For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 26, 2002
Vice President Speaks at VFW 103rd National Convention
Remarks by the Vice President to the Veterans of Foreign Wars 103rd National Convention
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you, Jim, and I
appreciate your introduction, and your strong leadership for the VFW.
And I especially appreciate your warm welcome.
I've been looking forward to this opportunity to visit the historic
city of Nashville, and to being with the members of the VFW and Ladies
Auxiliary. I see many good friends here in the audience this morning.
I know I have attended your convention in the past. It's a special
privilege to stand before you today, for the first time, as Vice
President of the United States. (Applause.) And it is my great honor
to serve with a commander in chief every soldier and every veteran can
be proud of - President George W. Bush. (Applause.)
I'm grateful to Jim Goldsmith and Diana Stout for their hard work
on behalf of the nation's veterans and military personnel. I also want
to thank Bob Wallace, your fine executive director who runs the
Washington office. And permit me to be among the first to wish great
success to Ray Sisk of California, who will exceed Jim -- succeed Jim
this Friday as the VFW Commander-in-Chief, and Betty Morris of
Maryland, the incoming national president of the Ladies Auxiliary. I
know Ray and Betty will both do a superb job. (Applause.)
As members of the VFW, you are united by common experiences and
shared commitments. In the military, you devoted yourselves to a cause
above self-interest, served with a firm sense of duty and developed
personal standards that make you an example for your families and your
fellow citizens. The daughter of an Army Air Corpsman described
growing up with her father, and the values she learned from him without
even knowing it. As she recalls, "Honesty, integrity, hard work,
personal responsibility, and perseverance were all around me and I
absorbed them almost imperceptibly." Our veterans have had a similar
effect on the entire nation.
Those values are embodied in this organization. In the VFW our
nation sees a continuing ethic of service, shown in the time, talent,
and money you have given to citizens in need. Last year alone, VFW
members gave more than 16 million hours to worthy causes. Your
Operation Uplink has allowed service members and hospitalized veterans
to make free calls home. I know they and their families are deeply
grateful to all of you.
The VFW also serves the nation by leading on a range of important
issues, such as health care and education, employment opportunities and
homeland security, military readiness and the quality of life for our
service families. The VFW stands firm for protecting our country's
flag and for defending the right of every American to pledge allegiance
to one nation under God. (Applause.)
Our administration is proud to have strong ties with the leadership
and the membership of the VFW. We believe that in dealing with the
federal government, every veteran deserves a response that is fair,
respectful and prompt.
We are working every day to improve the level of service to our
veterans. On taking office we found a large claims backlog, numbering
in the hundreds of thousands. The backlog is falling steadily, as is
the average time for processing each claim. But there's a lot more
work to be done and America's veterans can now be certain that someone
is doing it. The President has put a solid, results-oriented veteran
in charge of the Department, Secretary Tony Principi. Under our
administration you won't receive excuses, you will receive action.
To further improve health care services to veterans, President Bush
has established a veterans health task force, of which Bob Wallace is
an influential member. And although we are holding most discretionary
spending to 2 percent increases, the President has asked Congress for
an 8 percent increase for veterans' health care, and a seven percent
increase for veterans' programs overall. (Applause.) The money is
necessary to meet pressing needs, some of which have gone neglected in
We will continue working with VFW leaders and members on homeland
security, drawing upon your experiences in military and civilian life.
And we share common cause on the matter of servicemen whose fate is
still undetermined. For all the uncertainties that remain, the basic
issue is clear: thousands of brave Americans, last seen doing their
duty, remain unaccounted for. The nation remembers these men, and this
government will persist in the effort to account for every last one of
As we meet all of these commitments, our administration is moving
forward on an agenda to build a safe and prosperous future for the
American people. We have laid the foundation for greater prosperity
and opportunity with the most significant education reforms in 35
years, with free trade legislation to open up markets to American
producers, with tough new laws to ensure corporate integrity and honest
accounting, with spending discipline in Washington and with the largest
federal tax reduction in twenty years.
There is a full agenda for the fall, and beyond. Yet the President
and I never for a moment forget our number one responsibility: to
protect the American people against further attack, and to win the war
that began last September 11th.
The danger to America requires action on many fronts all at once.
We are reorganizing the federal government to protect the nation
against further attack. The new Department of Homeland Security will
gather under one roof the capability to identify threats, to check them
against our vulnerabilities, and to move swiftly to protect the
At the same time, we realize that wars are never won on the
defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy. We will take every
step necessary to make sure our country is secure, and we will
Much has happened since the attacks of 9/11. But as Secretary
Rumsfeld has put it, we are still closer to the beginning of this war
than we are to its end. The United States has entered a struggle of
years -- a new kind of war against a new kind of enemy. The terrorists
who struck America are ruthless, they are resourceful, and they hide in
many countries. They came into our country to murder thousands of
innocent men, women, and children. There is no doubt they wish to
strike again, and that they are working to acquire the deadliest of all
Against such enemies, America and the civilized world have only one
option: wherever terrorists operate, we must find them where they
dwell, stop them in their planning, and one by one bring them to
In Afghanistan, the Taliban regime and al Qaeda terrorists have met
the fate they chose for themselves. And they saw, up-close and
personal, the new methods and capabilities of America's armed
services. (Applause.) May I say, as a former Secretary of Defense,
that I have never been more proud of the America's military.
The combination of advantages already seen in this conflict --
precision power from the air, real-time intelligence, special forces,
the long reach of Naval task forces, and close coordination with local
forces represents a dramatic advance in our ability to engage and
defeat the enemy. These advantages will only become more vital in
future campaigns. President Bush has often spoken of how America can
keep the peace by redefining war on our terms. That means that our
armed services must have every tool to answer any threat that forms
against us. It means that any enemy conspiring to harm America or our
friends must face a swift, a certain and a devastating response.
As always in America's armed forces, the single most important
asset we have is the man or woman who steps forward and puts on the
uniform of this great nation. Much has been asked of our military this
past year, and more will be asked in the months and the years ahead.
Those who serve are entitled to expect many things from us in return.
They deserve the very best weapons, the best equipment, the best
support, and the best training we can possibly provide them. And under
President Bush they will have them all. (Applause.)
The President has asked Congress for a one-year increase of more
than $48 billion for national defense, the largest since Ronald Reagan
lived in the White House. And for the good of the nation's military
families, he has also asked Congress to provide every person in uniform
a raise in pay. We think they've earned it. (Applause.)
In this war we've assembled a broad coalition of civilized nations
that recognize the danger and are working with us on all fronts. The
President has made very clear that there is no neutral ground in the
fight against terror. Those who harbor terrorists share guilt for the
acts they commit. Under the Bush Doctrine, a regime that harbors or
supports terrorists will be regarded as hostile to the United States.
The Taliban has already learned that lesson, but Afghanistan was
only the beginning of a lengthy campaign. Were we to stop now, any
sense of security we might have would be false and temporary. There is
a terrorist underworld out there, spread among more than 60 countries.
The job we have will require every tool at our means of diplomacy, of
finance, of intelligence, of law enforcement, and of military power.
But we will, over time, find and defeat the enemies of the United
States. In the case of Osama bin Laden -- as President Bush said
recently -- "If he's alive, we'll get him. If he's not alive -- we
already got him." (Applause.)
But the challenges to our country involve more than just tracking
down a single person or one small group. Nine-eleven and its aftermath
awakened this nation to danger, to the true ambitions of the global
terror network, and to the reality that weapons of mass destruction are
being sought by determined enemies who would not hesitate to use them
It is a certainty that the al Qaeda network is pursuing such
weapons, and has succeeded in acquiring at least a crude capability to
use them. We found evidence of their efforts in the ruins of al Qaeda
hideouts in Afghanistan. And we've seen in recent days additional
confirmation in videos recently shown on CNN -- pictures of al Qaeda
members training to commit acts of terror, and testing chemical weapons
on dogs. Those terrorists who remain at large are determined to use
these capabilities against the United States and our friends and allies
around the world.
As we face this prospect, old doctrines of security do not apply.
In the days of the Cold War, we were able to manage the threat with
strategies of deterrence and containment. But it's a lot tougher to
deter enemies who have no country to defend. And containment is not
possible when dictators obtain weapons of mass destruction, and are
prepared to share them with terrorists who intend to inflict
catastrophic casualties on the United States.
The case of Saddam Hussein, a sworn enemy of our country, requires
a candid appraisal of the facts. After his defeat in the Gulf War in
1991, Saddam agreed under to U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 to
cease all development of weapons of mass destruction. He agreed to end
his nuclear weapons program. He agreed to destroy his chemical and his
biological weapons. He further agreed to admit U.N. inspection teams
into his country to ensure that he was in fact complying with these
In the past decade, Saddam has systematically broken each of these
agreements. The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its
capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents. And they
continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.
These are not weapons for the purpose of defending Iraq; these are
offensive weapons for the purpose of inflicting death on a massive
scale, developed so that Saddam can hold the threat over the head of
anyone he chooses, in his own region or beyond.
On the nuclear question, many of you will recall that Saddam's
nuclear ambitions suffered a severe setback in 1981 when the Israelis
bombed the Osirak reactor. They suffered another major blow in Desert
Storm and its aftermath.
But we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire
nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we've gotten this from the
firsthand testimony of defectors -- including Saddam's own son-in-law,
who was subsequently murdered at Saddam's direction. Many of us are
convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.
Just how soon, we cannot really gauge. Intelligence is an
uncertain business, even in the best of circumstances. This is
especially the case when you are dealing with a totalitarian regime
that has made a science out of deceiving the international community.
Let me give you just one example of what I mean. Prior to the Gulf
War, America's top intelligence analysts would come to my office in the
Defense Department and tell me that Saddam Hussein was at least five or
perhaps even 10 years away from having a nuclear weapon. After the war
we learned that he had been much closer than that, perhaps within a
year of acquiring such a weapon.
Saddam also devised an elaborate program to conceal his active
efforts to build chemical and biological weapons. And one must keep in
mind the history of U.N. inspection teams in Iraq. Even as they were
conducting the most intrusive system of arms control in history, the
inspectors missed a great deal. Before being barred from the country,
the inspectors found and destroyed thousands of chemical weapons, and
hundreds of tons of mustard gas and other nerve agents.
Yet Saddam Hussein had sought to frustrate and deceive them at
every turn, and was often successful in doing so. I'll cite one
instance. During the spring of 1995, the inspectors were actually on
the verge of declaring that Saddam's programs to develop chemical
weapons and longer-range ballistic missiles had been fully accounted
for and shut down. Then Saddam's son-in-law suddenly defected and
began sharing information. Within days the inspectors were led to an
Iraqi chicken farm. Hidden there were boxes of documents and lots of
evidence regarding Iraq's most secret weapons programs. That should
serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of
defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself.
To the dismay of the inspectors, they in time discovered that
Saddam had kept them largely in the dark about the extent of his
program to mass produce VX, one of the deadliest chemicals known to
man. And far from having shut down Iraq's prohibited missile programs,
the inspectors found that Saddam had continued to test such missiles,
almost literally under the noses of the U.N. inspectors.
Against that background, a person would be right to question any
suggestion that we should just get inspectors back into Iraq, and then
our worries will be over. Saddam has perfected the game of cheat and
retreat, and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A
return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his
compliance with U.N. resolutions. On the contrary, there is a great
danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow
"back in his box."
Meanwhile, he would continue to plot. Nothing in the last dozen
years has stopped him -- not his agreements; not the discoveries of the
inspectors; not the revelations by defectors; not criticism or
ostracism by the international community; and not four days of bombings
by the U.S. in 1998. What he wants is time and more time to husband
his resources, to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons
programs, and to gain possession of nuclear arms.
Should all his ambitions be realized, the implications would be
enormous for the Middle East, for the United States, and for the peace
of the world. The whole range of weapons of mass destruction then
would rest in the hands of a dictator who has already shown his
willingness to use such weapons, and has done so, both in his war with
Iran and against his own people. Armed with an arsenal of these
weapons of terror, and seated atop ten percent of the world's oil
reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of
the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world's
energy supplies, directly threaten America's friends throughout the
region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear
Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has
weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to
use against our friends, against our allies, and against us. And there
is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions will lead him into
future confrontations with his neighbors -- confrontations that will
involve both the weapons he has today, and the ones he will continue to
develop with his oil wealth.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is no basis in Saddam Hussein's conduct
or history to discount any of the concerns that I am raising this
morning. We are, after all, dealing with the same dictator who shoots
at American and British pilots in the no-fly zone, on a regular basis,
the same dictator who dispatched a team of assassins to murder former
President Bush as he traveled abroad, the same dictator who invaded
Iran and Kuwait, and has fired ballistic missiles at Iran, Saudi
Arabia, and Israel, the same dictator who has been on the State
Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism for the better part of
In the face of such a threat, we must proceed with care,
deliberation, and consultation with our allies. I know our president
very well. I've worked beside him as he directed our response to the
events of 9/11. I know that he will proceed cautiously and deliberately
to consider all possible options to deal with the threat that an Iraq
ruled by Saddam Hussein represents. And I am confident that he will, as
he has said he would, consult widely with the Congress and with our
friends and allies before deciding upon a course of action. He
welcomes the debate that has now been joined here at home, and he has
made it clear to his national security team that he wants us to
participate fully in the hearings that will be held in Congress next
month on this vitally important issue.
We will profit as well from a review of our own history. There are
a lot of World War II veterans in the hall today. For the United
States, that war began on December 7, 1941, with the attack on Pearl
Harbor and the near-total destruction of our Pacific Fleet. Only then
did we recognize the magnitude of the danger to our country. Only then
did the Axis powers fully declare their intentions against us. By that
point, many countries had fallen. Many millions had died. And our
nation was plunged into a two-front war resulting in more than a
million American casualties. To this day, historians continue to
analyze that war, speculating on how we might have prevented Pearl
Harbor, and asking what actions might have averted the tragedies that
rate among the worst in human history.
America in the year 2002 must ask careful questions, not merely
about our past, but also about our future. The elected leaders of this
country have a responsibility to consider all of the available
options. And we are doing so. What we must not do in the face of a
mortal threat is give in to wishful thinking or willful blindness. We
will not simply look away, hope for the best, and leave the matter for
some future administration to resolve. As President Bush has said,
time is not on our side. Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in
the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two
working together, constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined.
The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action.
Now and in the future, the United States will work closely with the
global coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the
materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of
mass destruction. We will develop and deploy effective missile
defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack. And the
entire world must know that we will take whatever action is necessary
to defend our freedom and our security.
As former Secretary of State Kissinger recently stated: "The
imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the huge
dangers it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system, and
the demonstrated hostility of Saddam Hussein combine to produce an
imperative for preemptive action." If the United States could have
preempted 9/11, we would have, no question. Should we be able to
prevent another, much more devastating attack, we will, no question.
This nation will not live at the mercy of terrorists or terror
I am familiar with the arguments against taking action in the case
of Saddam Hussein. Some concede that Saddam is evil, power-hungry, and
a menace -- but that, until he crosses the threshold of actually
possessing nuclear weapons, we should rule out any preemptive action.
That logic seems to me to be deeply flawed. The argument comes down to
this: yes, Saddam is as dangerous as we say he is, we just need to let
him get stronger before we do anything about it.
Yet if we did wait until that moment, Saddam would simply be
emboldened, and it would become even harder for us to gather friends
and allies to oppose him. As one of those who worked to assemble the
Gulf War coalition, I can tell you that our job then would have been
infinitely more difficult in the face of a nuclear-armed Saddam
Hussein. And many of those who now argue that we should act only if he
gets a nuclear weapon, would then turn around and say that we cannot
act because he has a nuclear weapon. At bottom, that argument counsels
a course of inaction that itself could have devastating consequences
for many countries, including our own.
Another argument holds that opposing Saddam Hussein would cause
even greater troubles in that part of the world, and interfere with the
larger war against terror. I believe the opposite is true. Regime
change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region.
When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples
of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring
lasting peace. As for the reaction of the Arab "street," the Middle
East expert Professor Fouad Ajami predicts that after liberation, the
streets in Basra and Baghdad are "sure to erupt in joy in the same way
the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans." Extremists in the region
would have to rethink their strategy of Jihad. Moderates throughout
the region would take heart. And our ability to advance the
Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced, just as it was
following the liberation of Kuwait in 1991.
The reality is that these times bring not only dangers but also
opportunities. In the Middle East, where so many have known only
poverty and oppression, terror and tyranny, we look to the day when
people can live in freedom and dignity and the young can grow up free
of the conditions that breed despair, hatred, and violence.
In other times the world saw how the United States defeated fierce
enemies, then helped rebuild their countries, forming strong bonds
between our peoples and our governments. Today in Afghanistan, the
world is seeing that America acts not to conquer but to liberate, and
remains in friendship to help the people build a future of stability,
self-determination, and peace.
We would act in that same spirit after a regime change in Iraq.
With our help, a liberated Iraq can be a great nation once again. Iraq
is rich in natural resources and human talent, and has unlimited
potential for a peaceful, prosperous future. Our goal would be an Iraq
that has territorial integrity, a government that is democratic and
pluralistic, a nation where the human rights of every ethnic and
religious group are recognized and protected. In that troubled land
all who seek justice, and dignity, and the chance to live their own
lives, can know they have a friend and ally in the United States of
Great decisions and challenges lie ahead of us. Yet we can and we
will build a safer and better world beyond the war on terror. Over the
past year, millions here and abroad have been inspired once again by
the bravery and the selflessness of the American armed forces. For my
part, I have been reminded on a daily basis, as I was during my years
at the Pentagon, of what a privilege it is to work with the people of
our military. In whatever branch, at whatever rank, these are men and
women who live by a code, who give America the best years of their
lives, and who show the world the finest qualities of our country.
As veterans, each of you has a place in the long, unbroken line of
Americans who came to the defense of freedom. Having served in foreign
wars, you bore that duty in some of our nation's most difficult hours.
And I know that when you come together, your thoughts inevitably turn
to those who never lived to be called veterans. In a book about his
Army years, Andy Rooney tells the story of his childhood friend Obie
Slingerland -- a decent, good-hearted, promising boy who was captain of
the high school football team. Obie later went on to be the
quarterback at Amherst before entering the Navy and becoming a pilot.
Still a young man in his early 20s, he was killed while flying a combat
mission off the carrier Saratoga. Andy Rooney writes: "I have awakened
in the middle of the night a thousand times and thought about the life
I had that Obie never got to have."
Many of you have known that experience. The entire nation joins
you in honoring the memory of your friends, and all who have died for
our freedom. And the American people will always respect each one of
you for your standing ready to make that same sacrifice. On the
nation's behalf, and for myself and President Bush, I thank you for the
service you gave to your fellow citizens, for the loyalty you have
shown to each other and for the great honor you have brought to your
uniform, to our flag, and to our country.