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Unity And Security In The 21st Century

Location: Denver, CO


Unity And Security In The 21st Century

Remarks of the Honorable Mark Udall
Denver World Affairs Council
Denver, Colorado

February 13, 2006

Thank you all for coming. I am delighted to be here this evening and to be with so many people committed to understanding the complex, interconnected and, too often, dangerous world in which we live.

The past five years have been something of a renaissance for world affairs - not only because Karen de Bartolome has done such a great job with the Denver World Affairs Council and the International Institute of Education in the Rocky Mountains.

It's become a cliché to say everything changed on 9/11.

Of course, it's only partially true - because terrorism was nothing new for people in many other countries.

But, like most clichés, it has a basis in fact, because the horrific terrorist attacks on New York and Washington dramatically changed how we Americans view the world and define our national priorities.

More than four years later, the shock has lessened but those attacks still reverberate in our memories and our nightmares.

And the sense that America remains vulnerable shapes our politics, even more than scandals in government and stubborn domestic challenges.

Once again, national security - or maybe we should say national insecurity - is the dominant issue, just as it was during the Cold War.

Ultimately, it will be up to historians to weigh the evidence and decide how to measure America's response to the national security challenges of the first decade of the 21st century.

I think our record is decidedly mixed.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, President Bush and his administration provided admirable leadership. But the last three years have been characterized by missteps that have weakened, not strengthened our ability to project military force abroad, undermining the well-being of our citizens.

At his best, from the rubble of the World Trade Center, President Bush comforted our people and made clear that the attacks had not demoralized Americans or weakened our will.

He quickly defined a clear objective for American policy - to find and destroy those who plotted the attacks and supported the attackers, and to make it impossible for them to continue to kill innocent people to advance a warped vision of Islam.

That objective had broad support among Americans of all political persuasions and free people everywhere, especially as attacks expanded to other locations and countries.

We all remember the signs of unity -

* Democrats and Republicans standing together on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, singing God Bless America.

* Hundreds of thousands of Europeans gathering in the streets to signal solidarity with our grief and everything our great nation represents.

* Unanimous agreement at the United Nations, where treaties were passed with uncommon speed to stifle the funding of terrorist organizations and put all nations on notice that there can be no safe harbor for terrorists.

With our country and the world united in common cause, America was able to accomplish a great deal.

With Afghan and international allies, we successfully deposed the Taliban and, if military reports are accurate, we came very close to trapping and capturing Osama bin Laden.

We put in place international agreements to discourage the financing and harboring of terrorists; and we set in motion cooperative efforts on intelligence gathering and law enforcement that disrupted al Qaeda and damaged its capacity.

Unfortunately, these successes were followed by a series of missteps that have slowed - and arguably stalled - our efforts to bolster our country's security.

That's mainly because the President got us off track in Iraq - fracturing not only longstanding alliances and worldwide cooperation in responding to terrorism, but also the great sense of common purpose that briefly dominated American politics.

Worse still, as Michael Scheuer, a former top analyst for the CIA has pointed out, invading Iraq may have played directly into Osama bin Laden's hands by fueling anti-American hatred in the Islamic world and creating a new theater for training and recruiting jihadists.

The mistake of rushing to war in Iraq is compounded by that war's taxing of our resources and resolve to pursue opportunities to make our country more secure. Because of Iraq, the Bush presidency is likely to go down as one in which of major opportunities were squandered - opportunities for energy security; opportunities to pay down the national debt; opportunities for realigning America's relations with the Islamic world - all of which were possible had we maintained our common purpose after 9/11.

Today, the electorate is once again divided right down the middle - red and blue, Republican and Democrat - and after two bitter election campaigns, public discourse has coarsened and reflexive partisanship has returned to alarming levels.

International unity has eroded too, so much so that our standing in the world has hit dangerous lows, even in places where America has traditionally been well regarded.

Beyond our international reputation, a number of indicators signal challenges for America and the cause of peace and security: the number of global terrorist incidents has increased; parts of Iraq have been transformed into new breeding grounds for terrorists; rebel violence is increasing in Afghanistan, and Iran and North Korea pose serious threats for nuclear proliferation.

My main message to you tonight - and my priority as Congress starts a new session - is that, regardless of our views about the decision to go to war in Iraq, regardless of our past critiques of the current or previous Administrations, regardless of our political affiliation, all Americans share an interest in finding ways to overcome our divisions and to once again unite around a restored sense of common purpose.

We need to muster once again a shared national commitment to a secure and prosperous future - and to overcome the destructive, petty divisions that mock the seriousness of national challenges and the world situation.

And I believe that the national security issue offers that opportunity for national unity and shared purpose.

I do not agree with those - Karl Rove for example - who say the two parties are of two minds about 9/11 and national security.

I think the truth is more complicated - and less partisan - than that.

For me, national security really is a dominant issue.

Some may say that makes me a "national security Democrat." And if that means I am a Democrat who recognizes the importance of defending America, I would agree.

But I do not agree that other Democrats oppose defending our country. Approaches to national security ought to be debated, but the fundamental issue should not be a partisan one, and I for one will resist with all my energy any effort to make it one.

I reject such tactics whether they are employed by Democrats or Republicans, Conservatives or Progressives, because we are all Americans first, and regardless of differences of opinion, we share an abiding commitment to defending our country and securing the safety of our citizens.

Americans have summoned that shared commitment at critical moments in our history, most notably in two world wars, in a common strategy against Soviet expansion in the Cold War, and I think we need to do it again.

My interest in shaping a consensus-based, bipartisan strategy for national security compelled me last year to join the House Armed Services Committee.

Since joining the Committee, I've traveled to Iraq a second time and to and other parts of the Middle East while getting to know the national security community and the men and women who serve in our armed forces. I have listened and learned a great deal.

Based on these experiences, my service and responsibilities as a Member of Congress and mindful of our common commitment as Americans, I want to share with you tonight several specific ideas for restoring consensus on national security.

As a starting point, we need a shared understanding of who we are fighting; we need to more precisely define the enemy.

We are told that we are waging a war against terror. But terror is not the enemy - terror is a tactic - and we are not fighting "terrorism."

Instead, we are fighting radical Islamists who employ this tactic on a global basis, and for specific political ends.

The United States has no quarrel with Islam as a religion, with the culture of Arab states, or with the peaceful people of the Middle East.

Our enemies are radical jihadists who seek to spread their extreme fundamentalist views, gain followers, and create a "caliphate," or a pan-Islamic state throughout the Islamic world. And because they are dedicated to achieving their aims through terror, they are enemies of the civilized world, within and outside Islam, and they must be defeated.

While their number now includes a self-styled "al Qaeda in Iraq," that wasn't true before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

That is why going to war in Iraq got us badly off track. Driven by flawed intelligence, the Bush Administration shifted our focus to Iraq. That meant we took our eye off key priorities and, in fact, created new problems that ought to have been avoided.

Don't misunderstand me. Saddam Hussein was a bloody tyrant who threatened peace. He needed to be contained and, ultimately, removed. While he was in power, the Iraqi people had little reason to hope for the future.

But three years ago we went to war against him, even though Iraq was not an imminent threat to our national security, and in the face of warnings from our friends in the Muslim world that a unilateral invasion of an Arab country would inflame the Middle East and create enemies.

I was opposed to rushing to war in Iraq because I feared it would be a diversion from our larger strategic objectives. Moreover, I was not convinced that the President had established sufficient international support to secure and stabilize Iraq following an invasion.

This did not mean I was prepared to leave Saddam in place to plot against us or develop weapons of mass destruction. In fact, I called for a policy of coercive inspections and even authored a resolution that would have placed the decision to go to war where I think our founders intended it to be, in the hands of Congress and not the president, acting alone.

Because I voted against the war, some have asked why - since that vote - I have supported our troops and our efforts in Iraq.

The answer is simple. Ever since President Bush made the solemn - and I think misguided - decision to go to war, our obligation has been to support our men and women in the armed forces and to prevent matters from getting worse by setting the stage for a bloody civil war in Iraq, or a spreading ethnic conflict in the region, or the continued emergence of Iraq as a haven for radical jihadists.

Sadly, as some of us predicted, Iraq's move to stable democracy has been overshadowed by deep ethnic and civil strife. Simply abandoning the Iraqis, therefore, is neither wise nor humane.

In other words, just as it was a mistake to rush to war, it would be a mistake to rush to leave too soon.

The ability of the United States to avoid compounding our mistakes depends on the continued support of the American people for this ongoing struggle. And the Bush Administration is now paying the price for its original error.

Having sowed the seeds of divisiveness, it is reaping the harvest of discontent.

We can't have 535 Commanders in Chief - there is only one. It is up to the President to both articulate and implement a plan for Iraq that inspires the confidence of Congress and the American people.

The President recently came forward with his "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," which implicitly, if not explicitly, acknowledges the lack of foresight and planning that ought to have preceded the invasion. However late, this effort to define objectives is sorely needed.

But the plan has competing definitions of "victory" and lacks clear benchmarks that must be met in order to transition security responsibilities and full sovereignty to the Iraqis, allowing our troops to be redeployed and the United States to start ramping down the tremendous costs in Iraq.

The President would have us believe that our ultimate weapon in this struggle is to promote democracy everywhere.

This relentless belief in the moral authority of democracy and its effectiveness in bringing peace and security stirs our hearts and our hopes. It is hard not to be moved by this idealistic view of the world.

But idealism alone is not strategy. And the Administration's faith-based approach ignores the fact that some of the most violent terrorist movements arise in emerging democracies.

We should support democracy around the globe and in the Islamic world in particular, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking that this is a magic bullet that will end extremism or the use of terror as a weapon against us and our friends.

At the same time, we must not go to the other extreme and put undue emphasis on American military action.

The use of military power - especially in a unilateral way - has to be consistent with fundamental American interests, it must be supported by our people, and it needs to be planned effectively, including with a clear articulation of our military objectives and an exit strategy. And in this regard, I think it must be said that the Bush Administration has largely failed as a steward of our armed forces.

So as a first step for forging an improved effort in our fight against extremism, we need a bipartisan strategy for responsible withdrawal from Iraq - which may come down more to a strategy for avoiding failure - and for our larger struggle with Islamic extremism.

Among other things, that means putting an end to using fear as a tactic here at home, by implying that anyone who questions an Administration policy or strategy is trying to keep the President from protecting Americans against another terrorist attack.

We all know that's not true, and each of us involved in politics needs to resist the temptation to use such divisive and destructive tactics. Instead, we need to work to revive an understanding that the best results will come from working together toward common goals.

To do my part, I've been working in recent months to encourage bipartisan consensus on a strategy for Iraq. I believe this kind of cooperation will expedite progress in Iraq and help ensure that 2006 is a period of significant transition, enabling our soldiers to redeploy from Iraq. This must be our first and predominant priority for reestablishing American security in 2006.

But we also know that Iraq is not the only front in the global war against Islamic extremism. A great superpower like the United States, committed as we are to protecting our people, must walk and chew gum at the same time.

We cannot win this struggle by military means alone - so as a second step, we must work with moderate Muslims and engage them in beating back the violent, dead-end jihadists. We need to identify and nurture these moderates, encourage them to speak out more often, to condemn terrorist attacks, and to reinforce the reality that Islam is a religion of peace. To succeed, we are going to have to press some of our friends in the region and create political space for moderate voices in countries like Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, where moderates themselves are too often seen by the entrenched powers as viable threats to the regimes.

Third, we need greater urgency and focus on controlling and containing nuclear material around the world. Arms control was central in the high-stakes calculus of the Cold War, but somehow has gotten lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I can tell you that in the age of global terrorism, loose nukes are far more dangerous than ever before, and there is no greater threat than a radical jihadist in possession of nuclear material and the means of delivering it.

There are today some 40 countries with the essential materials needed to produce a nuclear weapon, and more than 100 reactors with sufficient highly enriched uranium to produce a global catastrophe. But many of these reactors have only rudimentary controls, and we have done little to secure - let alone reduce nuclear stockpiles - which are a virtual mushroom cloud hovering over the future.

On this subject, our words must be matched by our deeds. We must aggressively reinforce nuclear non-proliferation and renounce our intention to undertake new nuclear tests or expand our nuclear arsenal. These plans are antithetical to our interests and contrary to our efforts to fight extremism.

As part of our effort to take the fight directly to the enemy, a fourth step involves continuing to make efforts to reform and strengthen our intelligence capabilities a national priority. We've made some positive strides, but our work is far from complete, particularly where human intelligence is concerned.

We need to infiltrate terrorist operations, embed our intelligence operatives for years at a time, and use this irreplaceable information to thwart major attacks. This will require tremendous courage and sacrifice from the individuals involved, and we must be prepared to give them the protection and national gratitude they will richly deserve for their service.

Former Senator Gary Hart, a friend, mentor and creative thinker about national security, has suggested the formation of a new entity - an elite corps drawn from across all the intelligence services - that would have the resources and status to build greater leadership capacity in intelligence. It is an intriguing idea and merits immediate exploration.

Improving our intelligence also will require deepening our understanding of the enemy.

We must enhance our understanding of the Arab world and Islamic culture and creed - not to demonize the vast majority committed to peace, but to understand and distinguish the unacceptable few committed to terrorism.

The United States and the rest of the Western world need to significantly upgrade their understanding of Islam generally and of radical Islamists in particular. Islamic studies, including the study of languages, should be to the nation's universities today what Soviet studies were a generation ago. Our diplomats and our military officers should be required to take two years of a language that is considered to be one of the "critical" languages in today's world - Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, and Spanish, the last so critical in our own hemisphere.

The energy issue looms as a fifth priority for American security. As Thomas Friedman has stated so eloquently, our support for democracy in the Islamic world is undermined by the market forces of oil addiction. National security in the 21st century is inextricably linked to a broad and far-reaching commitment to a new energy future - an energy system that simultaneously serves our economic, environmental and security interests.

If we did nothing else to enhance our national security but reduce our own and the world's dependence on oil, we would go far toward building a safer planet for future generations.

A far-sighted energy policy in the United States is thirty years overdue and will require more than words in an annual State of the Union address to accomplish. It will require real funding, real commitment, and real vision. New energy technologies offer our country so much - in terms of improved environmental quality, agricultural opportunities, science and engineering and new manufacturing and trade opportunties. Energy should be a centerpiece of our national economic policy and our national defense, and is surely as important as any weapons system funded by the Pentagon.

Of course, a good defense must be complemented by a good offense.

It is time for another round of military reform and reinvention - what Marine Colonel T.X. Hammes and others have called "fourth generation warfare." There is lively debate within the Department of Defense about how to fight this new kind of war and anticipating what comes next, but it's not clear that the views of these forward-looking strategists are being heard and acted upon.

Unfortunately, too much of the budget for the next fiscal year - just released last week - is still devoted to Cold War era thinking and Cold War ways of funding defense projects.

Congress needs to support military reforms and expand educational programs for our officer corps, and training for our soldiers in the arena of asymmetric warfare. Yet the entire budget for language and cultural training for the next fiscal year is less than the cost of one Joint Strike Fighter.

We also need a larger Army. Unpopular as it is with many of my friends, I have co-authored legislation with Rep. Ellen Tauscher authorizing an additional 80,000 recruits for the Army.

Why? Because we are asking too much of too few.

The war in Iraq has stretched our Army to the breaking point. We need more troops and we need to train them for the new decentralized, asymmetric threats of the 21st century. Yet the budget for next year would reduce the authorized numbers of the armed services, resulting in the smallest active duty force to be authorized since before Pearl Harbor.

We also need more special forces capable of strategic missions to stamp out nascent cells and plots, as the President's latest budget request, based on the just-finished quadrennial defense review, has recognized.

And we need these forces to be more independent of centralized logistics.

Next, our agenda for national security must include winning the war of ideas.

Winning that war will require far more than creating a Middle Eastern version of Radio Marti or mimicking Al Jazeera. We will have to go out and define ourselves, largely through our deeds, not our words.

Winning the war of ideas will require supporting the kinds of exchanges the Institute for International Education is known for, reopening the doors to study abroad - by Americans around the world, and by the world's citizens in our own universities.

Winning hearts and minds will require us to be generous in supporting development, health, and education, especially in countries where too often radical madrasas are the only choice for parents who want an education for their children.

But winning hearts and minds is about more than benevolence, it depends on our values, our moral standing and the example we set through our deeds.

In recent years, the actions of a reprehensible few have damaged our reputation in this regard. That is why the Administration needs to abandon its defensiveness and signal forcefully and unmistakably that the United States of America takes a backseat to none in its commitment to universally agreed human rights and established treaty commitments.

We must reaffirm the Geneva Accords, renounce torture, and as Senator Lindsay Graham, has said, "restore America's reputation as a beacon for decency in the world."

My final recommendation relates to international cooperation.

We cannot afford, literally or figuratively, to wage our fight against Islamic jihadists as an American-only enterprise. America should not take all the risks or bear all the costs for global security. Our enemies are the enemies of civilized people everywhere, and our struggle against them must be global in reality, not just in rhetoric.

I know from my experience as a leader of Colorado Outward Bound that leadership is about building a sense of team, a shared commitment to a common goal. America must and should lead - but we need to build that shared commitment around the world. We should work with our allies around the world to combat those who use terror as a weapon and to win the war of ideas, on behalf of mutually-assured peace and prosperity.

It should be an urgent priority for the United States to rebuild our alliances with the free peoples of Europe, with whom we have stood through two world wars and countless other struggles. We need to be sure not to ignore whole continents and regions at our peril - such as Africa and Latin America - as both are drifting in dangerous directions.

In the Middle East, there is also obvious and substantial work to do. The U.S. should convene a summit in the Middle East bringing together regional powers and our European allies to help Iraq's factions find political compromise, and we should take the lead in forming a Contact Group - an idea proposed by Senator Joe Biden and former Republican Secretaries of State - to serve as a neutral facilitator of aid and support for Iraq.

Beyond Iraq, we must remain engaged in trying to resolve ongoing tensions, especially those involving Israel and the Palestinians as they move into a post-Sharon and post-Fatah era. We have to recover from the president's early decision - a mistaken one - to downgrade our involvement at a high level in pursuing the peace process.

It's too early to know whether the Roadmap for Peace still means anything - especially now that the Palestinian Authority will have a new Hamas leadership.

We cannot deal directly with terrorists whose political platform includes the destruction of Israel, but neither can we ignore the potential implications of Hamas's victory for Israel and for other countries in the region.

There are challenges to international stability and American security in many parts of the world. Throughout our history, American leadership has been up to the task - and it can be now if we will come together and focus on the key tests in front of us. If we can set aside for a moment our disappointments and frustrations about the current state of affairs, we just might be able to create a more productive set of circumstances in the future.

In this regard, the President bears special responsibility. The President is uniquely positioned, if not duty-bound, to bring the nation together, close the divides of polarization and point us toward a shared objective.

As 2006 gets underway, the President needs to reflect hard on the well-being of our nation. Based on that reflection, I hope that he will convene the leadership of the Congress - Democrats along with Republicans - to find ways to bring us together in common cause for a better future.

And my party - albeit a divided and fractious minority in Congress - must do its part as well. We will not earn the support of the American people if we cannot demonstrate a clear agenda for making America more secure, more prosperous and more cohesive. We have a proud history to build on - from the example of leaders like Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy. These great leaders brought the nation together in times of great struggle and challenge. They did not question the patriotism of those who disagreed with them. They did offer a coherent vision for bringing our country together to secure the nation and its long-term interests. And they were effective stewards of our military, ensuring that our military is the strongest, best-trained and best-equipped force in the world.

This is another delicate moment in our history and similar leadership is required today. Our country and the world is counting on 2006 being a year of restoration, and transition toward a new era of security and prosperity. For this we hope and pray.

Thank you very much.

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