In a different kind of war, we had to recognize that we're not facing a nation; we're facing a group of people who have adopted an ideology of hatred and love to find places where they can hide. They're like parasites. They kind of leech on to a host and hope the host weakens over time so they can eventually become the host. That's why I said to the Taliban in Afghanistan: Get rid of al Qaeda; see, you're harboring al Qaeda. Remember this is a place where they trained -- al Qaeda trained thousands of people in Afghanistan. And the Taliban, I guess, just didn't believe me. And as a result of the United States military, Taliban no longer is in existence. And the people of Afghanistan are now free.
In other words when you say something as President you better make it clear so everybody understands what you're saying, and you better mean what you say. And I meant what I said.
Okay, hold up for a minute.
Thank you all. I meant what I said for the sake of peace, because I understood that America would become more secure by denying al Qaeda safe haven and training bases in Afghanistan.
But I want to tell you something else that's on my mind during the course of my decision-making. I understand how powerful freedom can be. And I want you to think about Afghanistan. It wasn't all that long ago that the Taliban were running that country. People say, what were they like? They're the opposite of America. If you had a point of view that didn't coincide with what they thought, you were in trouble. They didn't believe in the freedom of anything. They have a dark vision about the world. We have a vision based upon light. We believe in freedom. We believe you can worship freely any -- in this country, any way you want -- (applause)
-- any way you want. It's your right. You can speak your mind. You can participate in the political process. You can write any editorial you want in this country. That's freedom. That's not what the Taliban thought. You know that young girls weren't allowed to go to school, or many -- most young girls weren't allowed to go to school under the Taliban. Imagine a society like that. It's hard for Americans to visualize that.
So not only was al Qaeda being able to train there in Afghanistan, but it was a repressive society. Repressive societies breed violent people. Repressive societies breed those who are willing to strike at those of us who love freedom, as well.
Today in Afghanistan -- I want you to hear this fact -- today in Afghanistan some -- a little more than three years since we liberated them, 10 million people have registered to vote, 41 percent of whom are women, in the elections that will be held in about the first -- let's see, I think the 9th of October. Think about that, a country that has gone from darkness to light because of freedom. Freedom is powerful. It's powerful.
Unbelievable statistic, I think.
And I tell you why it's important, one way to defeat the ideologues of hate is to spread freedom. Free societies answer to the hopes and needs of the average citizens. Free societies do not export terror. Afghanistan is an ally now in the war on terror. In order to make sure America is secure in the long run, we must have allies standing with us in the broader Middle East.
Another lesson I learned is that we've got to deal with threats when we see them. We got to take a threat seriously before it fully materializes. Prior to September the 11th, the American President and policymakers could say, well, we see a threat but it's probably not going to come and hurt us. That all changed on September the 11th. Every time we see a threat now, we must take it seriously before it comes to hurt us again.
And so I looked around the world and saw a significant threat in Saddam Hussein. I'll tell you why I saw a threat. One, he a was a sworn enemy of the United States of America. Secondly, he was firing missiles at U.S. pilots who were enforcing the sanctions placed upon him by the world. Thirdly, I knew exactly how he felt about the demands of the free world -- as they say down in Texas, he could care less. After all, they'd passed 16 different resolutions, and he ignored them all. Fourthly, there was terrorists like Abu Abbas, Abu Nidal -- Abu Abbas is the guy who killed Leon Klinghoffer; Abu Nidal, famous terrorists; we knew Zarqawi was in and out of Baghdad -- he had terrorist connections. He also used weapons of mass destruction. The lessons of September the 11th were we must take these threats seriously.
I went to the Congress and said, we see a threat. Members of the United States Congress from both political parties looked at the same intelligence I looked at, remembered the same history I had just recited to you, and concluded that, yes, Saddam Hussein was a threat; and not only that -- concluded that they -- that force might be necessary and they authorized the use of force for the President, if necessary, to use force to deal with the threat.
My opponent, he looked at the same intelligence I looked at, he remembered the same history I remembered, and when it came time to vote for the authorization of force, he voted, yes. (APPLAUSE)
So I went to the United Nations. Let me tell you why I did. Because the President must try all means to prevent war. I understand the consequences of putting our troops in harm's way, and before any President puts one troop in harm's way, they best try all different means the solve the problem. And I was hoping that diplomacy would work. I was hoping that finally Saddam Hussein would listen to the demands of the free world. At the United Nations I laid out our case. They looked at the intelligence, they concluded with a 15-to-nothing vote in the United Nations Security Council that Saddam Hussein should disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. Fifteen to nothing was the vote. As a matter of fact, they also sent in inspectors into Iraq. The problem was Saddam Hussein systematically deceived the inspectors. You can't inspect unless you get cooperation. They got no cooperation.
It was clear that he wasn't about to cooperate with the United Nations; it was clear that, once again, he was going to ignore the demands of the free world. Diplomacy wasn't working. So I have a choice to make at this point in time: Do I forget the lessons of September the 11th and just hope for the best when it came to a madman who brutalized his own people, or do I take action necessary to defend this country? Given that choice, I will defend America every time.
Thank you all.
A couple of other things. I know what you know. We got a great military.
I want to thank those who wear the uniform. I want to thank the loved ones of those who wear the uniform. And when we put our troops in harm's way, they need -- they need to have the full support of the federal government, the full support.
That's why I went and asked for $87 billion of additional spending for important -- this is an important piece of legislation, after all, it's for ammunition, fuel, spare parts, body armor, hazard pay, health benefits, things necessary when you've got your troops in combat. This money was going to go to not only those in Afghanistan, but Iraq. It was vital.
Fortunately, members of Congress here knew how vital it was, and they stood up like most of the members of Congress and voted, yes, we'll fund the troops. As a matter of fact, the support was so strong that only 12 members of the United States Senate voted against funding our troops, two of whom are my opponent and his running mate. Now, when you're out there campaigning, I want you to remind the good folks of this statistic, that only four members of the United States Senate, who said, yes, we're going to send troops, but, no, we're not going to pay for them. In other words, yes, we're going to send troops by authorizing force -- they voted to authorize force -- but then when the troops were in harm's way, did not vote the money to support the troops. Only four of the 100 members of the Senate -- four voted that way, two of whom are my opponent and his running mate.
So they asked him, they said, how could you possibly have made that vote. He said, I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it. You've got to be able to speak clearly in order to make this world a more peaceful place.
You cannot expect to lead this world if you try to take both sides of every position.
Finally, they kept pressing him. He said, the whole thing's a complicated matter. There's nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat.
We'll prevail. We will prevail if we're resolute and determined. We'll prevail because we'll stay on the hunt and we've got a great coalition of nations. There are 40 nations involved in Afghanistan, some 30 in Iraq. People are doing hard work, and I appreciate the sacrifice the people of those countries are making, right alongside our troops. I'll continue to build these coalitions, I'll continue to praise the people and not denigrate the contributions. But one thing I'll never do is I'll never turn over national -- our country's national security decisions to leaders of other countries.
Finally -- (applause)
-- a couple of other things. Thank you all very much. I appreciate that. A couple of other points I do want to make. They'll be short, you'll be happy to hear.
We've got hard work in Iraq, no question about it. And the reason why is because people are trying to stop the march of freedom. These terrorists cannot beat our military. They cannot beat our military. The only thing, the only weapon they have is -- is their willingness to behead a citizen, and put it on TV. The only weapon they have is the capacity to shake our conscience. They understand people in America -- see, we value human rights and human dignity. Our heart breaks when a -- for the family of those two fellows who were beheaded, just as Prime Minister Allawi was here.
This guy -- Zarqawi and his crowd, they are so cold-blooded that they have no conscience. Yet, they know we do. And their main tool is their capacity to get on our TV screens with horror that the American people just cannot stomach it and -- because we're civilized and we love and we're compassionate. It's really important for them not to be able to shake our will. I'll tell you why. A free Iraq is in our interests. A free Iraq will become an ally in the war on terror. A free Iraq will be such a hopeful example for other nations. A free Iraq will serve as stark contrast to the hateful ideology of these people.
We'll stay with the Iraqi people because when America gives its word, it must keep its word, in order to make the world a more peaceful place. We'll stay with the Iraqi people because it's in our interests. We'll stay with the Iraqi people because they long for freedom, they desire to be free.
People say to me, well, maybe certain parts of the world don't want to be free. I strongly disagree. I believe people want to be free because I believe freedom is the gift from the Almighty God to each man and woman in this world.
Schools are being rebuilt, the electricity is up to pre-war levels, hospitals are functioning, children are being immunized. But it's hard work. It's hard work. And -- but amidst this hard work, remember this: Elections are going to be held in January. This country is headed to democracy. I appreciate visiting with Prime Minister Allawi. He's a guy who woke up one day in a London flat to see two men standing beside his bed with axes, sent by Saddam Hussein to kill him. He, fortunately, got out of that, got wounded severely. He knows firsthand what it means to be dealing with a tyrant. He's determined, he is strong, he tells me right to my face: Mr. President, we will succeed. And I believe him. We'll succeed so long as the United States does not grow weary or tired, and allow these thugs to shake our will. And it's in our interests.
I want to tell you a story, and then I'll -- let me tell you a story I like to tell people. It's my -- with my dealings -- the story is about my dealings with Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan. I saw him in New York recently. I said, do you mind if I tell people about you, and he should have said, you already started. But anyway -- (laughter)
-- he said, not at all. So I'm going to tell you about him.
First, he likes Elvis.
Favorite movie is High Noon. Anyway, I like to tell the story about talking to Prime Minister Koizumi, because I'm talking to the leader of a former enemy. It was 60 years ago or so we were fighting the Japanese. My dad was there; I'm sure your relatives were there. A bloody war. And after World War II was over with, Harry S. Truman, one of my predecessors, said, we'll help Japan become a self-governing democracy. A lot of people in the United States didn't believe that was capable of happening. Some people said, why even bother, they're the enemy. But Harry Truman, and others in this country, believed that liberty has got the capacity to transform enemies to allies. That's what he believed.
And that's what I believe. So I sit at the table with Prime Minister Koizumi, and we're talking about the peace we all want. We're talking about how to make the world a more peaceful place. Think about that for a minute. There we were at war with an enemy, and today, the leader of Japan and the United States are working together in concert for peace. Someday, an American President will be sitting down with a duly elected leader of Iraq talking about the peace, talking about how to make sure peace comes in a troubled part of the world so our children and our grandchildren can grow up in a -- in a more peaceful, peaceful world.
We have an obligation, I think -- this generation has an obligation to do the hard work, the hard work to defend ourselves from these brutal killers; the hard work to spread freedom and liberty; the work necessary so that someday, people will look back at us and say, thank goodness they didn't lose faith. Thank goodness they were strong in their beliefs that we can overcome this evil and that liberty will help change the world for the better.
I want to thank you all for coming. I'm ready to go. God bless you all, and God bless our country.