National Security Address
U.S. Senate Candidate Claire McCaskill
Independence Square Courthouse
May 8, 2006
I grew up in rural Missouri, in the heart of a nation I was raised to love and revere.
I grew up surrounded by strong men and women who had won a great world war - a war fought against tyranny.
My father was a decorated veteran of that war who I rarely recall ever hearing speak about combat.
As I grew older, his silence began to speak volumes to me, not only about the modesty of his generation but about what Dwight Eisenhower later called the "agony of the battlefield."
I grew up in a family of Missouri Democrats, Roosevelt people, Truman people. But one of the first political speeches my father asked me to read was President Eisenhower's farewell address, that he gave in 1961.
Reading his speech again later in my life, I found myself deeply moved by his words.
I respect Eisenhower's clipped eloquence as he spoke of this country's fundamental decency and greatness.
He called upon America to live up to its ideals by always using our great strength wisely in the service of peace and liberty. He warned us to beware of arrogance, yet maintain our readiness to sacrifice.
I was raised to believe that sacrifice in defense of our freedom is an American ideal, and that from our earliest days, Americans have willingly given of themselves in our defense - and in the defense of others.
I have always known and felt and believed that through generation after generation that willingness has made us safe.
And so, as I grew up in Missouri, our country seemed on the verge of its greatest period - a time of joy and growth and undeniable strength, a time when all would finally share in the nation's bounty-
A time when our power - both military and moral -would be used wisely to benefit ourselves and the world -
A time, too, when long-closed doors within would finally open and we would live up to the "ideal" of America that had lit all the continents with hope and promise and made us admired and respected across so much of the globe.
I did not think then that an American leader would ever squander the trust of our people or the admiration of the world that had been won with such courage and at such cost.
But that is what has happened.
In the days after 9/11, this nation was united as it was after Pearl Harbor. The world bled for us and stood at our side. Our historic allies offered all possible aid.
New allies in Asia and the Middle East emerged, all agreeing to support us in a war on terror.
But that has changed. America was misled into a different war - not against Al-qaeda.
Instead we went to war with Iraq.
Their Weapons of Mass Destruction were a threat to the world. We had a plan to destroy the terrorists. We were strong.
But there were no weapons of mass destruction. We did not have a plan to destroy the terrorists. We did not even have a plan to take care of Iraq. And now our strength has been compromised.
The President and his administration have led us into a quagmire, alienated our allies, diminished our national morale, cost us billions of dollars, thousands of precious lives and maimed many thousands more. Even our nation's top military authorities have cited enormous mistakes, while this administration refuses to listen to them.
The incompetent mismanagement of the war in Iraq has made our nation more vulnerable than it was before 9/11 and has put our troops in unnecessary danger
I believe the time has come to hold this administration and its Congressional supporters accountable for their record.
I believe that our future, our honor, our standing in the world, and most importantly, our own safety, depend upon what we do at this juncture.
When I go to the United States Senate, and take my place among those entrusted by the people to guard their best interests, I will go with a message and a mission.
I believe it is time for a reckoning, a time for real oversight and true accountability.
When I speak of oversight and accountability I'm also talking about balancing the moral and political books. I'm talking about learning from our mistakes so that they will never be repeated.
Such a reckoning demands answers to the tough questions -
Are we safer now than we were before September 11th?
Are we stronger? More secure?
Do we have firm new alliances in the Middle East and around the world?
When our government speaks, is it believed?
Are we confident about the future?
Sadly the answer to all of these questions is no.
Yet these questions and many others that must be asked remain unspoken in the Republican Congress.
Senator Talent, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, has been in a position to ask tough questions, to demand answers, to provide accountability. Yet he remains silent.
I will not sit silently while the strength of this great country is diminished. That is not in my nature, not in my training, not in accord with my sense of obligation to those who elect me.
When I go to Washington, Missourians, our troops, our veterans and their families will know they have a senator who is on their side.
I don't say this idly. I have a record. I have served in the state legislature. I was twice elected prosecutor for Jackson County. I have been twice elected Missouri State Auditor.
And when I have seen wrong I have spoken out. When I have found wrongdoing, I have acted.
I have held many people, many companies, and many government agencies accountable for what they've done or not done. I've held them accountable for waste and mismanagement and corruption.
That kind of accountability has been absent from Washington during the past five years.
The Bush Administration chose to let 80% of the magnets used to guide our smart bombs be produced in China while Senator Talent and his republican colleagues remain quiet.
When the Pentagon overruled its own auditors and agreed to pay more than $250 million in disputed costs, profits, and bonuses, to Halliburton - the company once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney - there was hardly a ripple along the Potomac.
The Parsons Corporation, a California engineering firm, received a 2 billion-dollar contract to rebuild health, justice and oil infrastructure in Iraq. Yet we recently learned that 70 million dollars worth of medical equipment still sits unused because Parsons built only 20 of a planned 150 health facilities. Not a whimper from the Senator from Missouri.
In April, Philip Bloom, a contractor, was convicted of bribing US officials in Iraq with money, sex, and designer watches in exchange for millions in reconstruction contracts. Once again, Sen Talent sat silent.
These are but a few examples of the corruption and mismanagement of our taxpayer dollars in Iraq and lack of oversight that have marked the past 5 years.
The result? America is less safe and the American people pay while Halliburton and other contractors reap billions. Halliburton recently announced that last year was the most profitable in its 86-year history.
While our troops and veterans face unprecedented hardships, no-bid contracts are being granted, corporate fortunes are being made, bribes and war profits are at an unconscionable level.
Where now is the leader with the courage to say, as Franklin Roosevelt did during World War II, "I don't want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster"
In 1941 Roosevelt found an ally here in Missouri. He found Harry Truman.
Our own Harry Truman was serving our great state in the very US Senate seat currently held by Senator Talent.
Senator Truman had received some disturbing letters from Missourians. They told him there was waste and corruption in the war industry.
Truman acted. He knew that if the rumors were true, money was being stolen from the pockets of American working people. And he knew that shoddy war production endangered the lives of American troops.
He got in his Dodge and drove thousands of miles on an unofficial tour of new military bases. He found corruption almost everywhere he looked. He later said his trip was an "eye opener."
And so he went to see the President. And then he went to the Senate with a bill calling for a special committee to investigate war profiteering. For three years he chaired that committee, known forever after as the Truman Committee.
He ran it on a shoestring budget. He ran it with dignity.
And he ran the war profiteers ragged with hearings from coast to coast.
He sent investigators into plants and bases, and interviewed hundreds of people.
He was fearless. He took on corporate giants. He uncovered forged inspections, forged quality tests, hidden bribes, and enormous undeserved profits.
He saved the country billions of dollars. And historians now judge the Truman Committee among the most effective in the annals of Congress. His work was especially powerful when you realize he was questioning the administration of his own party.
I believe we need a new Truman Committee. I believe we need more accountability. I will fight for such a committee and as your United States Senator, I would be proud to serve as its leader.
Why is the work of the New Truman Committee so imperative?
The greatest weapon this country will ever produce is the American soldier. We have a fundamental obligation to equip and protect our troops. The strongest nation on the planet can accept no less. Our government has no greater responsibility.
And yet not long ago, I read about a Missouri family from Monett whose son, serving in Iraq, had written home asking for help from a local business man who owned a tool and die shop. He asked for the tools he needed to install the armor on the vehicles being used by his unit.
That Missouri soldier's request for tools to protect him and his fellow warriors is dramatic and disturbing. But when that request is set against the sea of profit for private no bid contractors enriching themselves on this conflict, it is immoral . It should make every American angry. Very angry.
When my father fought in World War II, he wrote his family requesting homemade cookies and new socks. He didn't ask them to send the tools he needed to stay alive.
Not one of our service men or women in Iraq should have to ask for more than my father did.
Earlier I spoke of President Eisenhower's warning to maintain our readiness to sacrifice. Let me be clear, the only real sacrifice being made is being made by our service men and women and their families. That sacrifice should be recognized and honored.
Our armed forces embrace a code that says no one should be left behind. As a nation we should embrace this same ethic when it comes to providing for the men and women who choose to lay their lives on the line.
We owe our freedom to those who have bravely served their country at home and abroad in the military and they deserve better.
In the coming weeks, I will present a detailed Military Bill of Rights that truly honors the brave men and women who serve and have served our country and I will fight for that plan as Senator.
I will fight for our service men and women by providing adequate troops levels to meet our military obligations and objectives as well as provide our troops with the equipment to protect their lives and do their jobs.
I will fight for our military families by protecting their pay and benefits and by working for a plan to secure their futures through educational and job opportunities.
I will fight for our veterans by protecting healthcare benefits for them and their families. I will fight to repeal the disabled veteran's tax.
The truth, and everyone here today knows it, is that these should not even be issues. Our service men and women should be our nation's top priority.
And yet the reality is quite different.
I am incredibly proud of our troops.
These are bright, energetic and patriotic young men and women whose love for America and freedom is immeasurable. They are our most precious resource.
While they stand in the breach for us far away from home, we struggle with our safety on our shores.
If we are not safe at home we cannot be strong abroad.
Let's be absolutely clear.
We are not staffed, trained, or equipped to protect Americans from the modern terrorist threat.
The 9-11 Commission Report found that an inability to communicate between various agencies via radio played a critical role in the aftermath of that attack on our country.
Four years later America watched as Hurricane Katrina showed our continued inability to provide communication tools for emergency workers when American lives hung in the balance.
Our first responders - our police, firefighters, National Guard, and emergency medical teams -- need a reliable means of talking to one another during any critical situations. We must fully fund a national system of reliable emergency communication tools.
A growing threat to our homeland is the severe lack of port and border security.
While all of us are taking off our shoes at airports, less than 5% of the cargo containers coming into our ports are ever inspected, making it easy for terrorists to smuggle in a dirty bomb.
As those containers are loaded onto semis that make their way across America's heartland, the possible consequences are obvious. Yet little is being done to prevent a potential disaster. We must fully fund port security and toughen regulations.
The President and his rubber stamp Congress have also looked the other way while our borders have become Swiss cheese.
Fully funding and staffing the border patrol is the first step. We must also monitor worker and student visas, and improve border technology.
We need to enforce our laws and protect our borders. Period.
The 911 commission was bipartisan and it was thorough. And yet, years after that dark day in September they gave the current leadership of our nation a failing grade for their failure to make progress on recommendations essential to our safety. Katrina showed America that they have NO plan to protect us after a terrorist disaster, let alone to prevent one from occurring in the first place. We must do better. We can do better.
In Iraq ongoing instability and rising insurgency have deep roots in their long, tortured history of sectarian and ethnic differences.
The decision to invade Iraq without enough troops and the countless mistakes made by the Administration have left us with no easy solution.
But any solution must be a political one and must come from within Iraq not from outside.
We cannot impose democracy. Democracy only flourishes when people take responsibility for their own freedom and welfare. Iraqi leaders must take responsibility for their country and their people. The presence of U.S. troops may actually be slowing democratic growth by serving as a crutch to Iraq's interim leaders.
We cannot continue to occupy Iraq indefinitely.
We cannot continue training Iraqi police and military forces indefinitely.
And we must tell the Iraqi leaders that it is not our intent to remain indefinitely.
America must set the agenda for peace and stability in Iraq. In order to do so, we must engage our traditional allies as well as the neighboring countries in the region who have an interest in a stable Iraq and an end to the conflict.
Moving forward we must have a responsible strategy that is not "cut and run" or "stay the course". Changing the course is essential so that our national security cannot be held hostage to Iraq's inability to make the difficult political choices and compromises necessary to form a credible government.
We must establish benchmarks for the formation of a government, and use the next 2 years to transition to a multinational security force and to redeploy our troops in a way that will best protect our long term national security interest. This should allow the Iraqis the time to create a stable country..
Unlike my opponent, I will ask the tough questions. It's time that the senate took an active role in reviewing a policy that is clearly not working.
Beyond Iraq we face a number of other international challenges, diplomatic, economic, and military. If tunnel vision continues to afflict this administration, with its singular emphasis on Iraq and its increasing overextension of our military, many of these challenges will be ignored to our nation's great peril.
The greatest threats to our safety are weapons of mass destruction. The spread of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons must be stopped. And there must be no uncertainty about that goal.
North Korea, has been stockpiling nuclear weapons without so much as a glance from the current administration. Iran may now be close to producing a nuclear bomb. We cannot allow them to go any further.
While North Korea is already a nuclear power, at the very least, we must call for re-opening the six-party conference to develop a more effective containment strategy. We must talk to the North Koreans directly if we are ever to get them to renounce their weapons and allow a verification system to assure their compliance.
Iran's nuclear capability, however, can still be prevented. Unchecked, it will create a domino effect that will be felt throughout the Middle East.
There must be an immediate and complete moratorium on their enrichment processes. This must be non-negotiable. Together with our world allies, we can convince Iran of their own best interest, using the threat of economic sanctions and the promise of world trade and investment.
They need to know that our talks, if unsuccessful, will be followed not by rhetoric and reprisal, but by the full strength and force of the American military.
Finally, a successful war on terrorism must be proactive and preventative.
We must shut down the terrorist pipeline.
Osama bin Laden MUST be captured. Together with our international friends and allies we must force states protecting terrorists to help us in locate internationally-wanted criminals and murderers. We must track and jail foreign nationals that fight against our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe.
We need to expand our current intelligence-gathering capability and throw a net over the entire terrorist world. Improving information sharing and leadership in our intelligence agencies is essential. This strategy includes giving the President tools in the law that he needs to find, track, and capture terrorists.
The National Counterterrorism Center must be fully funded and the intelligence reform called for by the 911 Commission must be implemented.
We cannot fight a modern day battle against terrorism with one hand tied behind our back. Good intelligence, properly shared, and respected by our leaders, is a fundamental part of our nation's ultimately security. It deserves the same priority as other more traditional weapons of our military.
Sixty years ago, on the eve of a great war fought for independence around the globe, there was no questioning the greatness of America's might and power - her dedication to freedom around the world was unmatched.
I grew up in the aftermath of that great American victory. Oppressed peoples everywhere were enjoying the United States' fulfilled promises of freedom. My father was a liberator, and I was surrounded by men and women whose dedication to the ideas of life and liberty continued to shine. in what was until then the dark and forgotten corners of the earth.
I was taught in my youth by goodly parents - who would rather shout "freedom" than whisper it - that patriotism, duty and honor were not mere words, but sacred privileges, given by God to every man, woman and child, and not to be taken lightly or used for political gain.
In our past, in times of crisis, new leaders have emerged to replace their failed predecessors and point the way to better times.
I believe we will be so blessed again. We have such wonderful examples to call upon.
Among the greatest was Franklin Roosevelt, a man of wisdom and compassion and hope; a man whose strength of spirit and irrepressible sense of joy brought light to the darkness of a terrifying time.
On June 6, 1944, D-Day, he read a prayer to the nation.
After praying for victory, and describing the hardships and losses he knew our fighting forces would endure, he outlined a vision that imparted greater meaning to the sacrifices made and yet to come. It is a vision still valid today.
He did not talk in abstractions. His hope, his prayer, was for the soldiers who, as he spoke, were still coming ashore, still climbing the cliffs of Normandy.
"...They fight not for the lust of conquest," he said. "They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home....
"... Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace - a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
"Thy will be done, Almighty God.