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Public Statements

Renewing American Leadership

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Renewing American Leadership

Center for U.S. Global Engagement
Washington Conference "Election '08: The Global Impact"
The Mayflower Hotel

The speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.

"The force of arms won our independence, and throughout our history, the force of arms has protected our freedom.

But the very moment we declared our independence, we laid before the world the values behind our revolution.

The authors of our Declaration of Independence believed that "a decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation."

No less than force of arms, a statement of principle justifying our actions was "required."

Our first act as a nation embodied what we now call "smart power" - using the force of our principles and ideas to promote our interests.

Neither arms nor ideas were adequate alone. That was true then, and it is still true today.

We are here today because there is a growing concern that in recent years we have lost the balance that served us so well throughout our history. That's what I want to talk about.

* * *

Looking back over the past eight years, I believe that history will judge President Bush's less for the mistakes he made than for the opportunities he squandered.

After 9-11, the President had a historic opportunity to unite Americans and the world in common cause.

Instead, by exploiting the politics of fear, instigating an optional war in Iraq before finishing a necessary war in Afghanistan and instituting policies on torture, detainees and domestic surveillance that fly in the face of our values and interests, President Bush divided Americans from each other and from the world.

At the heart of this failure is an obsession with the "war on terrorism" that ignores larger forces shaping the world and the lives of Americans in this new century:

* The emergence of China, India, Russia and a united Europe;

* The spread of lethal weapons and dangerous diseases;

* Uncertain supplies of energy, food and water;

* The persistence of poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor;

* Extraordinary new technologies that send people, ideas and money across the globe at ever faster speeds;

* Ethnic animosities and state failures;

* A rapidly warming planet;

* The challenge to freedom from radical fundamentalism.

Instead of focusing on these forces, President Bush has fixated on a small number of radical groups that hate America, turning them into a ten-foot tall existential monster that dictates every move we make.

Al Qaeda must be destroyed. Its ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction must be stopped.

But to compare terrorism with an all encompassing ideology like Communism and Fascism is evidence of profound confusion.

Terrorism is a means, not an end, and very different groups and countries are using it toward very different goals.

President Bush and Senator McCain lump together, as a single threat, extremist groups and states as at odds with each other as they are with us: Sunnis and Shiites, Persian and Arabs, Iraq and Iran, Al Qaeda and Shiite militia.

If they can't identify the enemy or describe the war we're fighting, it's difficult to see how we will win.

The results speak for themselves.

In recent years, Iran, not freedom, has been on the march.

Iran is closer to the bomb; its influence in Iraq has grown; its terrorist proxy Hezbollah is ascendant in Lebanon and its ally Hamas controls Gaza.

Beyond Iran, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan - the people who actually attacked us on 9-11 - are stronger now than at any time since 9-11.

Radical recruitment is on the rise.

140,000 American troops remain stuck in Iraq with no end in sight, playing into the hands of Al Qaeda.

Because of the policies George Bush has pursued and John McCain would continue, the entire Middle East is more dangerous. The United States and our allies, including Israel, are less secure.

So even, if you look at the world through this administration's distorted lens, you see a failed policy.

* * *

The election in November is a vital opportunity for America to start anew. That will require more than a good soldier. It will require a wise leader.

Barack Obama is that wise leader.

You learn a lot about someone campaigning with him, debating him, hearing him speak, seeing how he thinks and reacts under tremendous pressure. You learn about the strength of his mind and the quality of his heart.

The Senator from Illinois has the judgment, the intellect, and the steel in his spine to lead America out of the deep hole we've dug for ourselves here at home and around the world.

He has the vision for where we need to go - and the clear eyed pragmatism to get us there.

The place to start is Iraq. It stands like a boulder in the road, denying us the credibility we need to lead in the world and the flexibility we need to meet challenges here at home.

Senator Obama is profoundly right that now is the time to start to re-center our foreign policy by beginning a responsible redeployment of American combat forces from Iraq.

It's what Iraqis want, what Americans want and what our national security interests require.

Unlike Senator McCain, Senator Obama understands that the responsibility of the next President goes beyond being Commander-in-Chief for Iraq - he has to be Commander-in-Chief for America's security in the world.

We cannot sustain the force we have in Iraq without throwing our entire foreign policy out of whack and leaving America vulnerable to other threats.

That's why this is the time to reduce, not end, our commitment in Iraq… to transition to a new mission that is far less costly, far smaller, far more sustainable and allows us to meet the many other challenges we face, starting with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Barack Obama understands the need to do that. John McCain does not. He lives in a world where the only thing he sees is Iraq. John would have us stay in large numbers indefinitely - it could be 5 years, or 50 years or 100 years. He doesn't say because he doesn't know.

And unlike John McCain, Barack Obama understands that Iraq is not and has never been the central front in the war on terror.

It's Afghanistan/Pakistan - where the people who attacked us on 9-11 live. Every indicator is negative. Violence is up, with more coalition forces killed last month in Afghanistan than in Iraq. The Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has regenerated.

John McCain would send us into this fight with both hands tied behind our back because the resources we need are tied up in Iraq:

* In 2007, Sen. Obama called for sending two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan. He was right then and he's right now.

* The former U.S. commander of ISAF, Gen. McNeill told me in February in Kabul he needs two combat brigades - 10,000 troops - to turn the tide in the south, where the Taliban is on the attack. He can't get them because they are tied up in Iraq.

* The GAO report on Afghan Army and Police we're training said: "ANA combat units report significant shortages in about 40% of equipment items Defense defines as critical, including vehicles, weapons, and radios. Some of these challenges are due in part to competing U.S. global priorities" - i.e. Iraq.

* We've spent on Afghan reconstruction over six years what we spend every three weeks on combat operations in Iraq.

The longer we keep 140,000 troops in Iraq, the longer we put of the day we fully take the fight to the people who actually attacked us on 9-11.

* * *

More broadly, Senator Obama understands that, in recent years, we have allowed the non-military elements of American power to atrophy.

"Instead of adhering to a rigid ideology," he says, "I want to get back to the pragmatic tradition of American foreign policy… that's focused on using all elements of American power to protect our people and advance our interests."

Funding for the Department of Defense is over half a trillion dollars, but the total foreign affairs budget is less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone.

For every $15 we put into the military, barely $1 goes towards civilian foreign assistance programs.

This imbalance is producing a number of unintended consequences that are undermining our national security instead of advancing it.

First, the weakness of the muscles that surround our military might is actually sapping the strength of our armed forces.

Before the 2000 election, George Bush and Dick Cheney famously told our military: "Help is on the way." As President and Vice President, they have presided over the greatest readiness crisis in our armed forces since Vietnam.

The active Army is short 3,000 captains and majors and nearly 60 percent of recent West Point graduates are choosing to leave the force - double the historic average.

The United States does not have a single combat brigade at home in reserve, ready for an unexpected crisis.

The National Guard and Reserves lack half the equipment they need, handcuffing their ability to respond to an emergency at home and abroad.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, our military is spearheading reconstruction. As Secretary of Defense Gates said recently, we now have "field artillerymen and tankers building schools and mentoring city councils - usually in a language they don't speak."

Out of necessity, they have gotten very good at it. But it is not their job - and it takes away from the job they are trained to do, namely fight the enemy.

That's why Senator Obama has championed an effort Dick Lugar and I began to establish, a Civilian Response Corps: a standing army of police trainers, judicial experts, engineers and administrators who can help build the capacity of countries emerging from conflict.

It is also why he has a comprehensive plan to revitalize our military by expanding it, solving recruitment and retention problems, preparing and equipping it for the challenges of this century, not the last one, restoring the readiness of the Guard and Reserves, and treating our returning veterans with the respect they deserve.

Second, this administration's fixation on regime change and military preemption has come at the expense of true prevention - defusing threats to America's security long before they are on the verge of exploding.

Military preemption has long been - and must remain - an option.

But turning preemption into a one-size fits all doctrine has made the world even less secure for America.

It said to Iran and North Korea their best insurance policy against regime change was to acquire weapons of mass destruction as quickly as possible.

It said to fault-line states like India and Pakistan, China and Taiwan, Russia and Chechnya, Israel and the Arab states that it is alright to use force first and ask questions later.

It required a standard of proof for intelligence that may be impossible to meet unless we cherry pick the facts, as we did before we went into Iraq.

And it undermined our credibility around the world.

If we're smart, we'll move from military preemption to the kind of comprehensive prevention strategy Barack Obama would pursue.

Secure loose weapons around the world, build the capacity of partners to detect dangerous materials and disrupt terror networks, set new standards to seize suspect cargoes, provide security, political and economic incentives for states to forego weapons, and reform the non-proliferation system.

And of course, the most effective - and cost-effective - prevention tools of all are development and diplomacy, which I'll come back to in a minute.

Third, the emphasis on military might has come at the expense of building effective alliances and international organizations.

This administration starts from the premise that because America's military might is so much greater than anyone else's, anything that could get in the way of using that might - even an ally - must be ignored.

But consider our main security challenge: a growing network of fundamentalist groups that could tap into a spreading supply of dangerous weapons.

Senator Obama believes that the best response to a network of terror is to build a network of our own - a network of like-minded countries and institutions that pool resources, information, ideas, and power.

Taking on the radical fundamentalists alone isn't necessary, it isn't smart, and it won't succeed.

Fourth, we need a renewed investment in and commitment to development and diplomacy.

This administration sees development and diplomacy as soft tools that are secondary to our nation's security.

In fact, they go to the very heart of our security in this new century.

Here's how Senator Obama put it last year:

"Extremely poor societies and weak states provide optimal breeding grounds for disease, terrorism and conflict…"

"…The United States has a direct national security interest in dramatically reducing global poverty… We need to invest in building capable, democratic states… [which will have] greater institutional capacities to fight terrorists, halt the spread of deadly weapons, and build health care infrastructures to prevent, detect and treat deadly diseases."

The military is leading the charge for the kind of change Senator Obama has in mind.

Over 50 top retired military commanders and Secretary of Defense Gates, the 9/11 Commission, the Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group, and the Department of Defense's Quadrennial Defense Review all urge increased support for development and diplomacy to make our country more secure.

Take Iraq and Afghanistan for example.

We have spent on Afghanistan's reconstruction over six years what we spend on military operations in Iraq every three weeks.

Yet Afghanistan and its border region with Pakistan are where Al Qaeda plotted 9-11, where the attacks on Europe since 9-11 originated and where Al Qaeda and the Taliban are now regrouping.

By drawing down in Iraq and ramping up in Afghanistan Barack Obama will take the fight to the extremists. And, he do much more to help Afghans and Pakistanis pave roads and generate electricity, build schools and train teachers, open closed economies and empower women.

Earlier today, Senator Lugar, Senator Obama and I introduced a bill that would radically renew our partnership with Pakistan.

It provides a democracy dividend to the new civilian government.

It triples non-military aid and sustains it for a decade, with a focus on schools, roads and health care.

It demands that the military aid we provide actually get used for the purpose we're providing it - to go after Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan, Senator Obama has set aggressive goals to double foreign assistance by 2012 and to meet the Millennium Challenge goal of cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015.

He would invest $2 billion in a fund to help eliminate the global education deficit, cancel 100 percent of the debt for the world's poorest countries, launch a new Green Revolution that produces abundant, sustainable supplies of food and advance democracy by working with moderates on the inside to build its institutions, not impose democracy by force from the outside.

He also understands that support for democracy and development start at home.

The power of our example is as important as the example of our power

Instead of pursuing policies that create a whole new generation of extremists, Barack Obama will end torture, end extraordinary renditions and indefinite detentions, restore habeas corpus, and shut down Guantanamo Bay.

And he will rebuild our own neglected economic foundations, with investments in our people, our schools, our infrastructure, and our technologies.

We need to fight growing income inequality here at home and make education a right for all our citizens.

The stronger we are at home, and the more our core values are honored in our own economy, the more we can do with and for the rest of the world.

This is the time to renew American leadership, at home and around the world.

Barack Obama has a vision of American greatness based not just on our unmatched military might, but on our economic, intellectual, and moral strengths.

They were once the envy of the world.

They can be again."


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