Philadelphia World Affairs Council

Article excerpt

Remarks as delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Philadelphia, PA, Wednesday, May 5, 2004.

Thank you for the warm introduction. Thank you for finally getting me to Philadelphia. As you say, we had to go through a rather circuitous route to succeed. But I have been looking forward to the opportunity to come here, and specifically to the World Affairs Council. I really admire the great work that the World Affairs Councils do throughout America and the opportunity they offer to talk directly to Americans about the critical issues facing our country. And today I'd like to talk about, obviously, the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global war on terror.

It is important for public officials to get out of Washington and be able to share our views directly with the people, and I can't think of a better place to do that, to discuss our efforts to defend freedom, than in this city where America's freedoms were first enshrined and nurtured.

We've experienced some difficulty in the past few weeks in the coalition mission in Iraq, but I think the American people have an understanding of this. They are surely as tough and determined as Americans were some 250 years ago. Significantly, it was in this city more than 200 years ago that Ben Franklin was asked, as he left the Constitutional Convention, "Well, Doctor, what have you got, a republic or a monarchy?" And his unforgettable response was, "A republic, if you can keep it."

In the first two-and-a-quarter centuries of our country's history we have learned some of the challenges of building free institutions even in what some might argue were the most favorable circumstances imaginable.

In Afghanistan today, 25 million Muslims who have suffered from a quarter-century of the most brutal invasion and civil war are struggling now to build those free institutions, with our help, under much more difficult circumstances. In Iraq another 25 million people, predominantly Muslims, are working to build a free Iraq after 35 years of torture and abuse by one of the worst tyrants of the last hundred years.

Their struggle is our struggle because their success will constitute major victories in what promises, unfortunately to be a long war to rid the world of the terrible threat of terrorism that emerged in full light on September 11th, 2001.

Before I respond to questions, I'd like to provide some context about the situation in Iraq and then comment on the wider global war against terrorists. I thought the best way to provide some context for that war would be to briefly take you back to the world as it was just slightly over three years ago.

President Bush had just assumed office. He was well aware that the freedoms we value would again be challenged. The president's instructions to Secretary Rumsfeld were to transform the Department of Defense to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Shortly after taking office, the secretary visited with his counterparts in NATO and he told them about the experiences of one of his predecessors, a man named Dick Cheney. Back in 1989 when Cheney was undergoing his Senate confirmation hearings, not a single mention was made of the word "Iraq." And yet Secretary Cheney's tenure at the Defense Department would turn out to be marked--some indeed would say dominated--by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the extraordinary victory of the coalition in Operation Desert Storm.

It was one more reminder that we live in an era of surprise. And Rumsfeld wondered with his NATO counterparts whether some issue not mentioned in his confirmation hearings might come to dominate his time in office. I think I can tell you that terrorism was in his hearings. As a matter of fact, he highlighted it as one of his major concerns. But I don't believe the word "Afghanistan" was actually addressed as a question.

And indeed we did soon find out. It was precisely on the morning of September 11th, the Secretary and I were having breakfast with some members of Congress, and Rumsfeld was stressing to them the need to be prepared for the unexpected. …