Good evening. In the life of all free nations, there come moments that decide the direction of a country and reveal the character of its people.
Ah! Hard to argue with this premise - it's true that there are these moments for any nation. For example, we had our revolutionary war and our civil war. During World War II, the nation sacrificed tremendously. And when asked how we should sacrifice after the attacks of 9/11, this President said we should go shopping! Now that was revealing about what he thinks of our character.
We are now at such a moment.
No, we aren't. President Bush is at a moment when his character will be revealed.
In Iraq, an ally of the United States is fighting for its survival.
I didn't know Iraq was our ally. I thought the people there mostly hated us.
Terrorists and extremists who are at war with us around the world are seeking to topple Iraq's government, dominate the region, and attack us here at home.
The President neglects to mention that terrorists were not there until we got there. So we brought Al Qaeda to Iraq, and we are all in the middle of a civil war.
If Iraq's young democracy
This is a democracy?
can turn back these enemies, it will mean a more hopeful Middle East and a more secure America.
No, it won't. Al Qaeda in Iraq is responsible for a mere 5% of the violence in Iraq. If they left tomorrow, we'd still have Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds fighting each other - wait a second, the President hasn't even mentioned these groups yet!
This ally has placed its trust in the United States. And tonight, our moral and strategic imperatives are one: We must help Iraq defeat those who threaten its future and also threaten ours.
Iraq has not placed its trust in the United States. A large majority of its people want us to get out of their country.
Eight months ago, we adopted a new strategy to meet that objective,
Because the old ones worked about as well as Britney's opening at the VMAs.
including a surge in U.S. forces that reached full strength in June.
And we have not met any of the objectives we set eight months ago. Good night and God bless America! Oh, wait...
This week, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified before Congress about how that strategy is progressing. In their testimony, these men made clear that our challenge in Iraq is formidable. Yet they concluded that conditions in Iraq are improving, that we are seizing the initiative from the enemy and that the troop surge is working.
Petraeus said he did not know if the war in Iraq is making us safer. And we're in the middle of a civil war, which the President has neglected to mention. Our troops are not safe, and the war is not making us safer.
But by evoking Petraeus and Crocker, the President, realizing that he lacks credibility, is hoping that we trust them more than we trust him.
The premise of our strategy is that securing the Iraqi population is the foundation for all other progress.
I don't think securing the Iraqi population is a strategy. I think that the way we secure the population is the strategy. Securing the population is a goal. But let's not get technical.
For Iraqis to bridge sectarian divides, they need to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods. For lasting reconciliation to take root, Iraqis must feel confident that they do not need sectarian gangs for security. The goal of the surge is to provide that security and to help prepare Iraqi forces to maintain it. As I will explain tonight, our success in meeting these objectives now allows us to begin bringing some of our troops home.
Previously, the President said that the goal of the surge was to give the central government of Iraq time to establish control of Iraq, and then we would be able to withdraw our troops. The central government is no closer to establish control over Iraq than it was in January. We have not met the President's own stated objective.
Since the surge was announced in January, it has moved through several phases. First was the flow of additional troops into Iraq, especially Baghdad and Anbar province. Once these forces were in place, our commanders launched a series of offensive operations to drive terrorists and militias out of their strongholds. Finally, in areas that have been cleared, we are surging diplomatic and civilian resources to ensure that military progress is quickly followed up with real improvements in daily life.
Real improvements in daily life? People are hiding in their homes. They're not going out to the stoop to pick up their milk and the newspaper. They're hiding in their houses. Those that aren't hiding are moving out of Iraq altogether.
Anbar province is a good example of how our strategy is working. Last year, an intelligence report concluded that Anbar had been lost to al-Qaida. Some cited this report as evidence that we had failed in Iraq and should cut our losses and pull out. Instead, we kept the pressure on the terrorists. The local people were suffering under the Taliban-like rule of al-Qaida, and they were sick of it. So they asked us for help.
It's no secret that Anbar is the worst example: it's an area that is Sunni dominated, so the Shiites and Sunnis are not fighting against each other as they are in other areas. In other words, this area is not an example of what's occurring in Iraq.
To take advantage of this opportunity, I sent an additional 4,000 Marines to Anbar as part of the surge. Together, local sheiks, Iraqi forces, and coalition troops drove the terrorists from the capital of Ramadi and other population centers. Today, a city where al-Qaida once planted its flag is beginning to return to normal. Anbar citizens who once feared beheading for talking to an American or Iraqi soldier now come forward to tell us where the terrorists are hiding. Young Sunnis who once joined the insurgency are now joining the army and police. And with the help of our provincial reconstruction teams, new jobs are being created and local governments are meeting again.
Sounds like a dream, doesn't it? Except here's what's really going on: Abu Risha, a leader in Al-Anbar who the President met with last week, lives in a house that is guarded by a tank. He was blown up yesterday.
That's the kind of safety and security we have in Anbar.
These developments do not often make the headlines, but they do make a difference.
Yes, it's the media's fault. Oh, if they only reported all the good news!
During my visit to Anbar on Labor Day,
What he should have said is, "During my visit to a military base in Anbar," because the President never made his way out of the military base. Does that give you a close as to the safety of Anbar?
local Sunni leaders thanked me for America's support. They pledged they would never allow al-Qaida to return. And they told me they now see a place for their people in a democratic Iraq. The Sunni governor of Anbar province put it this way: "Our tomorrow starts today."
The changes in Anbar show all Iraqis what becomes possible when extremists are driven out. They show al-Qaida that it cannot count on popular support, even in a province its leaders once declared their home base.
Enough about Al Qaida. They're not the biggest challenge in Iraq. The biggest challenge is the civil war, which, at this point, the President hasn't mentioned.
And they show the world that ordinary people in the Middle East want the same things for their children that we want for ours a decent life and a peaceful future.
Uh - no, they don't. The Sunnis want to kill the Shiites, the Shiites want to kill the Sunnis. That's why there is so much sectarian violence. There is no doubt that Sunnis and Shiites are not looking at a decent life and peaceful future for their children. They are looking at killing each other.
In Anbar, the enemy remains active and deadly. Earlier today, one of the brave tribal sheiks who helped lead the revolt against al-Qaida was murdered.
The President met with him at the military base in Anbar. The President was afraid to leave the military base. Very secure country.
In response, a fellow Sunni leader declared: "We are determined to strike back and continue our work." And as they do, they can count on the continued support of the United States.
Throughout Iraq, too many citizens are being killed by terrorists and death squads. And for most Iraqis, the quality of life is far from where it should be.
Hmmm... where to begin with this one: $120 billion for the war, and most Iraqis don't have electricity for more than five hours. Yes, the quality of life isn't where it should be. Brilliant point.
Yet General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker report that the success in Anbar is beginning to be replicated in other parts of the country.
One year ago, much of Baghdad was under siege. Schools were closed, markets were shuttered, and sectarian violence was spiraling out of control. Today, most of Baghdad's neighborhoods are being patrolled by coalition and Iraqi forces who live among the people they protect. Many schools and markets are reopening. Citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence. Sectarian killings are down. And ordinary life is beginning to return.
There were believed to be 2,800 civilian killings in Iraq in July. If, by ordinary, the President means that people fear death around every corner, then, yes, life's returning to ordinary.
One year ago, much of Diyala province was a sanctuary for al-Qaida and other extremist groups, and its capital of Baqubah was emerging as an al-Qaida stronghold. Today, Baqubah is cleared. Diyala province is the site of a growing popular uprising against the extremists. And some local tribes are working alongside coalition and Iraqi forces to clear out the enemy and reclaim their communities.
One year ago, Shia extremists and Iranian-backed militants were gaining strength and targeting Sunnis for assassination. Today, these groups are being broken up and many of their leaders are being captured or killed.
These gains are a tribute to our military, they are a tribute to the courage of the Iraqi security forces and they are a tribute to an Iraqi government that has decided to take on the extremists.
It's true: our troops have done an incredible job despite a President who gave them an impossible mission.
Now the Iraqi government must bring the same determination to achieving reconciliation. This is an enormous undertaking after more than three decades of tyranny and division. The government has not met its own legislative benchmarks and in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must.
Or what? How is he going to punish them? Is he not going to drive them to the multiplex to see "Superbad"? The Iraqis are running roughshod over a President who doesn't know how to deal with a central government that often ignores him.
Yet Iraq's national leaders are getting some things done. For example, they have passed a budget. They are sharing oil revenues with the provinces. They are allowing former Baathists to rejoin Iraq's military or receive government pensions. And local reconciliation is taking place. The key now is to link this progress in the provinces to progress in Baghdad. As local politics change, so will national politics.
Who said? When did it become a fact that as local politics change in Iraq, so will national politics? So far, the political solution in Iraq is unchanged.
Our troops in Iraq are performing brilliantly. Along with Iraqi forces, they have captured or killed an average of more than 1,500 enemy fighters per month since January. Yet ultimately, the way forward depends on the ability of Iraqis to maintain security gains.
No chance of that happening in our lifetimes!
According to General Petraeus and a panel chaired by retired General Jim Jones, the Iraqi army is becoming more capable, although there is still a great deal of work to be done to improve the national police. Iraqi forces are receiving increased cooperation from local populations. And this is improving their ability to hold areas that have been cleared.
Many experts - many generals have found the Iraqi forces to be so corrupt, and incapable of working toward national reconciliation, that they want the police force disbanded. The Iraqi troops may never be ready to stand up.
Because of this success, General Petraeus believes we have now reached the point where we can maintain our security gains with fewer American forces. He has recommended that we not replace about 2,200 Marines scheduled to leave Anbar province later this month. In addition, he says it will soon be possible to bring home an Army combat brigade, for a total force reduction of 5,700 troops by Christmas.
And he expects that by July, we will be able to reduce our troop levels in Iraq from 20 combat brigades to 15.
General Petraeus also recommends that in December, we begin transitioning to the next phase of our strategy in Iraq. As terrorists are defeated, civil society takes root, and the Iraqis assume more control over their own security, our mission in Iraq will evolve. Over time, our troops will shift from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and eventually to overwatching those forces. As this transition in our mission takes place, our troops will focus on a more limited set of tasks, including counterterrorism operations and training, equipping, and supporting Iraqi forces.
I have consulted with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, other members of my national security team, Iraqi officials, and leaders of both parties in Congress.
I haven't listened to any of them, but I consulted them.
I have benefited from their advice, and I have accepted General Petraeus's recommendations. I have directed General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to update their joint campaign plan for Iraq so we can adjust our military and civilian resources accordingly. I have also directed them to deliver another report to Congress in March. At that time, they will provide a fresh assessment of the situation in Iraq and of the troop levels and resources we need to meet our national security objectives.
The principle guiding my decisions on troop levels in Iraq is 'return on success.' The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home.
How creative! I'm sure that brilliant phrase will make it into the annals of history along with "Ask not what you can do for your country."
And in all we do, I will ensure that our commanders on the ground have the troops and flexibility they need to defeat the enemy.
Which will be the exact number of troops I tell them they need.
Americans want our country to be safe and our troops to begin coming home from Iraq.
The former of course is not connected to the latter. He may as well have said, "Americans enjoy grilled cheese sandwiches and our troops to begin coming home from Iraq."
Yet those of us who believe success in Iraq is essential to our security, and those who believe we should bring our troops home, have been at odds. Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home.
The way forward I have described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together.
We will continue to have at least 130,000 troops in Iraq, at a minimum. This makes it absolutely impossible for opposite sides to come together. But it was a nice, brief Hallmark moment.
This vision for a reduced American presence also has the support of Iraqi leaders from all communities.
You're telling me.
At the same time, they understand that their success will require U.S. political, economic, and security engagement that extends beyond my presidency.
I thought it was "Mission Accomplished" and bring the troops home years ago. Silly me. I thought we were going to be greeted with flowers and home quickly. Where'd I get that idea?
These Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America. And we are ready to begin building that relationship in a way that protects our interests in the region and requires many fewer American troops.
What the heck does that mean? Troops there forever? I'm pretty sure the President told us our troops would be there for a short time. I'm very sure that the Iraqis hate the idea of American troops on their soil for decades.
The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States.
You might have considered that a few years ago when we sent too few troops and you were warned that it was a problem.
A free Iraq will deny al-Qaida a safe haven.
As if they need it. According to the National Intelligence Estimate, they're as strong as they've ever been.
A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran.
Now how did Iran get to be such a big power in the region? When did that happen? Oh, you say it happened because of what we're doing in Iraq?
A free Iraq will marginalize extremists, unleash the talent of its people, and be an anchor of stability in the region.
What's with this "free Iraq" thing? A "free Iraq" will unleash the talents of its people? That's great. It's about as likely as a unicorn showing up at my Yom Kippur dinner.
A free Iraq will set an example for people across the Middle East. A free Iraq will be our partner in the fight against terror and that will make us safer here at home.
But since there won't be a free Iraq, then we won't have a partner in the fight against terror and we'll be less safe at home. Okay, glad we got that out of the way.
Realizing this vision will be difficult, but it is achievable.
And I can't wait to hand this impossible mission off to the next President!
Our military commanders believe we can succeed.
Except for the ones I fired, because they didn't believe we can succeed.
Our diplomats believe we can succeed. And for the safety of future generations of Americans, we must succeed.
If we were to be driven out of Iraq, extremists of all strains would be emboldened. Al-Qaida could gain new recruits and new sanctuaries. Iran would benefit from the chaos and would be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region. Extremists could control a key part of the global energy supply. Iraq could face a humanitarian nightmare. Democracy movements would be violently reversed. We would leave our children to face a far more dangerous world. And as we saw on September the 11th, 2001, those dangers can reach our cities and kill our people.
Whatever political party you belong to, whatever your position on Iraq, we should be able to agree that America has a vital interest in preventing chaos and providing hope in the Middle East.
How do Abu Gharib and Guantanamo help with us provide hope?
We should be able to agree that we must defeat al-Qaida, counter Iran, help the Afghan government,
The Afghan government, which we have neglected to the point that the Taliban is back on the march.
work for peace in the Holy Land,
The President will not even allow Israel to talk to Syria about a peace agreement. How's that for working for peace?
and strengthen our military so we can prevail in the struggle against terrorists and extremists.
So tonight I want to speak to members of the United States Congress: Let us come together on a policy of strength in the Middle East. I thank you for providing crucial funds and resources for our military. And I ask you to join me in supporting the recommendations General Petraeus has made and the troop levels he has asked for.
To the Iraqi people: You have voted for freedom, and now you are liberating your country from terrorists and death squads.
They actually are not liberating their country. They barely have a country.
You must demand that your leaders make the tough choices needed to achieve reconciliation. As you do, have confidence that America does not abandon our friends, and we will not abandon you.
To Iraq's neighbors who seek peace: The violent extremists who target Iraq are also targeting you. The best way to secure your interests and protect your own people is to stand with the people of Iraq. That means using your economic and diplomatic leverage to strengthen the government in Baghdad. And it means the efforts by Iran and Syria to undermine that government must end.
To the international community: The success of a free Iraq matters to every civilized nation. We thank the 36 nations
who have troops on the ground in Iraq
36 nations? Who are these nations? Do they know they have troops on the ground in Iraq?
and the many others who are helping that young democracy. We encourage all nations to help,
Just as you did for them by ignoring them on Iraq, global warming, and nuclear proliferation?
by implementing the international compact to revitalize Iraq's economy, by participating in the neighbors conferences to boost cooperation and overcome differences in the region, and by supporting the new and expanded mission of the United Nations in Iraq.
To our military personnel, intelligence officers, diplomats, and civilians on the frontlines in Iraq: You have done everything America has asked of you. And the progress I have reported tonight is in large part because of your courage and hard effort. You are serving far from home. Our nation is grateful for your sacrifices, and the sacrifices of your families.
Earlier this year, I received an e-mail from the family of Army Specialist Brandon Stout of Michigan. Brandon volunteered for the National Guard and was killed while serving in Baghdad. His family has suffered greatly. Yet in their sorrow, they see larger purpose. His wife, Audrey, says that Brandon felt called to serve and knew what he was fighting for. And his parents, Tracy and Jeff, wrote me this: 'We believe this is a war of good and evil and we must win even if it cost the life of our own son. Freedom is not free.'
This country is blessed to have Americans like Brandon Stout, who make extraordinary sacrifices to keep us safe from harm. They are doing so in a fight that is just, and right, and necessary. And now it falls to us to finish the work they have begun.
Some say the gains we are making in Iraq come too late. They are mistaken. It is never too late to deal a blow to al-Qaida. It is never too late to advance freedom.
That's funny, I was just thinking - is it too late to advance freedom? Can I advance freedom until Friday, and then restrict freedom on the weekend?
And it is never too late to support our troops in a fight they can win.
Although if they do, it won't be while W. is President.
Good night, and God bless America.
Yes, God bless America, where, after I'm out of office, I'm going to make the big bucks on speeches. Capitalize on the war. Fill the old coffers.