SPEECH FOR JOHN MCCAIN
Written by STEVEN TRAVERS
In 2000 I ran for the Presidency on the strength of what we called the "Straight Talk Express." In my two decades plus in Congress, and in my military career, I have been known for just that: straight talk and honesty. Today, I want to address these and other themes. America is talking about race and history. Unfortunately, truth is too often a casualty.
I have been called a "Maverick." I am a conservative Republican, but many members of my own party have criticized me for reaching across the aisle in order to forge coalitions with Democrats. To that I say the great state of Arizona sends me to Washington every six years not to toe a partisan line, but to get things done. I offer that America will in November send me to the White House as President not of the Republican Party or the conservative movement, but of the American people. One of my heroes, General and later President Dwight D. Eisenhower, did just that. It is his example I hope to follow. I believe those of good conscience in all parties would agree this is a worthy course.
America is a divided nation. My biggest goal is to bridge that divide. As you know, I spent time as a prisoner of war. It was a trying time, but through faith in God I came to understand eternal Truths. Today I wish to offer some truth. I am not afraid to speak honestly with America, even if it comes with occasional political cost. My experience in the "Hanoi Hilton" taught me that whether I am elected to the Presidency or not, I must hold true to my principles and that an honest approach to our problems is in the long run far more advantageous.
Race is the topic today. Many white people are afraid to talk about race. Many people of color find it all they want to talk about. It is the "elephant in the room," often either the unspoken or the overriding issue that still divides America the beautiful. Race is no longer simply just about whites and blacks. We are a multi-cultural nation, strong because of that; a nation of bi-racials, of diverse religions, of Latinos and Orientals; of refugees from former Communist countries, from nations run by despots and totalitarians; the great destination for those seeking opportunity and liberty.
American history and race are inter-twined with each other, and I am stunned to see how little real history people actually know. In the modern world of sound bites, the Internet, the blogosphere, of fierce partisanship on both sides, in which one-upping each other seems to be the overriding goal, I offer that today you pull up a chair and hear a tale.
The winners, it has been said, write history. In the past 2,000 years, the "winner," for lack of a better term, has been Western Civilization; namely European empires and the Christian Church. In reaction to that, many people of African ancestry, or Arab ethnicity, or Oriental persuasions, sometimes feeling left out, have sought to tell their stories, too. In so doing, we have seen a "war of words," of ideologies framed by far too many falsehoods on all sides.
The past 140 years has seen the rise of the United States in what has come to be known as the "American Century." In the age of Hollywood, radio, newspapers, the Internet; mass communications and the art form of public relations, the mythic American story, of cowboys 'n' Indians, of victory of good over evil embodied by our enemies, whether they be Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan or Godless Communism; the story has been told from our point of view and not without a touch of jingoism.
There has been a reaction to that, and it has often been a false narrative. For too long now, we have seen this false narrative repeated until they are accepted as truths. We have seen it in public schools, in partisan political circles, and now even in churches. We must take a deep breath and try and understand each other instead of pointing fingers.
Slavery, it has been said, is America's "original sin." Yes, it is. There exists in this world good and evil. Evil slithers and slides about, often by forcing good men to compromise and do evil things. I have seen this up close as an Annapolis man and fighter pilot. I was taught honor and morality, but was forced to live with the great conundrum that my job was to release weapons of death not only on legitimate enemies and military targets, but possibly also innocent people, who we called "collateral damage."
Our Founding Fathers were among the greatest men in the history of the world, yet in forging the Constitution they compromised and allowed slavery to exist. People of all colors are correct when they say what they should have done was to abolish slavery once and for all, but this issue is not, and pardon the pun, "black or white." Slavery was considered an economic institution that had thrived as legitimate trade between nations for thousands of years. Competing nations and empires, seeing the future in the New World, brought it to the shores of colonial America. The English, the Spanish, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the French brought it here. The United States inherited it. The Northern states rejected it, but the Southern states found it economically indispensable.
In 1787, the Founders, many of whom were Southern slaveowners, derived a plan to abolish it. They determined that in 1808, importation of slaves would end. The theory was that over time the existing slaves would grow old and pass away, and with it slavery. The Southern states therefore would have several decades in order to ease their economies away from slave labor. It was an imperfect plan and not one that history judges a noble one, but it was not the story of evil white men who eagerly oppressed their fellow man despite what their Bibles told them was right.
One of the great templates of the black story is that families were routinely broken up by slavery, but while partly true, this is not entirely so. In fact, many slave families were kept together; men and women allowed to marry, to start families, their children Christianized into a faith that offered them their only glimpse of hope in an otherwise hopeless world. Healthy children were born and raised into healthy adulthood, which might sound hopeful except for the unfortunate result being that they were also born into slavery, which instead of dying out continued to be the driving force of the Southern economy.
In 1839, slaves found themselves on American soil when the Spanish ship Amistad was shipwrecked en route to Spanish-held Cuba. A trial was held, the result being that they were declared free and returned to their African homeland. This result of this trial was a product of the American Constitution. They were returned despite vigorous lobbying on behalf of the Spanish crown to return their so-called "property," but the U.S. turned down this request from an ally.
In the years following, a national argument ensued. A little-known Illinois politician named Abraham Lincoln rose to the Presidency on the basis of his opposition to slavery. This movement was the driving force behind a new political party called the Republicans, named after a book, The Republic, which had been written by a world famous Greek philosopher named Plato. But the devil, as I say, slithers and slides in and out of even our most noble concepts. Plato's Greece, the home of Democracy and our most wonderful early visions of man's yearning for freedom, thought slavery to be a "natural state."
But Abe Lincoln felt that our founding documents had made evolutionary, as well as revolutionary strides beyond Platonic Greece, and that mid-19th Century America was the time, the place, the very idea if you will, for abolition to occur. We all know what happened next: some called it the War of Northern Aggression. Others, the War Between the States. Most now refer to it as the Civil War. It has been argued that slavery was not the central premise of the war, at least not in the beginning. Instead, code words likes "states' rights" were bandied about; hoary phraseology by educated Southerners attempting to justify a dying way of life.
Regardless of economic or other social factors, the war was fought because of slavery. In the beginning, even Lincoln stated that the Union was either to be all-slave or abolished completely, but that "united we stand, divided we fail." White Northerners fought for the Union. Many were drafted. Many were Irish immigrants, "recruited," so to speak, fresh off the boat. It would be disingenuous to state that millions of whites freely signed up in order to put their lives on the line in order to benefit blacks, but in reality many did sign up and did in fact pay the ultimate price on behalf of the slaves. There are those who say that reparations are owed modern African-Americans over slavery, but if one were to carry this concept out to fruition, the descendants of dead Union soldiers could argue the same thing.
The Union did prevail after a horrible, bloody, divisive struggle. In 1863, President Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation, thus "freeing," at least in early theory, the slaves. Now this is an important area of study and well worth considering, especially by black Americans who find so much to fault with America. As I stated, slavery existed for thousands of years. Black slaves held in bondage by white slaveowners were a small percentage of the historical slave population. The Roman Empire enslaved all their conquered territories through Asia Minor and beyond. The Egyptians enslaved Jews. People of all races and ethnicity's were both slave and slaveholder. Many races, including Africans, had sold their brethren into slavery for profit. None were without sin.
Slavery had come to America, but four score and seven years after this nation was forged, kicking and screaming against the British Empire, slavery ended as a viable trade between nations. There is still white slavery, forced prostitution, Christians enslaved in Africa, child exploitation . . . but the kind of legitimate slave economy allowed to thrive between countries was no more. What ended it? No conquering army or empire entered America, defeated us in battle, and then forced us by the barrel of a gun to abolish slavery. Americans, using laws written by Americans in America ended it. We took on the issue head on and did what was right. When we did it, slavery was suddenly a forbidden worldwide practice. America, quite simply, is where slavery came to die.
Lincoln was assassinated, Had he lived, perhaps America would have healed. He did not, and America did not. Reconstruction occurred between 1865 and 1877. It failed. A Republican Administration oversaw its failure, and it was not our finest hour. Black people were sentenced to another century of de facto slavery. Southerners have been blamed and vilified, but too often their story, the suffering they experienced in the war and in its humiliating aftermath, has not been properly addressed. History and human nature are not comic book characterizations of all good vs. all evil. People are neither one nor the other. Since the time of Cain and Abel, we have struggled mightily to walk a righteous path while tempted by every form of human failing; prejudice, ignorance, revenge, violence. Even in the Jim Crow South, humanity could not be divided between all-suffering saintly blacks vs. a 100 percent population of Simon Legree whites.
Even in the Old South, a sense of white charity had once existed, inspired by Christian teachings, but now practices such as white wives of slaveholders ministering to the spiritual and medical needs of black slaves ended. Acts of post-war violence against white women gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan, and quickly this wicked organization went beyond its original intent of protection, using politics and misguided religious concepts to justify itself. It was a sordid American tale indeed.
White America came around to doing business as usual with each other. A status quo was established. A tacit "understanding" was reached. Blacks were left out. Over and over they were given the shaft; brutalized, mistreated, forgotten. This was not merely Jim Crow's sin. This sickness spread throughout America, from sea to shining sea. The promise of America, which inculcated the great immigrant movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, embodied by Ellis Island and the teaming cities filled with Irish, German, Swedish, Italian, Jewish and Oriental peoples arriving in the Promised Land; all of this was a cruel hoax to black America.
All immigrants were mistreated. The Chinese built the railroads that connected New York to California, creating a continental nation, yet were cheated of their land and the fruits of their labor. The Irish were told they "need not apply." Italians were characterized as Mafiosi. Jews were not allowed to pursue their dreams. But they kept coming because, despite hardship, goodness vastly outweighed evil on these shores. Slowly, these groups assimilated.
Blacks, the single ethnicity that had not come here of their own free will, looked on in despair while all these newcomers took their slice of the American Dream. Within the black community, competing ideologies were formed in order to deal with this reality. A spirit of rugged, frontier individualism infused the black self-improvement movement from 1900 until the 1930s. There is great irony in this, in that it was America's pioneers, those who forged the Westward expansion, who formed the greatest example for black self-reliance. Schools of thought were represented. W.E.B. DuBois believed in an elitist philosophy of black separatism. Booker T. Washington recognized that within white America were people of good conscience and that cooperation with those elements offered the best hope.
For 100 years after the Civil War, America found itself engaged in a struggle for world domination; a struggle that indeed pitted the cosmic forces of good vs. evil against each other. It was the industrial age. The battle was both ideological but technical in nature. It was ideological in that a revolutionary philosophy took over in Europe. The central tenet of this new ideology was that Mankind would sacrifice freedom for security. Thus did Hitler and Stalin and Mao rise, replacing God as modern deities to be worshipped by the masses, all of whom were considered expendable before the yawning needs of the nation-state.
Opposed to this, above all other nations, empires, powers and armies, stood America. It was in America that man had found freedom, and with it realization that each individual has a divine purpose under God. The Hitler's, the Tojo's and the Stalin's were convinced that this made us soft, unwilling to sacrifice; that our freedoms also made us little kings coveting our little homesteads, but unwilling to expend energies on behalf of anybody else. It was the single greatest miscalculation in the annals of human history, yet this great narrative, this great victory, cannot be re-told without the ultimate realization that so many black Americans justly feel left out of it. Our greatest source of pride is one they were not allowed to truly share in, and it is out of this frustration that many blacks feel the need to alter the story. Thus we are told by many on the Left, or by those who have some political or racial axe to grind, that America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki not to save the lives of 1 million Japanese and Americans who would have died in the planned invasion of Tokyo, but because we hated people of color. This is a lie, but it is repeated not just at political rallies but in churches and even in schools. This must stop!
Hand in hand with the ideological struggles that came to be known as World Wars I and II; the Cold War; and now the War on Terror, a different struggle ensued. It was a competition emanating from the Industrial Revolution that marked transition from the 19th to the 20th Centuries. As we view the rise of German nationalism, we see that it was through industry that they felt their victory could be secured. The battle would be fought also over natural resources; coal, oil, iron ore, and the vast territories needed to secure an endless appetite for it. Bigger and better ships; automobiles, aeroplanes, technological achievements; whoever dominated these engines of both military might and commerce would rule the world. It appeared that Germany would win this global struggle for supremacy. What they lacked in natural resources they made up for in their will to conquer others in order to attain it. At the same time, America shrank into isolationism, our self-confidence shaken by the Great Depression.
Despite this, when the time finally came to stand up and be counted, it was America that countered the German/Axis military-industrial machine. In successfully so doing this leaves the thoughtful man or women to ponder the role of God. Here were a handful of agrarian colonies, separated by an ocean from the salons of political influence, lacking a major army; an after-thought, almost, yet within 150 years we found ourselves suddenly to be the greatest, most powerful empire in the history of the world. The term empire is one that politicians such as myself are loath to use, but indeed, as a straight talker, I must admit this is what we became and remain today. It started with the Grand Alliance in which Winston Churchill agreed that America was the natural inheritor of the British Empire, yet we were and are a reluctant empire. An empire not of colonies, not a conquering force, but an empire of ideas and liberation. An empire of coalitions, of trading partners and friends who do business with us not out of fear or coercion, but because it is mutually beneficial to the whole world.
Still, as America captured the great battle for industrial and technological might, African-Americans found it increasingly difficult to share in our victories. In the immediate wake of triumph over the vicious hatred and racial slanders of Adolph Hitler, black America struggled to understand why a country so noble, so willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, so brave and righteous, could not see fit to open its loving arms to them. They gathered in their churches, asked this over and over, and with God as their witness vowed, "We shall overcome."
The Civil Rights Movement followed, and out of this important lessons. Black sports heroes Jesse Owens, Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson were just that: heroes that Americans of all colors could admire. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood this country as well as any man, black or white. He understood that we were at heart a loving nation, a nation of believers. He infused his speeches with religious phraseology, stating that he "had been to the mountain top," that he "saw the Promised Land," and that "mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
Dr. King surrounded himself with as many white followers as black, and made full use of a phrase called Satyagraha, which had been the philosophy of his hero, Mahatma Gandhi. Dr. King patterned non-violent resistance after Gandhi. Satyagraha meant, in effect, to put bad behavior against one group against that group. That is, when the British treated the Indians poorly, Gandhi wanted them to know that they were treating themselves poorly; that crimes against some men are crimes against their own souls. If the offending party has a good heart, as Gandhi knew the British did and as Dr. King knew America did, then this technique would work. It did.
It is also very important to understand that while the civil rights struggle was difficult, there did exist in this great nation enough sympathy, empathy and good conscience for it to succeed. It is important to realize that in a Democracy like America, a struggle like this could only succeed if a majority believed in the cause, and that the majority was then and still are white people. There were indeed and still are huge numbers of good white folks with love in their hearts. There is no all good, no all bad. In America, and thank God for it, the good vastly out-numbers the bad.
In studying the success of the Civil Rights Movement against long odds, consider that there are no stories of Jews overcoming Hitler; political prisoners rising out of the Soviet gulags; or Chinese dissidents who got the best of Chairman Mao. The elements of fairness, equality, kindness, love and Democracy that make America a shining city on a hill did not exist in those Godless despotisms. I was imprisoned in one of them and can speak from personal experience. Only because America opposed the Communists and forced their hand through aggression in Vietnam was I, along with my fellow POWs, allowed to return to this land that I love.
In America, men like Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey and University of Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant did exist. It was men and women like these who courageously stood for change and are rightfully considered heroes because of it. But the devil is always afoot, and he was in the 1960s when John and Robert Kennedy, and Dr. King, were assassinated. America was never innocent, but the "age of innocence" was now over. The Christian influence within the civil rights struggle was replaced by black militancy, embodied by the Black Panthers. Malcolm X, a thoughtful man of intelligence and courage, had chosen to join forces with Dr. King, but he was assassinated by elements within his own Muslim faith, which became highjacked by angry men like Louis Farrakhan.
The 1960s gave birth to a new mindset, which was an offspring of Communism. In the U.S.S.R. and Red China, so-called "liberal" elements such as homosexuality, feminism and racial equality had no place within the totalitarianism of Josef Stalin or Mao Tse-Tung, but within international Communist circles, these precepts were seen as ways to weaken their greatest enemy, the United States.
Legitimate demands for better treatment of women, of gays, of minorities, were hijacked by elements of Communism. In Fidel Castro's Cuba, his undesirables were sent to Florida during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. The American Civil Liberties Union became infiltrated, and un-American grievances replaced traditional, legitimate causes. The ACLU has engaged in much good work, but much bad work, as well. They were the leading opponents of McCarthyism, which at the time appeared to be an overbearing intrusion into our civil rights.
Nobody would argue that Senator Joseph McCarthy was entirely correct. He was not. Dwight Eisenhower and George C. Marshall certainly opposed him. But the Venona Project, revealed after the Soviet archives were opened following the fall of the U.S.S.R., did reveal an enemy within: many Communist spies and "fellow travelers" within the highest levels of the Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman Administrations. McCarthy was paranoid, but he had some cause to be.
ACLU activities have included subversive animosity towards law enforcement and in so doing championing of the release of actual criminals. It has promoted the increasingly wide-held notion that most blacks are unfairly imprisoned, as if because some innocent African-Americans were lynched in Alabama in the 1930s, modern day "Bloods" and "Crips" are equally blameless. It has included a steady effort at undermining child molestation laws in favor of those who believe that few barriers should exist to prevent physical sex between men and young children, boys or girls. It has included an effort at bringing down long-held institutions like the Catholic Church, using the self-guilt of the sinful in a sinful world, in an effort to show moral relativism of crimes and indecencies. It has included an effort at destroying the Boy Scouts and promoting atheism. This, my friends, is how Satan operates and it is imperative that men and women - of whom I include myself - open their eyes and see that with which is placed before our countenance. There is a passivity, a blindness in our culture, in which these blatant sins are somehow swept under rugs, but not on my watch.
These were the aims of Communism, but with the help of a loving God and a President named Ronald Reagan, we defeated it. However, evil exists and never goes away. I saw it in the "Hanoi Hilton." It is a beast called the Inquisition, slavery, racism, totalitarianism, Nazism, Communism, terrorism, and a host of other isms. It simply takes other forms. When Communism as a major military threat was destroyed, an entire power structure, a psychology that rebels against God, that hates righteousness, that despises things that are holy or wholesome . . . and therefore hated and continues to hate such concepts as "American as apple pie," continues to live on.
As described, this post-Communist ideology lives on in the protest movement; in such organizations as the North American Man-Boy Love Association; in the legal and lobbying organizations that promote these nefarious concepts. We have seen it in the liberation theology that hi-jacked the Catholic Church in Latin America, promoting hatred towards America, freedom and capitalism as the "new god"; its weapons their shield, replacing the Holy Bible.
This ideology manifested itself in organizations like the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Weather Underground, which completely rejected the supposed pacifism associated with the Left, replacing it with violence. It is an ideology embodied by a former university professor who called the World Trade Center victims of 9/11 "little Eichmanns," simply because they engaged in acts of commerce which provide needed goods and services to average people like you throughout the world.
But what is most disturbing, my friends, is that this ideology has found a place in black America. There will always be unimprssives promoting lies about America, about righteousness, but within black churches exists some of America's best and brightest. If we allow the traditional values of black Christianity to reject America in favor of falsehoods, we not only do a disservice to our country, but also sentence another generation of African-Americans to a new form of slavery. We have ignored this too long, but now is the time for all of us to confront a 21st Century reality. It has been festering below the surface for years, decades even. Evidence of it has filtered into our consciousness, but we have denied it, excused it, and even promoted it.
Good people, it is 2008, and by the time I take my oath of office it will be 2009. White America, indeed all of white civilization, from Europe to Australia; to former colonies in Africa and in Asia; have long-ago engaged in self-analysis that has at times been more like self-flagellation. As a Christian, as an American who wants only the very best for all of my fellow citizens because we must remain united, I urge my black brethren to take this unique opportunity in history to look within. I urge thee, with all the respect at my disposal, to examine yourselves, your communities, your schools, your children, your churches. I urge this not as an accusation, but because history has taught us that we must take responsibility for ourselves, individually. We cannot rely on government panaceas to see us through. We must lift ourselves up.
I cannot say that the New Deal was an abject failure. I cannot stand here and call the Great Society a total loss. Like so much we experience, like people, like life itself, there was good and there was bad in these policies, but like so much of government, too much of a good thing always becomes too much, period. I submit, my friends, that the frontier spirit that infused post-Reconstruction black America, in spite of the hardships, in spite of the inequalities imposed upon black people by white America - thus making this entrepreneurial spirit an act of necessity - despite all of that, it is this spirit that my good friend, former Congressman Jack Kemp, has tried so hard to revitalize through inner city "empowerment zones." It is this spirit that I call on black America, indeed all of America, to return to.
In so doing, my brethren, I am asking that you allow the truth to set you free. History is a large, unwieldy thing. It can be an open sore, but it can also be liberating, empowering. This country I love has been lied about. I have heard these lies coming from men and women of authority. Sadly, without refutation, I have seen them believed. No more. No, ladies and gentlemen, no more. No more slanders and lies about this land I love.
It is time for black and white Americans, indeed the entire world, to confront our history. No, we are not a John Wayne cowboy movie. That image swung too far to the Right, but today the Left, Hollywood and much of the international body politic has adopted a "blame America first" mindset that is not merely disagreeable, it is a pack of lies. For black Americans, I urge you to be thankful for what you have, and not resentful of what you do not possess. I cannot make life fair and would be crazy to suggest otherwise. I admit people who look like me treated you badly, but I also know that people who look like me loved and helped you. I also recognize that among you all is not angelic.
Consider that while your ancestors were shackled and brought here by force, had they not many of you would not be here, and if you were not here you may well be living in a poor, disease-ridden, corrupt African country; if your ancestors had survived the ensuing centuries. Consider that there are no successful black-run countries, and in saying this I offer not condemnation of your race, but a request for soul-searching that may yield the answers for a successful future, here and in Africa.
I urge the United Nations, Hollywood, the public schools, the academic community, black America; I urge all of you: come home, my friends. We have been apart too long. Teach the truth. Tell the truth. Our faults are well known. We put them in the storefront window for all to examine. In the information age we live in, our secrets are quickly made open sores, to be exploited by all political rivals. The CIA, decisions that led to wars, many with bad results, many made in secret, are now well known, picked over in endless detail by the punditry, which so often offers complaint without solution. I offer no legislation, no Supreme Court rulings, no sweeping Fairness Doctrines. Rather, I offer my voice, a bully pulpit as Teddy Roosevelt called it, and a request for healing through a fair, truthful examination of our history, of ourselves.
What I do offer, however, is that schools and colleges adopt a new curriculum. I call it a Truth Agenda. Tell the children they live in a wondrous, prosperous land. Stop bad-mouthing it. Replace cynicism with patriotism. It is a real thing, an uplifting emotion, and it is worthy. It is not jingoistic and it is not false. For black Americans, I urge you to read great books by world famous authors, time-tested by decades, centuries of historical analysis. I urge you to read about our military victories, our incredible accomplishments in the world of business. I urge you to absorb the entire culture, and I urge you to attend churches with people of color other than yourselves. Do not self-segregate. Dr. King fought that battle and we won it. Do not regress. Reach out. White people love your spirituals, your gospel music, and they want to love you. You can find room for your own stories, your African culture, your ethnic studies, for black authors. It is all legitimate, but do not limit yourselves. You can be African without being Afro-centric. Expand. Grow. There is room for all of us.
We are currently engaged in a struggle in Iraq, and my request for openness and truth is part and parcel of that struggle. We entered the war in 2003, and one of the main reasons given for invasion was the well-worn issue of weapons of mass destruction. Mistakes were made, calculations were wrong. Naked political accusations of my predecessor have branded him, and since I supported him, myself, as liars.
My friends, I am not a liar and neither is President Bush. We are men, and not infallible. Good people, there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Saddam Hussein used them against the Kurds in 1988. They were used in the war with Iran in the 1980s. He tried to use them against America in 1991 but we defeated him before he unleashed them. President Clinton knew he had them and spoke in detail about Iraqi WMD, specifically in a 1998 speech. When we invaded, we found WMD.
We did not, however, find as much or as lethal a cache of it as we said we would. Why? For one, we believe Saddam may have hidden much of it; in the desert, in the Euphrates River; maybe in Syria. But we also know now that Saddam wanted us to believe he possessed a stockpile. He wanted to be perceived as an Arab tiger, a new Saladdin standing up to the West. He deceived us, but in an ironic twist ended up biting off more than he could chew. I assure you, Iran understands that lesson, too.
The CIA made mistakes. The Bush Administration miscalculated. As a ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, with top-level sources in the intelligence community, and now as a Presidential candidate with access to regular, classified briefings, I too made mistakes, but I also know we did not lie about WMD.
Many have stated that entering Iraq was a mistake. I have resisted this notion. I was a supporter of the war and have not found that to constantly change my position, as so many do while adjusting to shifting political winds, is neither helpful nor good campaign strategy. But I am willing to ask, If I knew then what I know now, would I have supported the war?
No war plan survives the first battle. My hero Dwight Eisenhower might have been fired for the mistakes of the Market Garden fiasco of September 1944 had the current political-media complex existed then. No leader can be judged strictly by 20/20 hindsight. What were the circumstances at the exact moment of decision; not a day, a year, five years later?
The U.S. does not engage in torture. My political opponents know we do not. They say it anyway. I have known torture. Waterboarding is not torture. I do not endorse it as a regular policy. It should be rarely used, but it has succeeded in the past and has legitimate uses. But more importantly, I cannot for the life of me understand why, in a world in which people want to cut our throats; in a world in which 3,000 Americans can be killed in the World Trade Center; for political purposes will invest all their emotional and legal energies into sympathizing with our mortal enemies.
Was the Iraq War a mistake? Let me say that had I realized it would divide us politically and culturally, as it has, I might have gone another way. I say might. In the end, I probably would have given the go-ahead, for several reasons. First, while I am a Christian, I am not a Quaker. I am not a pacifist. Many have asked, "What would Jesus do?" I am not entirely sure that Jesus would not have allowed us to be slaughtered like lambs, turning the other cheek because "those who live by the sword die by the sword," and Heavenly paradise awaits us regardless of victory or defeat in battle. That said, I am not Jesus, which is precisely the point. I am just a man, and I must do the best I can. I am not running for the office of God, only for President.
Let me further use the example of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi advocated peaceful non-resistance, but please understand that this only works if your opponents are moral. The British Empire was moral. Martin Luther King Jr. also knew that America was moral. Saddam Hussein, Adolph Hitler: these were not moral men. They could not be dealt with the way Gandhi dealt with the English, or the way Dr. King dealt with the Christian South! Sometimes force is all they understand.
Terrorists only understand force. Now, this alone does not justify our invasion of Iraq. Critics have stated we went to war:
- As punishment of Saddam for the 1990 invasion of Kuwait
- For "finishing the job" we did not complete in 1991
- For his trying to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush
- Because he harbored terrorist training centers.
- Because he was in contact with Osama Bin Laden
- Because he had WMDs
- Because he was trying to foment an Islamic backlash against the West
- Because of our oil interests in the Middle East
- Because of global economic interests
- Because Arab partners like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, concerned at the instability he caused, supported the war
- Because despite public outcries, many of our European partners secretly wanted us to invade
- Because Democracy is the only real answer to hatred and hopelessness among disaffected Arab youth
- Because Iran needed to be counter-balanced
- Because it could lead to Israeli-Palestinian peace accords
- Because 9/11 change everything and gave us the political will to do what many wanted but did not have the support to do in the Clinton years
- And because of all the above-related, true factors, each of which added up to Iraq being the right war in the right place at the right time.
Many have said we needed and still need to articulate our reasons for going in. There were many, all good. They all added up. I admit now, I thought we would go in and do exactly as we did, which was to annihilate Saddam's Republican Guard and accomplish the mission, as President Bush proudly stated aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, a mere two months after we started it. I thought we would win one of the most brilliantly conceived military strikes, which we all called "shock 'n' awe," exactly the way we did do it. I also thought we would establish a Democracy, be loved in the Middle East, pay for it with Iraqi oil, establish a strong partnership, follow that up with Palestinian independence, bring the boys home, have a ticker-tape parade down Fifth Avenue in New York as we did after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and call General Tommy Franks our greatest military hero since Ike. That said, I knew that securing peace and security would not be as easy as defeating the Iraqi Army.
Did I subscribe to hubris? Was I wrong? Like many things, I was partly right, and partly wrong. While I am willing to entertain the question that it was a mistake, I also know two things. One, it is not helpful since it is a done deal and must be dealt with as is. Two, despite all the miscalculations, the cost in men and treasure, our Middle East efforts are now and will continue to pay off. In the end, we will achieve our goals and the world will be better off for it. President Bush will be judged by history as Harry Truman was in his then-unpopular handling of the Korean War, another adventure rife with errors and miscalculations.
So my friends, I have no stock in Halliburton; my father was not the target of assassination by Saddam Hussein; and my reasons for supporting the war were based on an honest assessment of what I thought we needed to do in order to protect this nation I so dearly love. I disagreed with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. I helped convince the President to remove him in order that a plan I supported - "the surge" - be allowed to succeed as indeed it has. But Secretary Rumsfeld once said "there are known knowns and there are known unknowns." I only knew what I knew in 2002 and 2003. I could not know then what I know in 2008. In 2009 I will not know what I will know in 2010. But my reasoning was pure. There was no hidden agenda.
What have we accomplished? We removed Saddam and his sons. We removed the Taliban. We drew jihadists from all over the Middle East into two already-bad places and, at a time and place of our choosing, killed many of them. We have studied them, learned from them, detained and questioned them, and set them on the defensive. We freed the Kurdish north and started nascent Democracy.
Still, for partisan political purposes, in order to discredit or embarrass George W. Bush and the Republican Party, many insist that we torture, that Guantanamo detainees are mistreated and are innocent. Ladies and gentlemen, the only difference between many of these terrorists and Heinrich Himmler, Adolph Eichmann, Lavrenti Beria; is that they lack the ability to carry out the crimes those monsters did carry out. The single entity preventing them from attaining their cruel goals is the United States of America.
Are we safer? The record is all I have to go on, and the record says we have not been attacked. While I happily credit President Bush for his vigilance, I also offer this: Osama Bin Laden thought George Bush was the same as Bill Clinton. He felt the response to 9/11 would be Clintonesque. Bin Laden mis-judged the difference between Republicans and Democrats. He got the opposite of what he wanted. Are terrorists waiting for another Clinton, a Democrat, to ascend to the White House so that their next attack will be defended in the manner of that party? I cannot say, but as voters, it is worth thinking about.
In closing, let me just say that I have worked with people who disagree with me, and I am running for President of the Republican Party, and not for the role of Keeper of the Reagan Revolution. I loved Ronald Reagan, but I must be my own man, and I am running for President of all of America; not just "red states" or "battleground states." I plan to run and to win in every state in this great nation. I have offer common ground with everybody.
My supporters included conservative talk radio. They are passionate and talk tough. They use partisan language. I do not talk that way and do not plan to, but I cannot stop people who believe in me from trying to help, just as my opponent will not be able to control all of his or her supporters. I ask for a fair, hard, respectful campaign. I ask for truth. Just as I ask people to pursue the truth about our history, about America, pursue the truth about me. Disagree with me if you must. Argue vehemently. Display passion, but do not impugn me with lies and falsehoods.
I am a dedicated public servant who has stood above those things and deserves better. I expect that there will unfairness, some pretty foul. I have seen worse, but like Gandhi imploring the British, like Dr. King insisting white Southerners were his brothers, I ask that you find your better selves.
I believe in the generosity of the human spirit. To quote the great Abraham Lincoln, I ask that America come together. I ask that all us - you, me, everybody - find, as Lincoln called them, the "better angels of our nature."
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism