Remarks of Senator Harry Reid
(As Prepared for Delivery)
Monday, January 31, 2005 National Press Club Washington, DC
Thank you Nancy, for that introduction and for the leadership you provide to our party and our country.
Last Thanksgiving, I traveled to Bethesda Naval Hospital to visit with some of our wounded troops. I met one young Marine who had been involved in the battle of Fallujah. He had sustained severe leg injuries but his upper body was still strong and when I came to his bedside he grabbed me by the hand and pulled me in close. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I’m counting on you.”
The fact is, he’s counting on all of us who have the honor of serving here in Washington. On behalf of all congressional Democrats, we will not let him down.
Let me be clear: there is no partisan split in our commitment to defending this nation. America stands united in waging the War on Terror. We Democrats simply believe we need a stronger strategy for winning this war.
We believe it is time that America had a national security policy that is as strong and brave and decent as the heroes who serve in uniform.
Unfortunately, that is not the national security policy we currently have under the Bush Administration. With his reelection with yesterday’s elections in Iraq President Bush has a golden opportunity to change course. To use his State of the Union Address as a chance to come clean with the America people. To outline a stronger, clearer policy to succeed in Iraq, defend America from danger and to advance the security and liberty of people around the world.
President Bush needs to do much more to live up to his obligations as Commander-in-Chief in this new term. That starts with no longer sending our troops into battle without the weapons and equipment they need.
Because this Administration’s policies have left our troops stretched too thin and shouldering too much of the burden, we need to add to our troop levels so that our fighting force has enough soldiers to do the job in both Iraq and in the War on Terror. That means increasing our Army and Marines by forty thousand troops over the next two years.
America will never be truly secure if we do not honor those we ask to serve.
President Bush must keep his promise to those that have served in the defense of freedom. All veterans should get the health care and prescription drugs they deserve. We should launch a 21st Century GI Bill that helps the soldiers of today succeed when they come home from war. And no longer should any veteran have to choose between a retirement check and a disability check. These men and women deserve better. They’ve earned it.
Our veterans also deserve a national security policy that keeps faith with their sacrifice. I think all of us appreciated the President’s words in his Inaugural Address about spreading freedom and democracy. That has always been the Democratic vision of historic leaders like Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John Kennedy. But there is a gap between this President’s words and his deeds.
There is a gap between saying we will “seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions” and an Administration that gives the National Endowment for Democracy only one-third of one percent of what we give millionaires in tax breaks.
There is a gap between saying we are a global leader and standing on the sidelines as new international institutions and alliances take shape without us.
There is a gap between saying to reformers that “the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors” and an Administration that stands by in virtual silence as Saudi dissidents disappear.
And nowhere is the gap between rhetoric and reality greater than in Iraq.
This month, the Defense Department gave up in the search for weapons of mass destruction and the CIA announced that any links between Saddam and al Qaeda before the war were flimsy at best. But now Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorists. There are dozens of insurgent attacks every day. And the war has cost more than fourteen hundred U.S. soldiers their lives including soldiers and Marines from my home state of Nevada. It’s resulted in over ten thousand soldiers being wounded. We owe it to those soldiers to start getting things right in Iraq.
On Sunday, millions of Iraqi citizens risked bloodshed in order to raise their ink-stained fingers in a powerful symbol of democracy. But we all know that these brave men and women will never be truly free until they can walk through their cities and towns without fear.
Yesterday’s elections were a milestone, but on Wednesday night, the President needs to spell out a real and understandable plan for the unfinished work ahead: defeat the growing insurgency, rebuild Iraq, increase political participation by all parties, especially Iraq’s moderates, and increase international involvement. Most of all, we need an exit strategy so that we know what victory is and how we can get there; so that we know what we need to do and so that we know when the job is done.
Iraq is clearly important, but there are so many bigger threats to our national security and this Administration needs to do a better job focusing on the big picture.
There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but on President Bush’s watch some of the most dangerous and despotic countries in the world have been developing nuclear weapons and this Administration has just been standing by.
Iran’s radical ayatollahs have been enriching uranium. But this Administration has let Europe take the lead on dealing with this problem.
North Korea has been producing enough nuclear material for as many as nine weapons and has been building missiles that could deliver a strike to the west coast of the United States. But this Administration has let China handle the negotiations.
It’s time that America stood tall again as the real superpower that we are; time that we led the world on dealing with these terrible threats and building a durable peace instead of just hanging back and letting others show the way.
We should be ready to do whatever it takes to keep the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world’s most dangerous regimes and evil terrorists. That includes our military options but it also includes sitting down at a table. As President Kennedy said when he confronted the nuclear threats of his generation, we must “never negotiate out of fear,” but we must “never fear to negotiate.”
Nearly three and a half years after 9-11, the War on Terror has been placed on the backburners while the Bush Administration spends its time and energy putting out fires in Iraq. President Bush said we would capture Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.” But more than a thousand days later, this terrorist thug remains alive and on the loose. We need to give our troops and our intelligence services all the resources they need to do their job and bring bin Laden to justice. That means adding two thousand more Special Forces troops and increasing the number of foreign language experts so that we can track down all the clues we have. It’s long past time that President Bush returned his attention to the hunt for bin Laden and the War on Terror.
And while we redouble our efforts to wage the War on Terror abroad, we need to do much more to protect American citizens here at home. We need more and better equipped and better trained firefighters and police officers the frontline troops of our homeland security. But this Administration’s policies have been cutting back on them. We need to guard our ports and chemical plants and airplane cargo holds. But this Administration has chosen to look the other way. President Bush needs to do more to prevent attacks here at home before it’s too late.
But we all know that the best way to stop terrorists is to prevent the rise of terrorist groups before they unleash their wrath. As the President said in his Inaugural Address, there are regions of the world that are “prone to ideologies that feed hatred.” Mr. President, these are often the places where people go hungry and live without hope.
When last month’s tsunami destroyed so many families and communities, Americans responded as individuals and as families with a generosity of spirit that reminded the world of the deep goodness of our people. And while everyone agrees that President Bush’s response took too long, I’m glad he finally stepped up to the plate with aid from our government for those that the tsunami had left in such dire straits. Those people who lost so much saw that in their moment of despair, the United States of America stood by them and cared about their future. And that will mean something to them and to us for years to come.
I hope President Bush learns a lesson from this. Because while December’s tragedy caught our attention, there are everyday, slow-motion tsunamis of poverty and disease and mass killings engulfing villages and nations all around our world. These places may seem far away from us, but we learned on September 11th that even Manhattan is not an island, that we live on a tiny globe and that the world’s problems have a way of reaching us here at home.
We need to dry up the breeding grounds that produce terrorism before the next generation of bin Ladens arise. Working to bring economic possibility and educational opportunity and basic medicine to places from South America to Western Africa to East Asia isn’t something we do just because we’re selfless. It is very much in America’s long-term self-interest and vital to our national security.
In 1945, at the beginning of another presidential term in another time of war, Franklin Roosevelt as tough a leader in war as America has ever had spoke of the lessons we had learned as a nation. He said, “We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away.” And he said “the only way to have a friend is to be one.”
President Bush…America needs to start making more friends in this world. We certainly have enough enemies.
This isn’t about some abstract theory of multilateralism. It’s about that Marine I met at the Naval Hospital. Because he really is counting on us on all of us in leadership in this country. He’s counting on us to rebuild a military that President Bush has let become strained at the seams. He’s counting on us to build an alliance of democracy and opportunity so that tomorrow’s world is safer than today’s. He’s counting on us to provide him and his family with the medical care and benefits he’s earned through his sacrifice. And he’s counting on us to level with him about the challenges we face and the ways we can get past them. That’s not too much for him to ask. That’s the American promise. And, Mr. President, come Wednesday night, I believe that young Marine deserves no less.