Our junior senator’s speech to the Jewish Republican Association on May 16th:
Thank you so much for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be
here among so many friends.
Now, I know there are some who are probably wondering — what is a nice
Independent Democrat from Connecticut doing at a Republican event like
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to reelection last year… And
as Rabbi Hillel said, the rest is commentary.
In all seriousness, many of you in this room stood with me last year
through the long journey up a winding road that was my 2006 reelection
campaign. You came to my side without regard for party affiliation,
and you stayed there even after I ran as an Independent but said I
would caucus with the Democrats. Your non-partisanship in my race is a
model for what our politics should be. I thank you personally and
deeply for it. I could not have won without it.
And I pledge to you that I will do everything I can to vindicate your
We gather at a critical time for the future of our country. The war in
Iraq has now become the defining issue for this Congress and for this
presidency — although the decisions we will make in the weeks and
months ahead about Iraq will have consequences that reach far beyond
the terms of anyone now in office.
Part of the disagreement we face over Iraq comes down to a genuine
difference of opinion.
On the one hand, there are those who believe, as I do, that the
struggle against Islamist extremism really is the central challenge of
our time, and that, as General David Petraeus — our commander in Iraq
— recently said, Iraq is now the central front of the war against
On the other hand, there are those who reject this view — who
genuinely believe that the threat of Islamist extremism is overstated,
or that Iraq is a distraction from the “real” war on terror, or that
the war there is lost, or not worth fighting to win.
It is my deeply held conviction that these people are not only wrong,
they are disastrously wrong — and that the withdrawal they demand
would be a moral and security catastrophe for the United States, for
Iraq, and for the entire Middle East, including Israel and our
moderate Arab allies.
Let there be no doubt — an American defeat in Iraq would be a victory
for Al Qaeda and Iran… the two most threatening enemies we face in the
world today. It would vindicate the hope of our enemies that America
is weak and that we can be driven to retreat by terrorism, and it
would confirm the fear of our friends — not only in Iraq, but
throughout the world — that we are unreliable allies who will abandon
them in the face of danger.
The fact of the matter is, you cannot claim to be tough on terrorism
while demanding that our military withdraw from Iraq, because it is
the terrorists — particular Al Qaeda — that our military is fighting
You cannot claim to be committed to defeating Al Qaeda, while
demanding that we abandon the heart of the Middle East to Al Qaeda.
And you cannot claim to be tough on Iran, while demanding the very
thing that the mullahs want most of all — the retreat of the American
military from the Middle East in defeat, leaving a vacuum that Iran
will rush to fill.
I recognize that this war has been controversial, and there are those
who oppose it on principle. I respect that.
But too much of the debate we are having today about withdrawal from
Iraq has little or nothing to do with principle, or with reality in
It is about politics and partisanship here in Washington.
For many Democrats, if President Bush is for it, they must be against
it. If the war is going badly, it is bad for Republicans and it is
good for Democrats. It is as simple as that, and it is as wrong as
For many Republicans, the unpopularity of this war and this President
has begun to shake their will. They say that they have no choice but
to abandon General Petraeus and his strategy because the American
people tell the pollsters they want out. If previous generations of
American leaders had allowed their conduct of war to be shaped by
partisanship or public opinion polls, we would not be the strong and
free nation we are blessed to be today.
Republicans in Congress delude themselves if they think they will be
helping either themselves, their party, or their country if they now
attempt to wash their hands of Iraq, out of a sudden sense of
Democrats in Congress delude themselves if they think they will not be
held accountable for the bloody consequences of the retreat from Iraq
The fact is, a loss to Al Qaeda and Iran in Iraq would be devastating
to our security. These are fateful days and critical decisions we are
making about Iraq. We must make them with our eye on the safety of
America’s next generation, not the outcome of America’s next election.
It is to the everlasting credit of President Bush that in the war
against Islamist extremism he has shown the courage and steadfastness
to stand against the political passions of the moment.
I have never hesitated to express disagreement with the President on
any issue when I felt he was wrong — and I have criticized his
administration many times for the serious mistakes I believe it made
in prosecuting the war in Iraq.
But let me tell you this: I believe that each of us should be grateful
that we have a commander-in-chief who does not believe that decisions
about war should be driven by poll numbers. And each of us should be
grateful that we have a commander-in-chief who does not confuse what
is popular with what is right for our security as a nation. The public
opinion polls may not reflect this today, but I believe history will
My friends, as Ronald Reagan once said, now is the time for choosing.
If we stand united through the months ahead, if we stand firm against
the terrorists who want to drive us to retreat, the war in Iraq can be
won and the lives of millions of people can be saved.
But if we surrender to the barbarism of suicide bombers and abandon
the heart of the Middle East to fanatics and killers, to Al Qaeda and
Iran, then all that our men and women in uniform have fought, and died
for, will be lost, and we will be left a much less secure and free
That is the choice we in Washington will make this summer and this
fall. It is a choice not just about our foreign policy and our
national security and our interests in the Middle East. It is about
what our political leaders in both parties are prepared to stand for.
It is about our very soul as a nation. It is about who we are, and who
we want to be.
Will this be the moment in history when America gives up — when Al
Qaeda breaks our will, when our enemies surge forward, when we turn
our backs on our friends and begin a long retreat from our principles
and promise as a nation?
Or will this be the moment when America steps forward, when we pull
together, when we hold fast to the courage of our convictions, when —
with a new strategy, and a new commander on the ground — we begin to
turn the tide toward victory in this long and difficult war?
I know that we can rise above the anger and smallness of our politics.
I know we can rise to the greatness that this moment demands of us.
The question is — will we choose to do so?
I would like to close today by sharing with you a story from my last
visit to Iraq a few months ago. It was in Anbar province in western
Iraq — the center of the insurgency — a part of the country that
conventional wisdom last year dismissed as hopeless.
In fact, on September 11, 2006, the Washington Post ran a front-page
story reporting that even the chief of Marine Corps intelligence in
Iraq had concluded that Anbar was “lost,” and our position there was
I was in Anbar last December, on a forward operating base just outside
Ramadi, the capital of the province. As one of the briefings with our
military commanders ended, a colonel who had been sitting in the back
of the room came up to me. He said something that I carry with me to
this day — something that I hope you will carry with you as well.
He said: “Sir, I want you to know on behalf of the soldiers in my unit
and myself that we believe in why we are fighting here, we want to
finish this fight. And we know we can win it.”
Today, five months later, Anbar has been dramatically transformed.
Thanks to the bravery, ingenuity, and commitment of our men and women
in uniform, shops and schools have reopened, Al Qaeda is on the run,
thousands of Iraqis have joined the local police, and — yes — no less
than the New York Times reports that we have turned the corner there.
My friends, now is not the time for despair. Now is the time for
Now is not the time for reflexive partisanship and pandering to public
opinion. Now is the time for the kind of patriotism and principle
America’s voters have always honored.
I ask you to plead with every member of Congress you can in the days
and weeks ahead —
Do not surrender to hopelessness.
Do not succumb to defeat.
Do not give in to fear.
Rise above the political pressures of the moment to do what is right
Believe, like that colonel, in why we are fighting in Iraq, and know,
as he and his soldiers know, that we can and must win there.”