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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks to the Reserve Officers Association

1991-01-23

Thank you, General Bob Hope. And I'm pleased to see so many Members of Congress here tonight. I don't want to get in trouble, but I want to single out Senator Strom Thurmond; Senator Ted Stevens; and, of course, a great friend of the Reserve, my old friend, Sonny Montgomery over here -- the General. And all the rest of the Members who are with us tonight.

My apologies to all for speaking before the broccoli and leaving -- [laughter] -- but given the circumstances, I'm sure you'll understand. And I am proud to share this evening with the leadership of the Reserve Officers Association, and I am deeply honored to be named Minuteman of the Year. But I know tonight our thoughts go out to men and women earning the honor of a grateful nation at this very moment: the citizen-soldiers, 100,000 strong, serving now with the coalition forces in the Gulf. And I salute them, each and every one.

Those American Reservists are part of an allied force standing against the forces of aggression -- standing up for what is right. They serve alongside hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coastguardsmen of 27 other nations -- all united against the aggression of Saddam Hussein.

As we meet right here tonight, we are exactly 1 week into Operation Desert Storm. But it is important to date this conflict not from January 16th, but from its true beginning: the assault of August 2d, Iraq's unprovoked aggression against the tiny nation of Kuwait. We did not begin a war 7 days ago. Rather, we began to end a war -- to right a wrong that the world simply could not ignore.

From the day Saddam's forces first crossed into Kuwait, it was clear that this aggression required a swift response from our nation and the world community. What was, and is, at stake is not simply our energy or economic security and the stability of a vital region but the prospects for peace in the post-cold-war era -- the promise of a new world order based upon the rule of law.

America was not alone in confronting Saddam. No less than 12 resolutions of the United Nations Security Council condemned the invasion, demanding Iraq's withdrawal without condition and without delay. The United Nations put in place sanctions to prevent Iraq from reaping any reward from its outlaw act. Countries from six continents sent forces to the Gulf to demonstrate the will of the world community that Saddam's aggression would not stand.

Appeasement -- peace at any price -- was never an answer. Turning a blind eye to Saddam's aggression would not have avoided war; it would only have delayed the world's day of reckoning, postponing what ultimately would have been a far more dangerous, a far more costly conflict.

Unfortunately, in spite of more than 5 months of sustained diplomatic efforts by the Arab League, the European Community, the United States, and the United Nations, Saddam Hussein met every overture of peace with open contempt. In the end, despite the world's prayers for peace, Saddam brought war upon himself.

Tonight, after 1 week of allied operations, I am pleased to report that Operation Desert Storm is right on schedule. We have dealt -- and I salute General McPeak and the airmen flying under the United Command out there, from the Navy and the Marines, as well as, of course, the Air Force; I salute him -- we dealt a severe setback to Saddam's nuclear ambitions. Our pinpoint attacks have put Saddam out of the nuclear bomb-building business for a long time to come. Allied aircraft enjoy air superiority, and we are using that superiority to systematically deprive Saddam of his ability to wage war effectively.

We are knocking out many of their key airfields. We're hitting their early warning radars with great success. We are severely degrading their air defenses. The main danger to allied aircraft now comes from some 20,000 antiaircraft guns in the Baghdad area alone. And let me say, I am proud of the way our aviators are carrying out their tasks. In head-to-head combat, our jet fighters have destroyed 19 Iraqi jets. And they have hit, at most, one American jet in aerial combat.

Step by step, we are making progress towards the objectives that have guided the world's response since August 2d: the liberation of Kuwait and the restoration of stability and security in the Gulf. And there can be no doubt: Operation Desert Storm is working. There can be no pause now that Saddam has forced the world into war. We will stay the course -- and we will succeed -- all the way.

As I said on the 3d day of this campaign, war is never cheap or easy. There will be problems. There will be setbacks. There will be more sacrifices. But let me say I have every reason to be very pleased with our progress to date.

Saddam has sickened the world with his use of Scud missiles -- those inaccurate bombs that indiscriminately strike cities and innocent civilians in both Israel and Saudi Arabia. These weapons are nothing more than tools of terror, and they do nothing but strengthen our resolve to act against a dictator unmoved by human decency.

Prime Minister John Major of the United Kingdom said it well yesterday. ``Saddam,'' he said, ``may yet become a target of his own people. It is perfectly clear that this man is amoral. He takes hostages, he attacks population centers, he threatens prisoners. He's a man without pity, and whatever his fate may be,'' said Prime Minister Major, ``I, for one, will not weep for him.'' No one should weep for this tyrant when he is brought to justice -- no one, anywhere in the world.

I watched, along with all of you, that repulsive parade of American airmen on Iraqi television -- one more proof of the savagery of Saddam. But I knew as they read their prepared statements criticizing this country that those were false words forced on them by their captors. I saw one of General McPeak's kids -- one American pilot yesterday was asked why he was sure the pilots were coerced, their statements false. And he said, ``I know that because these guys are Americans.'' He could well have said the same thing about the other pilots being held -- from Britain, Italy, and Kuwait -- all men of courage and valor, too.

Tonight, I repeat my pledge to you and to all Americans: This will not be another Vietnam. Never again will our Armed Forces be sent out to do a job with one hand tied behind their back. They will continue to have the support they need to get the job done, get it done quickly, and with as little loss of life as possible. And that support is not just military, but moral -- measured in the support our servicemen and women receive from every one of us here at home. When the brave men and women of Desert Storm return home, they will return to the love and respect of a grateful nation. And with that in mind, I'd like to say to every family of every man or woman serving overseas: We're thinking of you, and you are in our prayers.

And that is where I will close -- with the aim of protecting American lives and seeing the heroes of Desert Storm return home safe and sound. All life is precious, whether it's the life of an American pilot or an Iraqi child. And yet, if life is precious, so, too, are the living principles of liberty and peace -- principles that all Americans cherish above all others, principles that you and your comrades on duty tonight have pledged to defend.

Thank you for this warm welcome tonight and for your strong support. And may God bless the United States of America. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 7:42 p.m. in the Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Maj. Gen. Robert C. Hope, ret., president of the Reserve Officers Association; Senators Strom Thurmond and Ted Stevens; Representative G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery; President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, Air Force Chief of Staff; and Prime Minister John Major of the United Kingdom.

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