"Winning the Central Front in the War on Terror: Afghanistan"
Remarks As Prepared for Delivery
It's great to be back at Howard University - I came here in 2004 and spoke to you about protecting financial security as education gets more and more expensive, as students graduate into the workplace with more debt than ever before and Washington leaves you with record deficits. That is the height of irresponsibility - one generation leaving another generation to clean up its mess. But it's not the only burden this Administration is leaving your generation to face.
President Bush has announced that resolution of Iraq will be determined by future presidents. This is just one of the many failed national security policies that will leave you with a more dangerous world to raise your own families in-- and it's long past time we talked honestly and openly about how to set it right.
In the struggle against terrorism, there is no substitute for victory. I don't know a single American who needs a politician to remind them that we have to win this fight.
Five years after September 11th, it is our duty to take account as a nation of where we have come since that terrible moment and where we must go if we are to keep America safe in these perilous times.
Some would rather launch political attacks to avoid that conversation.
Just recently, Donald Rumsfeld - the man who should have been fired as Secretary of Defense long ago - Donald Rumsfeld gave a low and ugly speech in which he smeared those who dissent from a catastrophic policy, and then spoke of "moral confusion."
Well, there certainly is a lot of moral confusion around these days.
It is immoral for old men to send young Americans to fight and die in a conflict without a strategy that can work - on a mission that has not weakened terrorism but worsened it.
It is immoral to lie about progress in that war to get through a news cycle or an election.
It is immoral to treat 9/11 as a political pawn - and to continue to excuse the invasion of Iraq by exploiting the 3,000 mothers and fathers, sons and daughters who were lost that day. They were attacked and killed not by Saddam Hussein but by Osama bin Laden.
And it is deeply immoral to compare a majority of Americans who oppose a failing policy and seek a winning one to appeasers of Fascism and Nazism.
The leaders of this administration have shown in recent days that they will say anything, do anything, twist any truth, and endanger our nation's character as one America in a desperate ploy to survive a mid term election.
But Americans now see through this charade. They know the truth. We have a Katrina foreign policy - a succession of blunders and failures that have betrayed our ideals, killed and maimed our soldiers, and widened the terrorist threat instead of defeating it.
Every time the administration is down in the polls, every time their political opponents at home appear to gain, they trot out of the fear card, instead of reinforcing in Americans "there is nothing to fear but fear itself," they have nothing to offer but fear itself.
The President wants Americans to believe only one party wants to fight terror. Well, you know what? That's just a cynical game to try to win an election. I believe we need a game plan to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden, not capture a few Congressional seats.
That is why on the eve of this midterm election, we Democrats have a unique responsibility to take this fight into every corner of the nation-not just to oppose what has failed but to propose a new direction that can restore a bipartisan foreign policy and that can defeat jihadist terrorism once and for all.
In order to change course, we must level with the American people about the magnitude of the challenge: we must face reality so we can change it.
This starts by leveling with the American people about Iraq's true position in the overall fight against jihadism. The President pretends Iraq is the central front on the war on terror. It is not now, and never has been. The truth is, his disastrous decisions have made Iraq a fuel depot for terror - fanning the flames of conflict around the world.
There is simply no way to overstate how Iraq has subverted our efforts to free the world from global terror. It has overstretched our military. It has served as an essential recruitment tool for terrorists. It has divided and pushed away our traditional allies. It has diverted critical billions of dollars from the real front lines against terrorism and from homeland security. It has unleashed dangerous, pent-up forces of radical religious extremism. It has weakened moderate leaders in the Middle East. It has strengthened and played into Iran's hand. It has diminished our moral authority in the world.
The demagogic drumbeat about fighting terrorists over there instead of here -- even though they weren't in Iraq until we went in, and it's now a civil war we're fighting -- has compromised America's real interests and made us less safe than we ought to be five years after 9/11. The true measure of that is the stark fact that worldwide terrorist attacks are at an all-time high and there are now more terrorists in the world who want to kill Americans than there were at the time of 9/11.
After all the tough talk of "Wanted Dead or Alive," after the Administration bragged and boasted - they meekly backed off in the mountains of Tora Bora. Osama bin Laden escaped because the administration held back the best military in the world - our's - and outsourced the job to local militias. Since then Al Qaeda has spawned a vast and decentralized network operating in 65 countries. Only Dick Cheney could call this a success.
The situation in Afghanistan deteriorates steadily, squandering the sacrifices of our troops and allies in the military campaign of 2002. The Taliban now controls entire portions of southern Afghanistan, and just across the border Pakistan is just one coup away from becoming a radical jihadist state with a full compliment of nuclear weapons. Only Don Rumsfeld could proclaim this a victory.
We have an Iraqi Prime Minister sustained in power by our forces, who will not speak against the Hezbollah terrorists, who will not say that Israel has a right to exist, and who will not condemn the Iranian nuclear program. No American soldier should be asked to stand up for an Iraqi government that won't stand up for freedom and against fear.
Here at home, too many things have not changed in the last five years. We learned on 9/11 painful lessons about the costs of a dysfunctional intelligence system marred by bureaucratic infighting, inadequate resources, and faulty analysis. Yet the 9/11 commission recently gave our own government a failing grade on implementing intelligence reforms.
The Dubai port deal reminded us only a small percentage of cargoes entering U.S. ports are even inspected. Surely if we can inspect cargoes at the Baghdad airport, we can inspect cargoes at the airports in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and right here in Washington DC.
This is the reality of the world today - a world more dangerous because of the Bush blunders and a challenge far more complicated than the gruff Cheney sound bites. America deserves - our safety depends-on a winning strategy to reverse this dangerous course and make our country more secure.
There are five principal priorities that demand immediate action: (1) redeploy from Iraq, (2) re-commit to Afghanistan, (3) reduce our dependence on foreign oil, (4) reinforce our homeland defense, and (5) restore America's moral leadership in the world. These "5 R's"-if you want to call them that-- are bold steps Democrats will take to strengthen our national security, and that the Republicans who have set the agenda today resist to our national peril.
We must refocus our military efforts from the failed occupation of Iraq to what we should have been doing all along: tracking down and killing members of al Qaeda and their clones wherever they are. We must redeploy troops from Iraq - maintain enough residual force to complete the training and deter foreign intervention, so we can free up resources to fight the global war on terror.
Republicans want to wrap this strategy in slogans because they're afraid to debate what it really is: it's a redeploy-to-succeed strategy - to succeed in defeating world wide terror, and to succeed in making Iraqis themselves responsible for Iraq.
This is the opposite of the administration's stand-still-and-lose strategy - - it's a clear alternative from a broken policy of "more of the same." Every time President Bush tells the Iraqis we will "stay as long as it takes," he is giving squabbling politicians there an excuse to take as long as they want. All of us want democracy in Iraq but Iraqis must want it for themselves as much as we want it for them. It's long overdue for the president to realize that no American soldier should be sacrificed because Iraqi factions refuse to resolve their ethnic rivalries and their competing grasp for oil revenues.
At each step along the way, the Iraqi leaders have responded only to deadlines-a deadline to transfer authority to a provisional government, a deadline to write a Constitution, a deadline to hold three elections. So we must set another deadline to extricate our troops and get Iraq up on its own two feet-- a clear deadline of July, 2007 to redeploy our combat troops. Make Iraqis stand up for Iraq - and bring our heroes home.
We also desperately need something else this administration disdains: diplomacy. Real diplomacy -- a Dayton-like summit of Iraq and the countries bordering it, the Arab League, NATO, and the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council. Our own generals have said Iraq can not be solved militarily. Only through negotiation and diplomacy can you stem the growing civil war, and only by setting a deadline to get out can we force Iraq and its neighbors to take diplomacy seriously.
"Staying the course" isn't far-sighted; it's blind. Leaving our troops in the middle of a civil war isn't resolute; it's reckless. Half of the service members listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall died after America's leaders knew our strategy would not work. It was immoral then and it would be immoral now to engage in the same delusion.
Neither can the Administration pretend that the war in Afghanistan is over or that the peace has been secured. The truth is, we are slipping dangerously backwards by the day.
The central front in the war on terror is still in Afghanistan, but this Administration treats it like a sideshow. When did denying al Qaeda a terrorist stronghold in Afghanistan stop being an urgent American priority? How did we end up with seven times more troops in Iraq - which even the Administration now admits had nothing to do with 9/11 - than in Afghanistan, where the killers still roam free? Why is the Administration sending thousands more American troops into the crossfire of a civil war in Iraq but we can't find any more troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan?
You could get whiplash watching the Administration policy on Afghanistan change from day to day. On Sunday, asked which of the 26 countries in the alliance were dragging their feet in Afghanistan, NATO's top commander General James Jones, a four-star general and former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, replied, "All of them." Tuesday, Secretary Rice said we'll "pay for it" if Afghanistan again devolves into a terrorist stronghold. But just yesterday the Administration refused to heed its own warnings and refused to send the troops the commanders on the ground said we needed. That is both a tragedy and a scandal. And today? Silence.
The Administration's Afghanistan policy defines cut and run. Cut and run while the Taliban-led insurgency is running amok across entire regions of the country. Cut and run while Osama bin Laden and his henchmen hide and plot in a lawless no-man's land. Cut and run even as we learn from Pakistani intelligence that the mastermind of the most recent attempt to blow up American airliners was an al Qaeda leader operating from Afghanistan. That's right - the same killers who attacked us on 9/11 are still plotting attacks against America and they're still holed up in Afghanistan.
We need a new policy - the one the president promised when we went into Afghanistan in the first place. Where NATO allies have pledged troops and assistance to Afghanistan, they must follow through. But the United States must lead by example by sending in at least five thousand additional American troops. More elite Special Forces troops, the best counter-insurgency units in the world; more civil affairs forces; and more experienced intelligence units. More predator drones to find the enemy, more helicopters to allow rapid deployments to confront them, and more heavy combat equipment to make sure we can crush the terrorists. And more reconstruction money so that the elected government in Kabul, helped by the United States, not the Taliban helped by al Qaeda, rebuilds the new Afghanistan.
That's how you win the hearts and minds of the local population, that's how you win a war on terror, that's how you show the world the true face of America.
America also needs a national policy that understands we are threatened not just by gun barrels, but by oil barrels. The great treasury of jihadist terrorism is mideast oil. We fund both sides in the war on terror every time we fill up our gas tanks. We know how dependent we are on oil, but it's not just us. We must liberate the Middle East itself from the tyranny of dependence on petroleum so that the region no longer feeds restive and rising populations of unemployed young people a diet of illusions and rationalizations paid for by our oil money.
Nothing will change if autocratic regimes keep pumping prosperity out of the ground to pay off a new generation with petrodollar welfare checks. We cannot change this if our oil money is sustaining the status quo. We must end the Empire of Oil.
We can't allow Energy independence to be used as a mere slogan, it has to be a solution. We need a revolutionary set of new policies to promote alternative fuels on a crash basis. This is essential if we are to reverse the tide towards catastrophic global climate change; it is essential to making the United States a leader in vast new opportunities to develop and market clean energy technologies-but most importantly, energy independence is essential to defeating jihadist terrorism and liberating our country from our bondage to tyrannical, hostile, and unstable regimes.
And to really make America safe, it is imperative that we reinforce our homeland defense- starting by doing what should have begun two years ago, and fully implementing the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. President Bush this week said that Osama bin Laden and the terrorists plan to target America's 'weak points.' Our weak points-our borders, our chemical plants, our railways-- are weak because this administration has the wrong priorities. The President's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are not only unfair and unaffordable: they are taking from homeland security. What we have today from this White House is the fiction that you can have national security on the cheap -- and this must end.
We must rearm ourselves at home. Hurricane Katrina showed us in the most tragic way that the Department of Homeland Security is woefully unprepared to handle a natural disaster we know is coming a week in advance, let alone a catastrophic terrorist attack that takes America by surprise. After four years of post-9-11 emergency planning, we left old people on rooftops to die. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission concluded that the Bush Administration should distribute homeland security funding to cities and states based on risk. Yet the Commission's most recent report card gives the government an "F" because this Administration has cut homeland security funding for the states that need it most - which happen to be blue states -- while distributing funds disproportionately to the red states that need it least. What should count here is the terrorist target list, not the Republican National Committees' political target list.
To make America safe we must ensure the rapid development and deployment of reliable technologies to detect the secret transport of deadly materials. For $1.5 billion dollars - less than is spent in a week in Iraq - we could purchase the equipment to scan every cargo container bound for U.S. ports to ensure that it does not contain any weapons of mass destruction.
We must-and let me tell you no matter what the White House wants, the Congress will-reconstitute the Bin Laden unit at the CIA, which the Administration inexplicably disbanded. Maybe they thought that if they weren't looking for Bin Laden, no one would notice that they weren't finding him.
So these are four specific steps that will start us on the right path - but they alone will not win the war on terror.
Most important, we need to make America be America again. We must restore our moral authority and global leadership by deploying the full arsenal of our national power with smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances, more effective international institutions -- and fidelity to the values we have always stood for as a nation.
We must remember the great lesson of the Cold War when we led the world to confront a common threat. Genuine global leadership is a strategic imperative for America, not a favor we do for other countries. Leading the world's most advanced democracies isn't mushy multilateralism -- it amplifies America's voice, it extends our reach. Working through global institutions doesn't tie our hands - it gives greater strength and legitimacy to our purposes and dampens the fear and resentment that our overwhelming power sometimes triggers in others.
Leadership means talking with countries who aren't our friends. It means engaging directly when our vital national security interests are at stake - even with countries that we strongly disagree with-because treating dialogue as a means rather than an end can help us achieve our goals. As John Kennedy once said, "we must never negotiate out of fear but we must never fear to negotiate." If Richard Nixon could send Henry Kissinger to China, surely George Bush can send a real negotiating team to North Korea. If Ronald Reagan could talk to the evil empire, surely we can talk with Iran or Syria.
We must start treating our moral authority as a precious national asset that does not limit our power but magnifies our influence. Only this week did the Administration finally recognize that the protections of the Geneva Convention had to be applied to prisoners in order to comply with the law, restore our moral authority, and best protect American troops. Let me say it plainly: No American president should be for torture before he's against it.
Anyone who understood the conflict we face could never shrug off the imperative of winning the hearts and minds of Muslim moderates.
We must start leading by example. We should never engage in or excuse violations of basic human rights. We must uphold the rule of law in our own conduct. And we should never accept official lying by our leaders. No White House should ever bully the Director of the CIA to make a case he knows isn't true - and no White House should reward it with the Medal of Freedom.
I've outlined five specific steps to make our nation safer which I believe stand in stark contrast to the Republicans' failed policies.
So now it's time for a real debate. Let's give all of us-Republicans and Democrats alike-a real "accountability moment" this November.
Let's stand up for what we believe. It is the only way to win. And it is the only way we will be worthy of winning.
Let the Administration give their speeches attacking the patriotism of his fellow Americans. Let him play the politics of fear. As Democrats, we choose to offer a real plan to attack the terrorists and free Americans from fear.
And then let the people decide.