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Remarks at Florida State University - by Steve Russell

April 9th, 2007

Should we be in Iraq?  This is perhaps the most contentious question of our day.  Some have argued passionately that we were not justified in attacking Iraq.  Further, they contend that not only was the war a mistake, but that it resulted from carefully planned lies that hid secret motives.  When viewed from this filter, all policy and decisions to support this war are for naught, given the belief that it is useless to pursue an unjust cause to begin with.

Here are a half a dozen of the most popular claims as to why we should not be there:

The war was launched to find weapons of mass destruction, yet there was no evidence that Saddam possessed such weapons or that he had the capability to develop nuclear weapons.

We entered the war with no plan for an exit strategy and miscalculated at every turn.

The war’s costs are untenable.  We cannot afford to spend another dollar or another life in Iraq.

It is the wrong policy to be in Iraq

The surge is only escalating the conflict.

America has spoken.  It is time to pull out. 

Taking these claims head on, let us examine the first – that the war was started to destroy Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and that none were found. This is not the case.  The war was authorized as a continuation of the 1998 “Iraq Liberation Act,” which called for a regime change in Iraq.  It was passed by 90% of the US Congressmen, and with unanimous consent of the US Senate.  The act was signed into national policy by President Clinton.  President Bush then continued this policy by making the case that Saddam left unchecked would become a clear and present danger to the United States, and to the world community at large, in ways greater than he had already.  Our nation has long recognized that the dictator of Iraq had defied the world, that he had attacked every bordering country save Syria, that he murdered 30,000 political opponents and 350,000 Shias and Kurds, that he led over a million of his countrymen to their death in ill-conceived and miscalculated wars, and that someday, he would have to give account.  It has been one of the greatest achievements in my life to hunt down Saddam, see him captured, then brought to trial and find himself at the end of a rope.  We should never ever be apologetic about taking a stand against evil.

With regard to no weapons of mass destruction found, during my service in Iraq, US soldiers in Baghdad captured Saddam’s most prominent nuclear scientist, Dr. Ubaydi, and found a Zippe centrifuge, along with all the components and blueprints to produce more.  Saddam’s nuclear scientist stated that with the centrifuge technology, Iraq possessed all the technical skill to produce a nuclear bomb and were making efforts to do so.  The centrifuge captured was the same centrifuge technology that Iran is currently using to enrich uranium and to develop their nuclear weapons.  The story was completely buried by the press.  But the soldiers know what we found.

With regard to non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction, Iraqi General Georges Sada has testified that Saddam ordered the military to smuggle their most important weapons into Syria and he further states that this was accomplished.

Let’s take the next point then, that even if we were continuing a national policy to remove Saddam from power and even if we did find evidence of weapons of mass destruction, we still entered the war with no clue of how to win it or get out of Iraq.  This is not true.  As I recall, our mission when we first entered Iraq was to destroy the Iraqi Army, Kill or capture Saddam, eliminate the Baathist government and establish the new Iraqi government by means of an elected assembly that would appoint ministers and a president, who in turn would draft the new constitution.  Operating under this legal authority, the new Iraq would create its new military and police forces and secure their own nation.  Today, all but the raising of an adequate security force has been accomplished, and this despite the steady diet of defeatism and disillusionment offered by terrorists abroad and opponents of the war here at home.

But the opponents will say that this war cannot last forever and that it is untenable.  It has cost us too many billions and too many lives.  From 1961-1964 America spent 9% of the GDP on defense in a time of peace.  From 1974-1994, we spent 5.8%.  Today we spend only 3.8% in a time of war.  Even though we are spending less, Americans spent nearly twice as much on Pepsis and Fritos last year than on the Army National Guard Budget. What are Americans really sacrificing for victory that the cost is too high for them?  Can we not even give up a Pepsi or a bag of chips?   Walmart today has more than twice the number of employees than the US Army has soldiers.  Less than half of 1% of our nation even defend it.  So what sacrifice has the other 99 1/2% made to help those that are fighting to win?  We must be more than an Army at war and a nation at the mall.  And while the over 3000 American losses so far in this war are tragic—I personally lost soldiers in battle and have had to bury good friends—we should take note from history about what Americans of the past have sacrificed for our freedom and for the freedom of others.  More than double our entire war loss we lost in the first 48 hours on the Normandy beaches of France.  Six thousand Americans were lost in the first 5 days of Iwo Jima, where, undaunted, we still had the men of grit and determination to simply put a flag at the top of the tallest rock on that island.  That was the greatest generation.  What will ours be called?  The pathetic generation?  The quitting generation?

The notion that our national policy in Iraq is wrong, that Iraq was better off under Saddam and that this war makes us less secure as a nation is a dangerous one.  That would be to embrace the notion that evil is good and good is evil; that is was wrong to remove a dictator that killed hundreds of thousands of people and oppressed millions; that the prevention of the further slaughter of masses of human beings was evil; that Saddam’s use of poison gasses to slaughter innocents was somehow good; that his development of a nuclear program was somehow good; and that the blood shed by terrorists and Saddam’s henchmen is somehow on our hands.  That being the case, then it would be wrong to have a responsible Iraq in the world community of nations and to have the Arab and Kurdish citizens break free from decades of tyranny and advance along the lines of Kuwait, Jordan and Oman.  I am at a complete loss to understand this twisted version of ethical standards by which good and evil are reversed.

And suppose we correctly deduce that Iraq would be better off without tyranny than governed by it?  Are we still to suppose that an increase in troops and a change of tactics are not worth the effort?  But before we consider that, consider that saying the addition of 20,000 troops is a surge is like reducing the water pressure in your home by 20% and then a year later increase it 18% and call it a surge of water pressure.  The truth of the matter is that even with the additional troops, we have only restored the number of troops to the December 2005 force level, a level that probably needed raising even then.  And what of it?  If we are just where we were in December 2005, do we really think that it will make a difference?  Why don’t we ask the Iraqis that enjoy 60% less violence since February, or those that land on the 233 airline flights a day at the Baghdad International Airport, or the 4000 new Sunni police that have rejected Al Qaeda in Al Anbar province and have pushed recruiting numbers there by 400% since February?  Or how about we just ask a soldier that has been there?  For the soldier, these issues are not academic.  They are experiential.

Americans have spoken.  And large numbers of them want to quit.  Politicians and opponents of this war state that their actions to cut our troops, pull funding and portray the war as a hopeless endeavor are not meant for us but are intended to be a strong message to the president.  That is like someone coming up to you at work, slugging you in the gut and saying, “ Oh, that was not meant for you.  I like you.  That was meant for your boss.”  If this is the kind of support that some Americans want to offer us, we reject it!  We despise it!  It rubs against the grain of everything inside us as soldiers and defenders of America.

What shall we say?  What more can we give to our nation than the type of sacrifice we have already given?  What words can we the soldiers use to convince Americans at home that the biggest mistakes being made in this war are on the home front, not the battlefront?  What will be the value of our temporary civilian comforts and the illusion of national safety when a giant shadow of Jihadist terrorism is casting itself onto our shores?  What will be the meaning of the rhetoric and the political debate when we sift through the rubble of a workplace, a shopping mall, or public transit—digging out American bodies targeted for no other reason than because of our way of life and who we are as a people?  It is a scene that every soldier who has witnessed it abroad will fight with all his might to keep away—but we never thought that our own people would betray our efforts.

We all want to come home to our families, but to safe homes and not until we win!  If we fail our nation, what is next?  Do we extend the same attitude of non-involvement to our community?  Our places of worship?  Our own children?  There are things still worth fighting for.  America was not built on the backs of the cynic and the critic.  Americans of the past knew how to sacrifice.  And they knew the difference between what was evil and what was good…who was a threat and who was harmless…whether to live free—or quit and die.

So where do we go from here?  What can Americans do at this critical hour?  America must sacrifice today along with her soldiers.  We must be more than an Army at war and a nation at peace.  Here are some things America can sacrifice on behalf of her soldiers.  Sacrifice doubt.  Sacrifice anxiety.  Sacrifice cynicism.  Sacrifice any notion that will cause us to come home as losers.  It will not be enough to remember our service and our losses in this war on slabs of white marble and national monuments of black stone.  That will not be enough.  It is only remembering.  But if we want to honor those who will not come home, who gave up their youth, their future, their ability to love, who will never raise a family, or live to an old age and to see their grandchildren, then we must honor what they fought for and honor it with victory.

Americans today are so apprehensive.  We fret about so many things.  But the difference between what is good and what is evil has not changed—only our ability to identify it.  Keep the faith.  Don’t quit.  God bless you all.  SDR

Steve Russell, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (ret.).  The unit LTC Russell commanded was a central player in the hunt and capture of Saddam Hussein. Steve Russell serves as Chairman of Vets for Victory and speaks across the nation to rally the American public to support the troops with victory, not just words. Click Here for information on how to book him for a speaking engagement or media event.

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