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Public Papers - 1990 - August

Remarks at the Annual Conference of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Baltimore, Maryland


Thank you so much. Please be seated. And it's a privilege to join you and a deep personal pleasure to renew old ties, greet new friends. My thanks to all of you, but especially to you, Walter Hogan -- doing a great job as commander in chief. Following the likes of Larry Rivers isn't easy -- we all know that -- but Walter's done the VFW proud. I also know we're looking forward to the same kind of strong leadership from James Kimery. And let me offer my thanks again to another old friend, Cooper Holt, a real legend who gave so many years of service to the VFW. Cooper, we welcome you.

Next I want to thank my outstanding Veterans Secretary, fellow VFW member, Ed Derwinski. Ed's got so much going on, but I'm especially happy to see the work he's doing to improve these veterans hospitals. His Department is intent on serving you, much as you have served America.

I'm glad to see the Secretary of the Army with us today, an old friend of mine, a friend of yours, Mike Stone. And let us remember those who could not be with us. Our administration will not forget our POW's and MIA's as well as those brave men and women who gave what Lincoln termed ``the last full measure of devotion.''

Again, my acknowledgement to Mike Stone and also Baltimore's mayor, who courteously came to greet me, Kurt Schmoke. Glad to see you here, sir. And finally, also let me single out today's honorees, Budd Dudley and our own United Nations Ambassador, Tom Pickering, who is doing an outstanding job up there in the United Nations for the United States of America. Both Budd and Tom are being honored appropriately by you tonight.

Apologies for keeping you waiting. There are some events going on around the world. And I was on the telephone to a good friend of the United States, President Ozal of Turkey, and also to another great friend of the United States, Prime Minister Thatcher of the United Kingdom. And I must say, I'm proud of the support that we are all getting around the world.

You know, as a veteran, I want to salute this organization on its 91st year. By supporting our nation's veterans, the VFW has enriched America. And I'd like to take a moment to ask your support for a man whom I'm convinced will also enrich America -- I want to work in a strong plug -- and I'm talking about our Supreme Court nominee, Judge David Souter. [Applause] I see the New Hampshire delegation is here. [Laughter] Well, they know something we all know, and that is that he is an exceptional jurist and a brilliant legal mind. He will be a voice of excellence on the Nation's highest court, and I call on the Senate to confirm him without delay.

But this morning I'm also grateful to have this special opportunity to discuss an issue of great concern to all Americans: the crisis in the Persian Gulf -- a crisis that will require American planning, patience, and yes, personal sacrifice; but a crisis that we must and will meet if we are to stop aggression, help our friends, and protect our own interests and the peace and stability of countries around the globe.

Eighteen days ago, these beliefs prompted me to take action in the Middle East to restore the sovereignty of Kuwait and deter those who threaten friendly countries and the vital interests of America. I acted knowing that our cause would not be easy but that our cause is right. And that while one should not underestimate those who endanger peace, an even greater mistake would be to underestimate America's commitment to our friends when our friends are imperiled or our commitment to international order when that, too, is imperiled.

Today, the outcome is not yet decided. Hard choices remain, but of this we are certain: America will not be intimidated. When some ask: Where does America stand? our answer is: America stands where it always has -- against aggression, against those who would use force to replace the rule of law.

And who better than this group know? Throughout history, we have learned that we must stand up to evil. It's a truth which the past 18 days have reaffirmed, and its lessons speak to America and to the world.

The first lesson is as vivid as the memories of Normandy, Khe Sanh, Pork Chop Hill. We have been reminded again that aggression must and will be checked. So, at the request of our friends, we have sent U.S. forces to the Middle East -- reluctantly, but decisively -- knowing, as Teddy Roosevelt said, that America ``means many things, among them, equality of rights and, therefore, equality of duty and obligation.''

Yet we are not acting alone but in concert, helping to protect our own national security interests as well as those of the broader community of nations, which brings me to the second lesson reaffirmed by the past 18 days. By itself, America can do much. Together with its friends and allies, America can do much more -- for peace and for justice.

Think back with me to World War II, when together allies confronted a horror which embodied hell on Earth, or Korea, where United Nations forces opposed totalitarianism. Today, once again, many nations -- many of them Moslem -- have joined to counter aggression and, thus, to restore the peace.

Our Saudi friends, under the wise leadership of King Fahd, asked for our help in deterring further aggression by Iraq. I salute the many countries who have courageously responded to Saudi Arabia's request. I also salute those governments who were responding to the Amir of Kuwait's call for the full enforcement of United Nations sanctions.

We must not delude ourselves: Iraq's invasion was more than a military attack on tiny Kuwait; it was a ruthless assault on the very essence of international order and civilized ideals. And now, in a further offense against all norms of international behavior, Iraq has imposed restrictions on innocent civilians from many countries. This is unacceptable. And that's why the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Saturday night to condemn Iraq's action, just as it earlier voted to condemn the invasion itself. They know, as we do, that leaders who use citizens as pawns deserve and will receive the scorn and condemnation of the entire world.

And so, to the leaders of Iraq, I will now make two points clear: In moving foreign citizens against their will, you are violating the norms of your own religion. You are going against the age-old Arab tradition of showing kindness and hospitality to visitors. And so, my message is: Release all foreigners now! Give them the right to come and go as they wish. Adhere to international law and U.N. Security Council Resolution 664.

We've been reluctant to use the term ``hostage.'' But when Saddam Hussein specifically offers to trade the freedom of those citizens of many nations he holds against their will in return for concessions, there can be little doubt that whatever these innocent people are called, they are, in fact, hostages. And I want there to be no misunderstanding. I will hold the Government of Iraq responsible for the safety and well-being of American citizens held against their will.

Let me also take a moment to thank President Gorbachev for his recent words condemning the Iraqi invasion. He has shown -- if anyone doubted it -- that nations which joined to fight aggression in World War II can work together to stop the aggressors of today.

A third lesson has also been reaffirmed by the last 18 days -- as veterans, it won't surprise you: the steadfast character of the American will. Look to the sands of Saudi Arabia and the waters offshore, where brave Americans are doing their duty, just as you did at Anzio and Inchon and Hamburger Hill. And think of the men and women aboard our planes and ships -- young, alone, and so very far from home. They make us humble; they make us proud. And I salute the finest soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines that any nation could possibly have. And moreover, I pledge to you: We will do whatever it takes to help them complete their mission.

This means realizing the fourth lesson reaffirmed by the past 18 days. Although the size of America's Armed Forces in the years ahead will be smaller because the threat to our security is changing, future American defense capacity must be even more ``a lean, mean fighting machine.'' And by 1995, we estimate that our security needs can be met by an active force 25 percent smaller than today's, the lowest level since 1950. And yet we must ensure that a reduction of numbers does not mean a reduction in American strength.

Operation Desert Shield proves vividly that instead of relieving past contingencies we must prepare for the challenges of the 1990's and beyond. By ensuring that our troops are ready and trained, we can exert our presence in key areas and respond effectively to crisis. And this is readiness measured in days and hours, not weeks and months. And Operation Desert Shield has underscored the need to be able to get our soldiers where they are needed and when they are needed. This kind of responsiveness will be critical in the crises of the future.

Recently, our outstanding Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Colin Powell, spoke to this when he praised ``the finest peacetime military in the history of America.'' We will be smaller in troop strength and restructured, but we will remain purposeful, proud, and effective. Just look at the last 18 days. Desert Shield has been a classic case of America's military at its best.

I think, for instance, of Airman First Class Wade West, home on leave to be married. On August 7th, he was called up, and within an hour he had the ceremony performed and left for the Middle East. And he's now stationed over in Saudi Arabia. You talk about a guy that gets things done. [Laughter] But I would like to empathize with his bride wherever she may be. [Laughter] And another example: 7 years ago, Diana Kroptavich worried at home while her husband, Walter, steamed off the Lebanon coast on the U.S.S. New Jersey defending the marines. Today their roles are reversed. Retired, Walter is at home with their 6-year-old son, and Diana serves aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Yellowstone. [Laughter] Here's an Army couple: today paratrooper Joseph Hudert of the 82d Airborne Division is serving in Saudi Arabia, and his wife, nurse Dominique Allen, of the 44th Medical Brigade, will be deployed there within the next 2 weeks. Finally, recall the 8-year-old who, watching her dad leave for the Mediterranean, spoke truth from the mouths of babes. ``I just think,'' she said, ``that they shouldn't let daddies go away this long. But they still have to, to keep the world safe.''

These profiles show the true caliber of America and the vital essence of our mission. What's more, they remind us of the fifth and final lesson reaffirmed by the past 18 days: the need for a continued strong defense budget to support American troops, or as George Washington said in his first inaugural address, ``To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving the peace.'' History has shown the wisdom of his words -- especially in our century. What Desert Shield has shown is that America can ensure the peace by remaining militarily strong.

Now, I know that we're operating in a time of budget restraint. We have limited resources; we must use them wisely. The budget deficit is a threat to our vital interests at home and won't be made easier by today's threat abroad. Everyone realizes that the deficit is too large, that it's got to be brought down, and that Congress must act courageously and immediately when it returns from recess. But here's the point: We cannot attack the deficit by attacking the very heart of our Armed Forces -- committed men and women who are motivated and ready.

Last week I asked Congress to do what we have done: produce a budget proposal, including defense, that is both responsive and responsible and, most of all, fair. When they do, I will listen -- listen, but not break faith with the troops who are defending our nation. Make no mistake: To prevent aggression, to keep America militarily prepared, I will oppose the defense-budget slashers who are out of tune with what America needs to keep freedom secure and safe.

You know, most Americans know that when it comes to national defense, finishing second means finishing last. So, they reject what the House Armed Services Committee recently suggested: unacceptable cuts from our defense budget for fiscal year 1991. Most Americans know, too, that giving peace a chance does not mean taking a chance on peace. So, they endorse giving the military the tools to do its job: the Peacekeeper, the Midgetman, B - 2 bomber, and the Strategic Defense Initiative. Americans want arms negotiations to succeed, but they know that even a START treaty will not help our security if we disarm unilaterally.

Let us never forget that our strong national defense policies have helped us gain the peace. We need a strong defense today to maintain that peace. I will fight for that defense, and I need your help. So, help me convince the Congress, given recent events, to take another look and to adequately fund our defense budget.

Let me tell you a little story about why I feel so strongly. I was talking to some of the young soldiers who liberated Panama. We invited them to come with General Thurman and others to the Cabinet Room for a briefing for me. I asked one of them -- a medic -- about the operation. Corporal Roderick Ringstaff spoke of combat, and he spoke of the heroics of others, but not of his own. Next to him was his commanding officer, and so his commanding officer filled in the rest. This medic had been wounded, but repeatedly braved fire to rescue others wounded, pulling soldier after soldier to safety. For that he was awarded the Silver Star for bravery. Listening, I thought to myself: I will never send young men and women into battle with less than the very best that this nation can provide them. I will never -- I will never, ever -- let Americans like this down.

August 1990 has witnessed what history will judge one of the most crucial deployments of allied power since World War II. Two weeks ago, I called for the complete, immediate, and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait; second, the restoration of Kuwait's legitimate government; third, the security and the stability of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf; and fourth, the safety and protection of American citizens abroad. Today, I say, those objectives are and will remain unchanged.

Will it take time? Of course. For we're engaged in a cause larger than ourselves, a cause perhaps best shown by words many of you remember -- words spoken by one of the greatest Americans of our time to allied soldiers and sailors and airmen. ``The eyes of the world are upon you,'' he told them. ``The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.'' And then he concluded with this moving prayer: ``Let us all beseech the blessing of almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.''

Fellow veterans, more than half of all VFW members fought in World War II, many of you serving under the man who spoke those words, Dwight David Eisenhower. You know how America remains the hope of ``liberty-loving people everywhere.'' Half a century ago, the world had the chance to stop a ruthless aggressor and missed it. I pledge to you: We will not make that mistake again. For you see, together we can successfully oppose tyranny and help those nations who look to us for leadership and vision.

Thank you for your support and your prayers. And may God bless the land we so deeply love, the United States of America. Thank you all, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:39 a.m. at the Baltimore Arena. In his remarks, he referred to Walter G. Hogan, Larry W. Rivers, James Kimery, and Cooper Holt, commander in chief, assistant adjutant general and executive director, vice commander in chief, and former commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, respectively; Budd Dudley, executive director of the Liberty Bowl Festival Association; President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; and Gen. Maxwell R. Thurman, commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command.

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