence, for border enforcement, for shutting off funds to Al Qaeda, and for many other types of support in the ongoing war against international terrorism. Mistrust of America has soared throughout the world. The past two years have seen the steepest and deepest fall from grace our country has ever suffered in the eyes of the world community. We've squandered the enormous goodwill that flowed to America in the aftermath of September 11th.
We're especially hated in the Muslim world. In parts of it, the bottom has fallen out. Indonesia and Jordan were solidly behind America in the dark days after 9/11, but polls show that a majority of their people now have confidence in Usama bin Laden to "do the right thing regarding world affairs." Nearly half the people in Morocco and Pakistan feel the same way. Half of Pakistanis believe that suicide attacks against Americans in Iraq are justified. In Turkey, where bin Laden has killed innocent civilians, a third of the people believe that suicide attacks against Americans and other Westerners are justified in Iraq.
President Bush never learns. His chip-on-the-shoulder address to the United Nations last week was yet another missed opportunity to turn the page and start regaining the genuine support of the world community for a sensible policy on Iraq.
In fact, the president's mismanagement of the world community has left our soldiers increasingly isolated and alone. We have nearly 90% of the troops on the ground in Iraq. More than 95% of the killed and wounded are Americans. Instead of other nations joining us, initially supportive nations are pulling out. The so-called coalition of the willing has become the coalition of the dwindling.
Number 9: Our overall military forces are stretched to the breaking point because of the war in Iraq. As the Defense Science Board recently told Secretary Rumsfeld, "Current and projected force structure will not sustain our current and projected global stabilization commitments." Lt. Gen. John Riggs said it clearly: "I have been in the Army 39 years, and I've never seen the Army as stretched in that 39 years as I have today."
That fact makes it harder for us to respond to threats elsewhere in the world. As John McCain warned last week, if we have a problem in some other flash-point in the world, "it's clear, at least to most observers, that we don't have sufficient personnel."
The war has also undermined the Guard and Reserve. Since Guard members are also first-responders for any terrorist attack in the United States, our homeland security as well is being weakened because of their loss.
In the words of the person for whom this city and this distinguished university are named, "There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well-prepared to meet the enemy." George Washington would be appalled at how the war in Iraq has made us unprepared to produce peace.
Number 10: The war in Iraq has undermined the basic rule of international law that protects captured American soldiers. The Geneva Conventions are supposed to protect our forces, but the brutal interrogation techniques used at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq have lowered the bar for treatment of prisoners of war and endangered our soldiers throughout the world.
Number 11: While President Bush has been pre-occupied with Iraq, the nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran have been rising. Four years ago, North Korea's plutonium program was inactive and its nuclear rods were under seal. Two years ago, as our Iraq debate became intense, North Korea expelled the international inspectors and began turning its fuel rods into nuclear weapons. At the beginning of the Bush administration, North Korea was thought to have two such weapons. Now our officials say they have eight, and the danger is far greater.
Iran is now on a faster track that could produce nuclear weapons. The international community might be more willing to act, if President Bush had not abused the resolution the U.N. passed on Iraq two years ago, when he took the words "serious consequences" as a license for launching his unilateral war in Iraq. As a result of that breach of faith with the world community, other nations now refuse to trust us enough to enact a similar U.N. resolution on Iran, because they fear President Bush will use it to justify another reckless preventive war.
Number 12: While we focused on a non-existent nuclear threat from Saddam, we have not done enough to safeguard the vast amounts of unsecured nuclear material in the world. According to a joint report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Harvard's Managing-the-Atom-Project, "scores of nuclear terrorist opportunities lie in wait in countries all around the world" - especially at sites in the former Soviet Union that have enough nuclear material for a nuclear weapon and are poorly defended against terrorists and criminals. As former Senator Sam Nunn said, "The most effective, least expensive way to prevent nuclear terrorism is to secure nuclear weapons and materials at the source." How loudly does the alarm bell have to ring before President Bush wakes up?
Number 13: The neglect of the Bush administration on all aspects of homeland security because of the war is appalling. We're pouring nearly $5 billion a month into Iraq - yet we're grossly short-changing the urgent need both to strengthen our ability to prevent terrorist attacks here at home, and to strengthen our preparedness to respond to them if they occur. As former Republican Senator Warren Rudman, Chairman of the Independent Task Force on Emergency Responders, said recently, "Homeland security is terribly under-funded, and we cannot allow that to continue." Chemical plants across the country have been called "ticking time bombs," highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Police, firefighters, and other first responders have seven billion dollars less in basic equipment they urgently need. Our hospitals are unprepared for bioterrorist attack. Our land borders, our seaports, our shipping containers, our railroads, our transit systems, our waterways, our nuclear power plants‹none of these have received sufficient funds for protection against terrorist attacks, even though the Bush administration has put the nation on high alert for such attacks five times in the past three years.
You can't pack all these reasons why America is not safer into a 30-second television response ad or a news story or an editorial. But as anyone who cares about the issue can quickly learn, our President has utterly no credibility when he keeps telling us that America and the world are safer because he went to war in Iraq and rid us of Saddam.
President Bush's record on Iraq is clearly costing American lives and endangering America in the world. Our president won't change, or even admit how wrong he has been and still is. Despite the long line of mistakes and blunders and outright deception, there has been no accountability. As the election draws closer, the buck is circling more and more closely over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Only a new administration can right the extraordinary wrongs of the Bush administration on our foreign policy and our national security.
On November 2nd, the American people will decide whether or not they still have confidence in this President's leadership. When we ask ourselves the fundamental question whether President Bush has made us safer, there can be only one answer: no he has not. That's why America needs new leadership.
We could have been, and we should have been, much safer by now, and we can't afford to stay on this very dangerous course. This election cannot come too soon. As I've said before, the only thing America has to fear is four more years of George Bush.