August 26, 2003
One lesson we learned in Vietnam is that sometimes politics gets in the way of decisions that are best for the troops and we must never let that happen again. We know that sometimes abstract ideology doesn't take account of the life of a grunt, the peril of a sailor in a patrol boat or an airman in the belly of a plane, all trying to do right for their country and survive.
We have every reason to be proud of our military today. They are the finest fighting force in the world. We are grateful for the professionalism, courage, and commitment with which they won decisive victories in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But winning military victories is only half the struggle. The mission will not be over until we win the peace - and until the last man and the last woman come home. That is now very much at stake. Let me put it plainly: In Iraq even more than Afghanistan, our post-war planning has failed to do the job and in the process we've over-extended our troops and our reserves. Today, a soldier in Iraq fears getting shot while getting a drink of water. A squad at a checkpoint has to worry whether the old station wagon driving toward them is a mobile bomb.
When we decide to go to war, the only exit strategy is called victory -mission accomplished. We must succeed ultimately in our goals in Iraq - because to not succeed would have extraordinary negative consequences for the war on terror. So with characteristic American determination and grit we will see this through and we will make America and the world safer and more secure as a result.
But another important lesson of Vietnam is the obligation veterans feel to tell the truth when it matters most - when the life and safety of troops depend on it. Above all, we learned that the interests of the grunts on the ground come before all politics - and all ideology. And what we urgently need now to protect our young men and women in uniform - and America's role in the world - are decisions based on professional military judgments and strategic vision, not politics and pride. There are too many names on the Vietnam Wall because of the rationalizations and willfulness of armchair strategists.
So let me say again, I believe a lack of planning and a lack of candor with the American people have placed our men and women in uniform in increased harm's way. I believe it is wrong for our troops to be turned from warriors into police officers without the training, support, and numbers they need. And it is equally wrong for the administration to have stubbornly refused the offer of other nations to share the risks and authority in Iraq. It is imperative to get the United Nations to help not because of any politics but because it just makes plain, old American common sense to have as many nations carrying the burden and risk as possible. I want the targets taken off American soldiers as fast as possible because that's how you protect the troops most effectively.