Thank you Steve, for that generous introduction. Your many years of impressive leadership at GW have benefited the students, the faculty, and the whole city. I commend you as well for your support for the DC public schools, and your commitment to help them in their time of need, and increase opportunities for their students. Thank you for all you do so well.
I'm honored to be at GW today, and to have this opportunity to speak to all of you at this defining moment for our nation. Five weeks from tomorrow, the American people will decide the next President of the United States. The consequences of the election will be enormous for our country here at home and our role in the world. Every American has a responsibility to vote, and I know you'll approach that responsibility with the seriousness it deserves.
Most of you will probably be voting for the first time, as will many other college students throughout America. One of the few positive results of the Vietnam War is the irresistible momentum it gave Congress thirty-four years ago to pass legislation lowering the voting age to 18. Long-standing opposition crumbled in the face of one simple truth-"Old enough to fight, old enough to vote." Hopefully, because of the war in Iraq, young voters in communities across America will finally be moved to help our democracy work, by going to the polls in the large numbers long expected.
President Bush's record on Iraq is clearly costing American lives and endangering America in the world. Our President won't change, or even admit how wrong he's been and still is. Despite the long line of mistakes and blunders and outright deception, there has been no accountability.
My topic today, as you can guess, is the war in Iraq. In another presidential election campaign 24 years ago, a Republican governor named Ronald Reagan posed the defining question to the American people in that election, when he asked, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" That simple question has even greater relevance now than when Ronald Reagan asked it.
The defining issue today is our national security. Especially in this post-9/11 world, people have the right to ask Ronald Reagan's question in a very specific and all-important way-are we safer today because of the policies of President George W. Bush?
Any honest assessment can lead to only one answer, and that answer is an emphatic no. President Bush is dead wrong and John Kerry is absolutely right. We are not safer today. And the reason we are not safer is because of President Bush's misguided war in Iraq.
The President's handling of the war has been a toxic mix of ignorance, arrogance, and stubborn ideology. No amount of Presidential rhetoric or preposterous campaign spin can conceal the truth about the steady downward spiral in our national security since President Bush made the decision to go to war in Iraq. If this election is decided on the question of whether America is safer because of President George Bush, John Kerry will win in a landslide.
Enough time has now passed to make us sure of that verdict, beyond any reasonable doubt.
Shakespeare stated the enduring age-old principle eloquently and wisely when he wrote: "Time's glory is to calm contending kings, to unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light."
No issue is more important today. The battle against terrorism is a battle we must win. Even those who opposed the war in Iraq understand that we cannot cut and run, that this is an American issue. But to remain silent in the face of mounting failures by this President and this White House is to weaken our security even further, and we cannot let that happen.
I thank God that President Bush was not our President at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Even after 9/11, it is wrong for this President or any president to shoot first and ask questions later, to rush to war and ignore or even muzzle serious doubts by experienced military officers and experienced officials in the State Department and the CIA about the rationale and justification for the war, and the strategy for waging it.
We all know that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. We've known it for more than 20 years. We're proud, very proud, of our troops for their extraordinary and swift success in removing Saddam from power. But as we also now know beyond doubt, he did not pose the kind of immediate threat to our national security that could possibly justify a unilateral, preventive war without the broad support of the international community. There was no reason whatsoever to go to war when we did, in the way we did, and for the false reasons we were given.
The Administration's insistence that Saddam could provide nuclear material, or even nuclear weapons to Al Qaeda has been exposed as an empty threat. It should have never been used by George W. Bush to justify an ideological war that America never should have fought.
Saddam had no nuclear weapons. In fact, not only were there no nuclear weapons, there were no chemical or biological weapons either, no weapons of mass destruction of any kind.
Nor was there any persuasive link between Al Qaeda and Saddam and the 9/11 attacks. A 9/11 Commission Staff Statement put it
plainly: "Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between Al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." The 9/11 Commission Report stated clearly that there was no "operational" connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda.
Secretary of State Colin Powell now agrees that there was no correlation between 9/11 and Saddam's regime. So does Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Nonetheless, President Bush continues to cling to the fiction that there was a relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda. As the President said in his familiar Bush-speak, "The reason that I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and Al Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda."
That's the same logic President Bush keeps using today in his repeated stubborn insistence that the situation is improving in Iraq, and that we and the world are safer because Saddam is gone.
The President and his administration continue to paint a rosy picture of progress in Iraq. Just last Wednesday, he referred to the growing insurgency as "a handful of people." Some handful!
Vice President Cheney says we're "moving in the right direction," despite the worsening violence. Our troops are increasingly the targets of deadly attacks. American citizens are being kidnapped and brutally beheaded. But Secretary Rumsfeld says he's "encouraged" by developments in Iraq.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina doesn't buy that, and he has said so clearly: "We do not need to paint a rosy scenario for the American people."
Neither does Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He stated unequivocally last week, "I don't think we're....winning. The fact is, we're in trouble. We're in deep trouble in Iraq."
The National Intelligence Estimate in July, although not yet made public, made this point as well-and made it with such breathtaking
clarity that for the good of our country, unnamed officials discussed it with the press. The New York Times said the estimate
"spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq." According to the same New York Times report and other reports, the National Intelligence Estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of next year. The worst case scenario is that Iraq plunges into outright civil war. The best case scenario it says-the best case-is an Iraq with violence still at current levels, with tenuous political and economic stability. Yet President Bush categorically rejected that description, saying the CIA was "just guessing." Last week, he retreated somewhat. He said he should have used "estimate," instead of "guess."
In other words, the best-case scenario, between now and the end of 2005-2005--is that our soldiers will be bogged down in a continuing quagmire with no end in sight. President Bush refuses to give the time of day to advice like that by the best intelligence analysts in his Administration, but the American people need to hear it.
The outlook is bleak, and it's easy to understand why. It's because the number of insurgents has gone up. The number of their attacks on our troops has gone up. The sophistication of the attacks has gone up. The number of our soldiers killed or wounded has gone up. The number of hostages seized and even savagely executed has gone up.
Our troops are under increasing fire. More than a thousand of America's finest young men and women have been killed. More than seven-thousand have been wounded.
In August alone, we had 863 American casualties. Our forces were attacked an average of 70 times a day-higher than for any other month since President Bush dressed up in a flight suit, flew out to the aircraft carrier, and recklessly declared "Mission Accomplished" a year and a half ago.
The President, the Vice President, the National Security Council, Secretary Rumsfeld, and other civilian leaders in the Pentagon failed to see the insurgency that took root last year and that began to metastasize like a deadly cancer. How could they not have noticed that?
Perhaps because they were still celebrating their mission accomplished.
For two years, terrorist cells have been spreading like cancer cells. Any doctor who let that happen would be guilty of malpractice. Is it only coincidence that one of the principal domestic priorities of the Bush Administration is to protect doctors from malpractice lawsuits?
In many places in Iraq today, it is too dangerous to go out, even with guards. The State Department does not attempt to conceal the
truth, at least in its travel warnings. Its September 17th advisory states that Iraq remains "very dangerous."
As much as 15 to 20% of the country has inadequate security. Whole cities are considered "no-go" zones for our troops-presumably to avoid even greater casualties until after the election.
We continue to use so-called "precision" bombing in Iraq, even though our bombs can't tell whether it's terrorists or innocent families inside the buildings they hit.
What is helping to unite so many Iraqi people in hatred of America is their emerging sense that America is unwilling - not just unable - to rebuild their shattered country and provide for their basic needs. Far from sharing President Bush's unrealistically rosy view, they see up-close that their hopes for peace and stability are receding every day. Inevitably, more and more Iraqis feel that attacks on American forces are acceptable, even if they would not resort to violence themselves.
For every mistake we make, for every innocent Iraqi child we accidentally kill in another bombing raid, the ranks of the insurgents climb, and so does their fanatical determination to stop at nothing to drive us out. An Army Reservist described the deteriorating situation this way: "For every guerilla we kill with a 'smart bomb,' we kill many more innocent civilians and create rage and anger in the Iraqi community. This rage and anger translates into more recruits for the terrorists and less support for us."
The Iraqi people's anger is also fueled by the persistent blackouts, the power shortages, the lack of electricity, the destroyed infrastructure, the relentless violence, the massive lack of jobs and basic necessities and services.
By any reasonable standard, our policy in Iraq is failing. We are steadily losing ground in the war. The American people are seeing through the White House smokescreen more clearly every day - seeing the catastrophic failures resulting from the Bush Administration's gross incompetence in managing so many aspects of our occupation of Iraq. We can't go on like this.
Before the war, President Bush and his advisers manipulated, mishandled, and misled the American people about the intelligence, because they were so focused - so blindly focused - on removing Saddam Hussein from power.
They bungled the pre-war diplomacy on Iraq, insulted our friends, and left us more isolated in the world than ever before in our history, unable to obtain real allied support.
They failed to plan for the possibility that the liberation of Iraq would not be the cakewalk they predicted. They arrogantly rejected the counsel, the cautions, and the expertise of the professionals in the State Department most familiar with planning for post-war and post-conflict conditions.
Our soldiers were not adequately trained for the missions thrust upon them. Month after month, our courageous troops could not get even enough armored vests of their own or enough armor for their humvees to protect themselves on patrol. What kind of leadership is it, when month after month, our troops on patrol are so urgently in need of protective armor that they call home in desperation and ask their loved ones to buy armor at the local store and fed-ex it to them in Iraq?
The Administration shrugged when the massive looting began after the fall of Saddam. Secretary Rumsfeld said, "Stuff happens." They foolishly disbanded the Iraqi army, but let them keep their weapon and left ammunitions depots unguarded, creating a bonanza for the insurgents. The Bush Administration has yet to effectively train a new Iraqi army, or even provide the existing units with adequate equipment.
President Bush's repeated insistence that the United States will stay in Iraq "as long as necessary and not one day longer" now has a hollow and tragic ring to our men and women in uniform and their increasingly worried families. They deserve to hear more from our President than happy talk like that.
President Bush speaks about his commitment to genuine sovereignty for Iraq, so that the Iraqi people can govern themselves. But many signs on the ground strongly suggest that we are preparing a long-term military presence. We are also building and staffing the largest American embassy in the world, a huge additional permanent American presence.
Yet another serious failure is the way the Bush Administration has so badly botched every aspect of the reconstruction of Iraq. These failures have also inflamed tensions and created serious dangers as well. Seeds of the insurgency were sown in the earliest days of reconstruction, when we failed to guarantee the openness and the fairness of the reconstruction process. Our failure to have Iraqis perform as much of the reconstruction work as possible may have created huge profits for American contractors, but it also created huge numbers of disgruntled Iraqis, who are easy prey for insurgents to recruit and even pay to kill our soldiers.
The contracts themselves have led to incredible absurdities. Cement is being imported at a far higher cost that what Iraqis could manufacture for themselves. What kind of reconstruction policy is that?
As more evidence of gross mismanagement, the Bush Administration can't account for 8 billion dollars in Iraqi oil funds, apparently because so many of those dollars went to phantom Iraqi soldiers and phantom policemen. Thousands of them magically appeared on payrolls of the new Iraqi government, but they never existed. Eight billion dollars is just lost? Who is being held accountable?
The Administration has also mismanaged the 18 billion dollars approved by Congress a year ago for the reconstruction. Despite the
vast need, only a tiny fraction of that amount has actually been spent. Republican Senator Richard Lugar, the highly respected chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says the slow rate of spending "means that we are failing to fully take advantage of one of our most potent tools to influence Iraq." Of the bungled reconstruction work, he says, "This is the incompetence in the Administration."
Why has the reconstruction effort been so disastrous? Only partly because the security situation is so dangerous. A more fundamental reason is emerging. The Bush Administration tried to carry out the reconstruction with its ideology, instead of an honest strategy. Instead of trying seriously to create jobs for Iraqis, they tried to carry out a plan to privatize virtually every part of the Iraqi economy. It's Republican ideology run amuck. It's bad enough that they're trying to do that to the American economy. It's preposterous to try and do it in Iraq.
The Administration didn't anticipate the obvious result of precipitously opening up Iraq's economy to foreign competition after decades of stagnation. They thought they could use Iraq as an experiment in laissez-faire economics. But the result has been far fewer jobs for Iraqis and far greater support for insurgents. Meanwhile, Vice President Cheney's friends at Halliburton were among the first in line for the gravy train.
Across Iraq, these blunders unleashed forces so powerful and so violent that the Administration didn't even know what hit them. Their disastrous economic strategy was clearly a major factor in the rise of the armed resistance, and it never should have happened.
Twelve years ago, the first President Bush lost his campaign for re-election, because he couldn't understand how deeply the American people felt about the troubled economy. The fundamental concern of that time was summed up in four blunt words, "It's the economy, stupid." The fundamental concern of today takes one less word to sum up -"It's Iraq, stupid."
In the dirtiest tactic so far in the Presidential election campaign, Vice President Cheney claims that Al Qaeda wants John Kerry to win this election. It's despicable to say something like that. It is not unpatriotic to tell the truth to the American people about the war in Iraq. In this grave moment for our country, to use the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
Most likely, Mr. Cheney's ugly charge is a desperate and cynical attempt by the Bush campaign to immunize President Bush, in case another terrorist attack takes place in our country on his watch, in the remaining days before the election.
Another brazen tactic is being used as well. How dare President Bush accuse John Kerry of flip flops on the war in Iraq. My response is "Physician, heal thyself." President Bush is the all-time world-record-holder for flip flops.
Nothing John Kerry has said remotely compares with the President's gigantic flip flops on the reasons he went to war in Iraq.
The President keeps saying America and the world are safer today and better off today because Saddam Hussein is gone. In any meaningful sense, he's wrong. A brutal dictator is gone because of the war in Iraq, and that's good. But no matter how many rhetorical double-twisting back flips President Bush performs, his disingenuous claim that the war has made America safer is wrong-- and may well be catastrophically wrong.
Let's count the ways that George Bush's war has not made America safer.
Number One: Iraq has been a constant perilous distraction from the real war on terrorism. There was no persuasive link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. We should have finished the job in Afghanistan, finished the job on Al Qaeda, and finished the job on Osama bin Laden.
Number Two: The mismanagement of the war in Iraq has created a fertile and very dangerous new breeding ground for terrorists in Iraq and a powerful magnet for Al Qaeda that did not exist before the war. We can't go a day now without hearing of attacks in Iraq by insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists, and our troops are in far greater danger because of it.
Number Three: Saddam Hussein may be behind bars, and that's a significant plus for America and the world, as President Bush says. But the war in Iraq has clearly distracted us from putting Osama bin Laden behind bars-- and that's a huge minus. The President likes to talk about school reform, so let's try a little third grade math. If you add a significant plus and a huge minus, you don't wind up with a plus.
Number Four: Because of the war, the danger of terrorist attacks against America itself has become far greater. Our preoccupation with Iraq has given Al Qaeda more than two full years to regroup and plan murderous new assaults on us. We know that Al Qaeda will try to attack America again and again here at home, if it possibly can. Yet instead of staying focused on the real war on terror, President Bush rushed headlong into an unnecessary war in Iraq
Number Five, and most ominously: The Bush Administration's focus on Iraq has left us needlessly more vulnerable to an Al Qaeda attack with a nuclear weapon. The greatest threat of all to our homeland is a nuclear attack. A mushroom cloud over any American city is the ultimate nightmare, and the risk is all too real. Osama bin Laden calls the acquisition of a nuclear device a "religious duty." Documents captured from a key Al Qaeda aide three years ago revealed plans even then to smuggle high-grade radioactive materials into the United States in shipping containers.
If Al Qaeda can obtain or assemble a nuclear weapon, they will certainly use it - on New York, or Washington, or any other major American city. The greatest danger we face in the days and weeks and months ahead is a nuclear 9/11, and we hope and pray that it is not already too late to prevent. The war in Iraq has made the mushroom cloud more likely, not less likely, and it never should have happened.
Number Six: The war in Iraq has provided a powerful new worldwide recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. We know Al Qaeda is getting stronger, because its attacks in other parts of the world are increasing. In the eight years before 9/11, Al Qaeda conducted three attacks. But in the three years since 9/11, it has carried out a dozen more attacks, killing hundreds in Spain, Pakistan, Indonesia, and elsewhere in the world.
Number Seven: Because of the war, Afghanistan itself is still unstable. Taliban and Al Qaeda elements roam the country. A dangerous border with Pakistan, where terrorists can easily cross continues to be wide open. President Hamid Karzai is frequently forced to negotiate with warlords who control private armies in the tens of thousands. Opium production is at a record level, and is being used to finance terrorism. Our troops there are in greater danger. Free and fair elections there are in greater danger. The war in Iraq has stretched our troops thin to the point where we can't provide enough additional forces to stop the rising drug trade and enable President Karzai to gain full control of the country and root out Al Qaeda. How can we afford not to do that?
Number Eight: We've alienated long-time friends and leaders in other nations, whom we heavily depend on for intelligence, for border enforcement, for shutting off funds to Al Qaeda, and for many other types of support in the ongoing war against international terrorism. Mistrust of America has soared throughout the world. We're especially hated in the Muslin world. The past two years have seen the steepest and deepest fall from grace our country has ever suffered in the eyes of the world community in all our history. We remember the enormous goodwill that flowed to America in the aftermath of September 11th, and we should never have squandered it.
Does President Bush ever learn? His chip-on-the-shoulder address to the United Nations last week was yet another missed opportunity to turn the page and start regaining the genuine support of the world community for a sensible policy on Iraq.
In fact, the President's arrogance toward the world community has left our soldiers increasingly isolated and alone. We have nearly ninety percent of the troops on the ground in Iraq. More than ninety-five percent of the killed and wounded are Americans. Instead of other nations joining us, initially supportive nations are pulling out. The so-called coalition of the willing has become the coalition of the dwindling.
Number Nine: Our overall military forces are stretched to the breaking point because of the war in Iraq. As the Defense Science Board recently told Secretary Rumsfeld, "Current and projected force structure will not sustain our current and projected global stabilization commitments." Our troops in Iraq are under an order that prevents them from leaving active-duty when their term of service is over.
Lt. Gen. John Riggs said it clearly: "I have been in the Army 39 years, and I've never seen the Army as stretched in that 39 years as I have today."
That fact makes it harder for us to respond to threats elsewhere in the world. As John McCain warned last week, if we have a problem in some other flash-point in the world, "it's clear, at least to most observers, that we don't have sufficient personnel."
The war has also undermined the Guard and Reserve. The average tour for reservists recalled to active duty is now 320 days. In the first Gulf War, it was 156 days. In Bosnia and Kosovo, 200 days. A survey by the Defense Department last May found that reservists, their spouses, their families, and their employers are less supportive now of remaining in the military than they were a year ago. Since Guard members are also first-responders for any terrorist attack in the United States, our homeland security as well is being weakened because of their loss. Surely, no one in America wants the legacy of George W. Bush to be that America reinstated the draft.
In the words of the person for whom this city and this distinguished university are named, "There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well-prepared to meet the enemy." George Washington would be appalled at how unprepared the war in Iraq has made us to produce peace-and we should be appalled as well.
Number Ten: The war in Iraq has undermined the basic rule of international law that protects captured American soldiers. The Geneva Conventions are supposed to protect our forces, but the brutal interrogation techniques used at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq have lowered the bar for treatment of POWs and endangered our soldiers throughout the world.
Number Eleven: While President Bush has been pre-occupied with Iraq, not just one, but two, serious nuclear threats have been rising-from North Korea, and Iran. Four years ago, North Korea's plutonium program was inactive. Its nuclear rods were under seal. Two years ago, as the Iraq debate became intense, North Korea expelled the international inspectors and began turning its fuel rods into nuclear weapons. At the beginning of the Bush Administration, North Korea was already thought to have two such weapons. Now they may have eight or more-- and the danger is far greater.
Iran too is now on a faster track that could produce nuclear weapons. The international inspectors found traces of highly enriched uranium at two nuclear sites, and Iran admitted last March that it had centrifuges to enrich uranium. The international community might be more willing to act, if President Bush had not abused the U.N. resolution passed on Iraq two years ago, when he took the words "serious consequences" as a license for launching his unilateral war in Iraq. Now, after that breach of faith with the world community, other nations now refuse to trust us enough to enact a similar U.N. resolution on Iran--because they fear President Bush will use it to justify another reckless preventive war.
Number Twelve: While we focused on the non-existent nuclear threat from Saddam, we have not done enough to safeguard the vast amounts of unsecured nuclear material in the world. According to a joint report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Harvard's Managing-the-Atom-Project, "scores of nuclear terrorist opportunities lie in wait in countries all around the world" - especially at sites in the former Soviet Union that contain enough nuclear material for a nuclear weapon and are poorly defended against terrorists and criminals. As former Senator Sam Nunn said, "The most effective, least expensive way to prevent nuclear terrorism is to secure nuclear weapons and materials at the source." How loudly does the alarm bell have to ring before President Bush wakes up?
Number Thirteen: The neglect of the Bush Administration on all aspects of homeland security because of the war is frightening. We're pouring nearly five billion dollars a month into Iraq - yet we're grossly short-changing the urgent need both to strengthen our ability to prevent terrorist attacks here at home, and to strengthen our preparedness to respond to them if they occur. As former Republican Senator Warren Rudman, Chairman of the Independent Task Force on Emergency Responders, said recently, "Homeland security is terribly under-funded, and we cannot allow that to continue." Chemical plants across the country have been called "ticking time bombs," highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Police, firefighters, and other first responders have seven billion dollars less in basic equipment they urgently need. Our hospitals are unprepared for a bioterrorist attack. Our land borders, our seaports, our shipping containers, our railroads, our transit systems, our waterways, our nuclear power plants-none of these have sufficient funds for protection against terrorist attacks, even though the Bush Administration has put the nation on high alert for such attacks five times in the past three years.
You can't pack all these reasons why America is not safer into a 30-second television response ad or a news story or an editorial. But as anyone who cares about the issue can quickly learn, our President has utterly no credibility when he keeps telling us that America and the world are safer because he went to war in Iraq and rid us of Saddam.
President Bush's record on Iraq is clearly costing American lives and endangering America in the world. Our President won't change, or even admit how wrong he's been and still is. Despite the long line of mistakes and blunders and outright deception, there has been no accountability. As election day draws closer, the buck is circling more and more closely over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Only a new President can right the extraordinary wrongs of the Bush Administration on our foreign policy and our national security.
On November 2nd, the American people will decide whether or not they still have confidence in this President's leadership. When we ask ourselves the fundamental question whether President Bush has made us safer, there can be only one answer: no, he has not. That's why America needs new leadership.
We could have been, and we should have been, much safer than we are today. We cannot afford to stay this very dangerous course. This election cannot come too soon. As I've said before, the only thing America has to fear is four more years of George Bush.