This week, the U.S. House of Representatives has engaged in an important debate on the war in Iraq and how best to combat terrorism in a post-9/11 world. There are major differences between those of us who support strong national security policies and understand what we have at stake and those who would prefer we retreat from the world stage and attempt to manage the threat of terrorism and the danger it poses.
During the 1990s, the enemies of freedom used terror and violence in futile attempts to intimidate the United States and the cause of freedom.
- On February 26, 1993, the 1st World Trade Center Bombing killed six people and injured more than 1,000 others.
- On June 25, 1996, the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia killed 20 people and injured 372 people.
- On June 7, 1998, the Kenya Embassy Bombing killed 213 people and injured 5,000 people.
- On June 7, 1998, the Tanzania Embassy bombing killed 11 people and injured 68 people.
- On October 12, 2000, the U.S.S. Cole bombing killed 17 people and injured 39 people.
What was our response? During the 1990s, world leaders looked at the mounting threat of terrorism, looked up, looked away, and hoped the problem would go away. In a post-9/11 world, I don't believe that is an option. And that is why it’s important we have this debate. Doing nothing is no longer an option in a post-9/11 world.
The American public deserves to hear how their elected leaders will respond to international terrorism and those enemies who seek to destroy our American way of life. Will we fight or will we retreat?
Some of my friends on the other side of the aisle often refer to Iraq as a distraction. They have called Operation Iraqi Freedom a “war of choice” that isn’t a part of “the real war on terror.” Someone should tell al Qaeda.
Let me be clear: Those who say this was a war of choice are wrong – this is a war of necessity. But you don’t have to believe me, just listen to al Qaeda’s own leaders. Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader – Ayman al Zawahiri – knows how important the future of Iraq is to his cause. In a 6,000-word letter to al Qaeda’s then-commander in Iraq – the recently eliminated terrorist Zarqawi – he made it clear the terrorists view Iraq as the central battlefield in the Global War on Terror.
For some reason, this brazen declaration from our nemesis about Iraq’s importance hasn’t registered with many opponents of the war who insist on conceding defeat and withdrawing. If the terrorists tell us directly they see Iraq as the central front on their violent ambitions across the globe, should we dismiss their claims and simply wait for them to attack America again?
Operation Iraqi Freedom was hardly a “war of choice.” Saddam was already a menace and a threat to international order when he ordered several divisions of the Iraqi Army into Kuwait in 1990. He routinely supported and openly encouraged acts of terrorism. He relentlessly persecuted and tortured his own civilian population, including Shi’a, Sunnis, Kurds, and others. He engaged in a multi-billion dollar scandal involving a number of our allies aimed at thwarting sanctions put in place after the Gulf War and abusing the “Oil-for-Food” program, thus causing even greater harm to his own people. He refused to disclose and foreswear his maniacal pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. And he ignored international sanctions and resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council.
Saddam made the case for his ouster better than anyone else. As President Bush said on the eve of the American-led invasion, we would meet the threat BEFORE it became imminent, “so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.”
September 11th made it clear that we could no longer afford to ignore madmen who threaten peace and stability. We can no longer let rogue regimes go unchecked and unchallenged. And because of the combination of modern technology and a murderous ideology, we can no longer count on vast oceans and military supremacy to keep America safe.
The enemy we must confront does not accept political negotiations or co-existence. The aims of our enemies are clear: to destroy anyone who stands for values, beliefs, or political systems which are contrary to their warped and repressive ideology. Their aims are to destroy the cause for freedom and democracy itself.
That is why retreat is not an option in Iraq. As part of the Global War on Terror, the stakes for the American people are too great. The action we took in Iraq was in the best interests of the American people and the world community. The events of 9/11 demonstrated that we had to show our resolve as the world’s premier defender of freedom and liberty before such ideals were preyed upon, rather than after standing witness to their demise at the hands of our enemies.
Some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have called the war in Iraq a “failed effort.” This is curious given the constant drumbeat of progress since the toppling of the Hussein regime. More children are going to school now than at any other point in the country’s history. The Iraqis have held successful elections, drafted and ratified a national constitution, and have put together the first sovereign, free, and unified government in Iraq’s history.
Just in the past week we’ve seen several important, positive developments in Iraq and the Global War on Terror:
- U.S. military forces eliminated the terrorist al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s top commander in Iraq and a cold-blooded killer.
- The Iraqi government named new interior, defense and security ministers as part of the new government’s continued progress.
- And President Bush traveled to Baghdad to meet the newly appointed Prime Minster of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki and to discuss our growing partnership with the new democratic ally.
Yes, there have been setbacks. No war is easy but any honest account of our effort must acknowledge the staying power of the insurgency and the support it has received from foreign forces. But the effort and savagery of the insurgents and their sponsors only underscores our progress and the importance of this effort in the Global War on Terror. If we had adopted the irrational policies of those who lack commitment to winning this fight, terrorist al-Zarqawi would still be alive and plotting terror attacks against Iraqis and Americans.
Defeating repressive, radical terrorists and their allies is our defining task in the early years of the 21st Century. Crushing their deadly and poisonous ideology, and freeing from tyranny the millions threatened with its bondage, is an effort for which the United States and her allies are uniquely suited. We are the primary target of radical terrorists and the leader of nations with the capability and fortitude to wage a prolonged fight. In my view, we must not shy away -- if only so our children and their children may live in peace.
The American people are understandably concerned about our mission in a post-Saddam Iraq. There have been many tough days since Iraq’s liberation and transition to a sovereign democracy. Advancing freedom and building democracies in a part of the world that has known nothing but tyranny is a difficult task. But achieving victory there and gaining a democratic ally in the region will be the best gift of security we can give to future generations of Americans and the Iraqi people who’ve longed to rid themselves of tyranny and oppression.
The world scoffed at President Reagan when he said “tear down this wall” -- they said communism could never be replaced by freedom. Mr. Speaker, he was right. The editorial writers and many in Congress were wrong. It’s that same faith in humanity -- in freedom -- that compels us to win in Iraq and in the Global War on Terror. Freedom wins. And we will win because Ronald Reagan noted at the Brandenburg gate: “Freedom trumps those ancient hatreds.” The freedom to raise your family. The freedom to walk your kids to school. The freedom to live in peace. As President Reagan said, “Freedom is the victor.”
As President John F. Kennedy once stated so eloquently:
“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.”
This week’s debate has given us all an opportunity to answer a fundamental question: are we going to confront the threat of terrorism and defeat it, or will we relent and retreat in the hopes that it just goes away?
Achieving victory is our only option, for the sake of the American people and for our children and grandchildren.