Politics & Policy

Not Tet

Iraq is not Vietnam.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the text of a speech made by Arizona Republican senator John McCain on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, April 7, 2004.

Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, I take the floor to respond to comments made by Senator Byrd, but also to general comments that have been made over the last 48 hours as we all recognize this is a very difficult time for us in Iraq.

I do not have to review with any of my colleagues the events of the last few days and the tragedies in the loss of these brave young Americans who are fighting and sacrificing for someone else’s freedom.

I have also heard a number of observers, including some Senators, who have compared events in Iraq to what we went through in Vietnam. I happen to know something about Vietnam, and I know we do not face another Vietnam. I need not go into the long history of our involvement in that nation, the reasons for our failure, but the realities on the ground in Iraq are clear.

There is no superpower that is backing these minority of Shias and Sunnis who are seeking to gain political power through the use of a gun, and there is no comparison as far as the sanctuary which this enemy has. We grant them no sanctuary.

Some have stated we are on the defensive. I would argue that, as we speak, in Fallajuh and other places, our Marines and Army are on the offensive, dedicated to the proposition that no group, no matter what their ethnic or religious beliefs are, will take control of Iraq.

Control of Iraq will be the result of a democratic process and a representative one, part of which is the turning over of power to the Iraqi people on June 30.

We have had this argument back and forth: Should we turn over power of the government to the Iraqis on June 30? I say yes, and I say yes recognizing two realities. One is that it will be a difficult process, and we have a lot more planning to do between now and June 30 for that transition to take place. The other reality, as far as the security situation is concerned, is that America’s military will be there in force for a significant period of time, and the American people need to be told that.

This is a long, tough, hard struggle. It is hard for countries to adopt democracies. It is incredibly difficult when they have never known democracy and freedom in the past. A little later, I want to talk a little bit more about what happens if we fail, as well as what happens if we succeed in Iraq.

Again, in Vietnam there was superpower support. There were arms and political support. We did not have a clear plan for victory, and dare I mention that in Vietnam many times we had more casualties in a week, sometimes less than a week, than we have had in a year in Iraq.

To make these comparisons with the Tet offensive or the entire Vietnam conflict is not only uninformed but I think a bit dangerous because, of course, the specifics of our involvement in that conflict fade, as they should, in the memories of the American people.

What is happening in Iraq today is we have a Sunni insurgency that consists of ex-Baathists and Saddam loyalists. They obviously are the only people who were better off during Saddam Hussein’s regime because they were the favored minority that were of the same religion as Saddam. They realize they will never run Iraq again because they are in the minority. Because they are in the majority, the Shia will probably dominate that government, but we also have a constitution in Iraq that guarantees the rights of minorities. We are there and a new government will be there to guarantee those same rights.

The realities are the Sunni minority will never control Iraq again. We have a small minority of Shias who are trying to grab some political power before the July 1 transition. There is very little doubt that Sadr’s followers are in a distinct minority and the majority of Shias still owe allegiance and have allegiance to the Ayatollah Sistani, who has argued, perhaps not forcefully enough, that we do not have the kind of armed conflict that we are seeing today.

Is this a difficult political problem? Yes. Is it the time to panic, to cut and run? Absolutely not. The vast majority of Iraqi people are glad we are there and they state unequivocally that they are better off than they were under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Lest time dim our memory, let us remember the mass graves that we discovered, the 8- and 9-year-old boys coming out of prison in Baghdad, the despotic, incredibly cruel practices of his two sons. The people of Iraq and America and the world are better off with Saddam Hussein gone.

Now, we can argue about intelligence; we can argue about weapons of mass destruction. That is why we have commissions. That is why tomorrow, in an almost unprecedented fashion, the National Security Adviser to the President will testify before the 9/11 Commission. I am confident she will perform admirably because she is an incredibly intelligent and capable individual.

The fact is, to argue that we should have left Iraq under the rule of this incredibly cruel person who used weapons of mass destruction, who had weapons of mass destruction in 1991, was continuing to attempt to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and if in power would continue to try to acquire those weapons, certainly flies in the face of the facts about Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Senator Byrd says we should not have gone into Iraq in the first place and that we should not be there now. I respect the view. I strongly disagree with it, and I think the facts indicate that is not the case. We could argue for days about it, but right now at this moment we need to send a message not only to the Sunnis in Iraq and the minority of Shias in Iraq who are taking up arms and killing Americans that we are there to stay. We are there to stay and we will see it through. If we fail, if we cut and run, the results can be disastrous. Those results would be the fragmentation of Iraq, to start with, on ethnic and religious lines. The second result would be an unchecked hotbed of training ground and birthing of individuals who are committed to the destruction of the United States of America.

We will never solve the war on terror as long as there are millions of young men standing on street corners all over the Middle East with no hope, no job, no opportunities, no future. They are the breeding ground. They are the ones who are taken off the streets and taken into the madrasahs–funded by the Saudis, by the way–and taught to hate and kill, and who want to destroy America, the West, and all we believe in. Their hatred is not confined to the United States of America, as the citizens of Spain have found out, much to their dismay and tragedy.

What happens if we win? What happens if we see this thing through? It will be hard and it will be difficult and perhaps we need more troops. I have said for a long time that we needed more troops of certain types, but we have to see this thing through. And what will happen? What will happen is that we will affirm the profound and fundamental belief upon which this Nation was founded, that all men and women are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and they are not just in the Western Hemisphere; they are not just in the United States of America; they are not just in Europe. The people in the Middle East have the same hopes, beliefs, and yearnings for freedom and democracy, and they have a right to determine their own future just as have our own citizens and citizens throughout the world.

When they achieve that–and it will be long and hard and difficult–it will send a message to every despotic regime, every religious extremist throughout the Middle East, their day is done because in a democratic, free, and open society the people want to live in peace with their neighbors and with the world.

So there is a lot at stake. I grieve every moment, as every American does, for the loss of these brave young Americans’ lives. They have made a supreme sacrifice, and we will honor their memory, but at least their grieving families will know they sacrificed in the cause of freedom.

At this particular moment of crisis–and it is a crisis–I urge all of my colleagues and all Americans to join together in this noble cause. Yes, we are free to criticize; yes, we are free to make recommendations and suggestions; but the awesome responsibility lies with all of us, led by the President of the United States, as we attempt to carry out what is the most noble act that no country in the world has ever done besides the United States of America, and that is to shed our most precious blood and expend our treasure in defense of someone else’s freedom in the hope that they may enjoy the fruits of a free and open society in a democracy that is guaranteed to all men and women by our Creator.

I yield the floor.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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