The consequences of walking away from Afghanistan were severe, but perhaps hard to foresee prior to 9/11. But no one could plead ignorance of the potential consequences of walking away from Iraq now, withdrawing coalition forces before the Iraqis can defend themselves. Moderates would be crushed. Locals who had allied themselves with our coalition and trusted the United States would be hunted down by al Qaeda and other extremists. Sectarian violence would explode, and outside influences could widen the conflict into a regional war.
We must consider, as well, what a retreat strategy would mean to our other efforts in the war on terror, and our interests in the broader Middle East . Having tasted victory in Iraq , jihadists would look about for new missions. Many would head for Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. Others would set out for capitals across the Middle East , spreading more discord as they eliminate dissenters and work to undermine moderate governments, in what the terrorist Zawahiri has called a "jihad wave." Still others would find their targets and victims in other countries on other continents.
What would it say to the world if we left high and dry those millions of people who have counted on the United States to keep its commitments? President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is at Camp David today, as we meet. What would an American retreat say to someone like him -- an ally in the war on terror who has faced repeated assassination attempts simply because he stands for democracy, for human rights, for friendship with the United States and other free countries?
The plain truth is that a sudden withdrawal from Iraq would dissipate much of the effort that's gone into fighting the war on terror these last several years, and result in chaos and mounting danger. And for the sake of our own security, we will not stand by and let it happen. (Applause.)
This nation has chosen a better course. Instead of allowing problems to simmer; instead of allowing threats to gather thousands of miles away and assuming that they won't find us here at home, we've decided to face our challenges squarely. We offer a vision of freedom, justice, and self government as a superior alternative to ideologies of violence, anger, and resentment. We believe, and we know, that free institutions and human liberty provide the best long-term hope of progress for nations, and for peace in the world.
This course we have chosen is not an easy one for America. But it will be far easier on the conscience of America when we see it through, sparing millions from suffering, and leaving behind a free and democratic Iraq . This cause is bigger than the quarrels of party and the agendas of politicians. It is in the national security interest. It's not a Republican war or a Democratic war. It is America's war, and the best among us are those fighting and sacrificing to win it. (Applause.)
I know that your Commandant, Jack Ryan , has shared with League members the contents of a letter he received from General Conway, the Marine Corps Commandant. General Conway wrote eloquently of the gravity of the fight against terror, the stakes for this country, and the nature of the enemy that we face in this long war. "Success by the enemy," General Conway wrote, "will dramatically change the world as we know it, leaving a harsh environment for our children and grandchildren to endure." After his signature General Conway added a handwritten postscript. And in those few simple words he captured the issue of the whole struggle going on right now. He wrote this: "All our guys need is a chance to finish what has been started." (Applause.)
We're not a country that takes our military for granted. Even in the quietest of times, Americans have always understood that our men and women in uniform are the ones who assure stability and keep the peace. But in wartime, we have daily reminders of the kind of courage and skill that protects us all and preserves freedom for the next generation. In this war our fighting men and women have faced long deployments, setbacks, and tough conditions -- tracking terrorists on frozen mountain ridges in Afghanistan 1/4 to carrying heavy packs and 60 pounds of body armor in the 120-degree heat of the desert. They have soldiered on in every circumstance and they have stuck together, as Americans always do. General Petraeus said that on the 4th of July, he witnessed "what may have been the largest re-enlistment ceremony in history" -- 588 men and women, on duty in Iraq , "raised their right hands and signed up for another tour in the U.S. Armed Forces." (Applause.)