Address by the President of the United States George W. Bush
Picture by Juris Krūmiņš
University of Latvia
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Ladies and gentlemen, the Co-chairman of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Marc Leland. Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the Republic of Latvia, Her Excellency, Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.
MARC LELAND, CO CHAIRMAN GERMAN MARSHALL FUND OF UNITED STATES: Thank you. I am on this program very briefly, supposedly to introduce these two eminent Presidents who are here, since to use an old cliche, they obviously neither one needs an introduction.
I just want to take a brief opportunity to thank the two Presidents for all they have done.
First, to thank the President of Latvia. As you all know here and as we have seen this Summit, the conference, are all being done in appreciation of your accomplishments over the last years as the President of Latvia.
Last June, when you came to Washington, you were kind enough to come and speak at the German Marshall Fund and it was clear to me then and it has become even clearer to me now at this conference watching you and listening to you, that your experience as an experienced psychologist has not only helped you in politics, but it has helped you be President.
And I know it will continue to do so in a great career that you will have after next summer when you have term limits. I also want to thank my President, the President of the United States. It is a great personal honor for me to welcome the other President I have to say. I have known him since the 1980s and I can tell you that neither one of us ever expected to be in Riga and certainly not together.
But it is very appropriate that the President is in Latvia, a country that many people, as Madam President said last night, thought would never be free. And it is a perfect example of a very free country because of its perseverance.
The President has a great capacity for friendship and he has expanded that capacity, I would have to say, worldwide.
Soon after his re-election, he came and spoke at another GMF event in Brussels and then went on to Bratislava. Everybody knows that he has been doing a lot of travel recently - in Asia last week, in Estonia and here and then he goes on to the Middle East.
We, on behalf of everybody here and the GMF, Mr. President, I just want to thank you for taking the timeto come and speak to this group. It's been a very interesting conference and I know they all look forward to hearing you.
And for the lady who needs no introduction, I will now introduce her to introduce and welcome the President.
VAIRA VIKE-FREIBERGA, PRESIDENT OF LATVIA: Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Parliament of Latvia, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it's truly a delight to be able to stand her in front of such a distinguished audience and for the second time in less than two years to be able to introduce a speaker here in Riga, the President of the United States.
It is particularly gratifying to do so on this eve of the 2006 Summit of NATO in Riga. An event for which we have been planning a long time but an event that we have been dreaming about for even longer.
And, indeed, when Latvia recovered it's independence at long last in 1991 it was all it could do to try and keep that independence. To sort of glow on that flame of liberty and see if we could survive in a world that, of course, was there to receive but to receive us on it's own terms.
We had to change every thing in our country and our system. We had to adapt and do it very quickly. Change can be painful. Reforms take a lot of effort. I am proud of my people and of the efforts that they have expended and at the results they have achieved but we have been able to do so because our people have never lost their faith in liberty. And they have never lost their conviction that they had a right to be free and that the democratic system is the only one that is worth living, the one in which every citizen has a chance to contribute to making a better world.
As we recovered our own democracy, of course, we have also seen it has failings. We have not reached perfection from one day to the next. We have made mistakes and that's precisely the privilege of a democracy; of making mistakes and learning from them.
We have had disagreements and continue to do so on a variety of issues. That, too, is a fundamental tenant of democracy.
But the one thing that is simply fundamental is the freedom to be able to express one's views, the freedom to chart one's course, and to adopt it and the freedom to freely choose one's friends and one's allies.
And in that sense, every step of the way we have felt that for Latvia, the United States is a country who's principles, who's ideals are very much the same as our own. There's a country that in spite of its wealth and influence has never forgotten the principle's set forth by its founding fathers. It's a country that believes in moral principles but is ready to die for them if need be.
That sort of commitment, that sort of support that we have felt, we, of course, in turn now stand ready to pass on to others. We like to think of democracy as some thing that is catching, in the sense that it is an example to others that they would wish to follow. It is not some thing that we can sell, it is not some thing we can force on people. But we certainly can convince them of the benefits of it and most of all we'd like to give them a chance.
I would like to thank very much the United States for itself to Latvia and the other foreign nations to regain their freedom and liberty to regain their ability to make their own choices. It is a privilege to me for the second time in such a short period to give to you a speaker today, a man who believes deeply in the rights of democracy to believe deeply in human freedom and human dignity ladies and gentle man I give to you the 43rd President of the United States of American, George W. Bush.
GEORGE W BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Labeone (ph), Madam President, thank you for your kind words, thank you for your leadership and thank you for friendship.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Prime Minster, Senator Sessions from the great State of Alabama who is with us. Marc Leland, my friend from a long period of time. I want to thank the rector of this important university, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman, thank you for your warm welcome. I am delighted to be back in Riga.
I appreciate the lead Latvia Transatlantic Organization, the Commission of Strategic Analysis and the German Marshall Fund of the United States for organizing this important conference.
This is my third visit to the Baltics as the President of the United States. And it is my second visit to this beautiful city. I just can't stay away.
I am thrilled and honored to back here. And I bring greetings and good wishes of the American people. Not far from where we meet today stands Riga's freedom monument. It was erected in 1935 during this country's brief period of independence between the two world wars.
During the dark years of Soviet occupation, the simple act of laying flowers at the foot of this monument was considered a crime by communist authorities. In 1989, the monument was a scene of one of the most remarkable protests in the history of freedom: hundreds of thousands of people stood together and formed a human chain that stretched nearly 400 miles across the Baltics.
From Tallinn in the north, to downtown Riga to the heart of Vilnius. By joining hands, the people of this region showed their unity, and their determination to live in freedom, and made clear to the Soviet authorities that the Baltic people would accept nothing less than complete independence. It took more years of struggle.
But today, the Baltic nations have taken their rightful place in the community of free nations. And Latvia is a host for an important NATO summit. The first time our alliance has meet in one of the captive nations and (INAUDIBLE) by the Soviet Union.
It's a proud day for the people of Latvia and all the Baltic states. And on be half of the American people, I thank you for our hospitality, your friendship and the courage you are showing in the NATO alliance.
As members of NATO, you are vital part of the most effective multilateral organization in the world and the most important military alliance in history. As NATO allies, you will never again stand alone in defense of your freedom, and you'll never be occupied by a foreign power.
Each of the Baltic countries is meeting this obligation to strengthen NATO by bringing new energy and vitality and clarity of purpose to the alliance. Your love of liberty has made NATO stronger. And with your help, our alliance is rising to meet the great challenges and responsibilities of this young century by making NATO the world's most effective united force for freedom.
One of the great responsibilities of this alliance is to strengthen and expand the circle of freedom here in Europe. In the nearly six decades since NATO's founding, Europe has experienced an unprecedented expansion of liberty. A continent that was once divided by an ugly wall is now united in freedom.
Yet the work of united Europe is not fully complete. Many nations that threw off the shackles of tyranny are still working to build the free institutions that are the foundation of successful democracies.
NATO is encouraging these nations on the path to reform. And as governments make hard decisions for their people, they will be welcomed into the institutions of the Euro-Atlantic community.
After I took office in 2001, I declared that the United States believes in NATO membership for all of Europe's democracies that seek it and are ready to share the responsibility that NATO brings.
Following a year in Prague, we invited seven nations to join our alliance: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Slovenia. Here in Riga, we'll make clear that the door to NATO membership remains open. And in our next summit in 2008, we hope to issue additional invitations to nations that are ready for membership.
Today, Croatia, Macedonia and Albania are all participating in NATO's membership action plan. And the United States supports their aspirations to join the Atlantic Alliance. Georgia is seeking NATO membership as well. And as it continues on the path to reform, we will continue to support Georgia's desire to become a NATO ally.
We're also supporting the leaders of Ukraine as they work to curb corruption, promote the rule of law and serve the cause of peace. Our position is clear as democracy takes hold in Ukraine and its leaders peruse vital reforms, NATO membership will be open to the Ukrainian people if they choose it.
We're also working with Russia. To the NATO/Russia Council, we recognize that Russia is a vital and important country and that it's our interest to increase our cooperation with Russia in areas such as countering terrorism and preventing the spread of weapons of mash destruction by building ties between Russia and this alliance. We will strengthen our common security and we will advance the cause of peace.
As we help the new democracies of Europe join the institutions of Europe, we must not forget those who still anguish in tyranny. Just across the boarder from here lies the nation of Belarus, a place where peaceful protestors are beaten and opposition leaders are dispersed by the agents of a cruel regime.
The existence of such oppression in our midst offends the conscience of Europe and it offends the conscience of America. We have a message for the people of Belarus, the vision of a Europe: whole, free and at peace includes you, and we stand with you in your struggle for freedom.
Another great responsibility of this Alliance is to transform for new challenges. When NATO was formed in 1949, its principal mission was to protect Europe from a Soviet tank invasion. Today the Soviet threat is gone. And under the able leadership of the Secretary General, NATO is transforming from a static alliance focused on the defense of Europe into an expeditionary Alliance ready to deploy outside of Europe in the defense of freedom.
This is a vital mission. Over the past six years, we have taken decisive action to transform our capabilities in the Alliance. We created a new NATO transformation command to insure that our Alliance is always preparing for the threats for the future. We created a new NATO battalion to counter the threats of enemies armed with weapons of mass destruction.
We created a new NATO response force to ensure that our Alliance can deploy rapidly and effectively. Here in Riga we are taking new steps to build on this progress. At this Summit, we will launch a NATO special operations forces initiative that will strengthen the ability of special operations personnel from NATO nations to work together on the battlefield.
We will announce a new strategic air lift initiative that will ensure that participating NATO members have a dedicated fleet of C-17 aircraft at their disposal. We will launch the Riga global Partnership Initiative that will allow NATO to conduct joint training and joint exercises and common defense planning with nations like Japan and Australia, countries that share NATO's values and want to work with our Alliance in the cause of peace.
We will launch a new NATO training cooperation initiative that will allow military forces in the Middle East to receive NATO training and counter terrorism and counter proliferation and peace support operations.
As we take these steps, every NATO nation must take the defensive - must make the defensive investments necessary to give NATO the capabilities it needs so that our alliance is ready for any challenge that may emerge in the decades to come.
The most basic responsibility of this alliance is to defend our people against the threats of the new century. We are in a long struggle against terrorists and extremists who follow a hateful ideology and seek to establish a totalitarian empire from Spain to Indonesia. We fight against the extremists who desire safe havens and are willing to kill innocents anywhere to achieve their objectives.
NATO has recognized this threat. And three years ago NATO took an unprecedented step when it sent allied forces to defend a young democracy, more than 3,000 miles from Europe. Since taking command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, NATO has expanded it from a small force that was operating only in Kabul into a robust force that conducts security operations in all of Afghanistan.
NATO is helping to train the Afghan National Army. The alliance is operating 25 provincial reconstruction teams that are helping the central government extend its reach into distant regions of that country.
At this moment, all 26 NATO allies and 11 partner nations are contributing forces to NATO's mission in Afghanistan. They're serving with courage, and they're doing the vital work necessary to help this young democracy secure the peace.
We saw the effectiveness of NATO forces this summer when NATO took charge of security operations in Southern Afghanistan from the United States. The Taliban radicals that were trying to pull down Afghanistan's democracy and regain power saw the transfer from American to NATO control as a window of opportunity to test the will of the alliance.
So the Taliban massed a large fighting force near Khandahar to face the NATO troops head on. It was a mistake. Together with the Afghan National Army, NATO forces from Canada and Denmark and the Netherlands and Britain and Australia and the United States engaged the enemy with operational support from Romanian, Portuguese and Estonian forces. According to NATO commanders, allied forces fought bravely and inflicted great damage on the Taliban.
General David Richards, the British commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan puts it this way, "There were doubts about NATO and our ability to conduct demanding security operations. There are no questions about our ability now. We've killed many hundreds of Taliban and it has removed any doubt in anybody's mind that NATO can do what we were sent here to do."
Taliban and al Qaeda fighters and drug traffickers and criminal elements and local warlords remain active and committed to destroying democracy in Afghanistan. Defeating them will require the full-commitment of our alliance. For NATO to succeed, it's commanders on the ground must have the resources and flexibility they need to do their jobs.
This alliance was founded on a clear principle, an attack on one is an attack on all. That principle holds true whether the attack is on our home-soil or on our forces deployed on our NATO mission abroad.
Today Afghanistan is NATO's most important military operation. And by standing together in Afghanistan we will protect our people, defend our freedom and send a clear message to the extremists - the forces of freedom and decency will prevail.
Every ally can take pride in the transformation that NATO is making possible for the people of Afghanistan. Because of our efforts, Afghanistan has gone from a totalitarian nightmare to a free nation with an elected president, a democratic constitution, and brave soldiers and police fighting for their country.
Over 4.6 million Afghan refugees have come home. It's one of the largest return movements in history. The Afghan economy has tripled in size over the last five years. About 2 million girls are now in school, compared to zero under the Taliban, and 85 women were elected or appointed to the Afghan National Assembly.
A nation that was once a terrorist sanctuary has been transformed into a ally in the war on terror led by a brave president, Mohammed Karzai.
Our work in Afghanistan is bringing freedom to the Afghani people. It is bringing security to the Euro Atlantic community and it is bringing pride to the NATO alliance.
NATO allies are also making vital contributions to the struggle for freedom in Iraq. At this moment, a dozen NATO allies, including every one of the Baltic nations, are contributing forces to the coalition in Iraq. And 18 NATO countries, plus Ukraine, are contributing forces to the NATO training mission that is helping develop the next generation of leaders for the Iraqi security forces.
Today NATO has trained nearly 3,000 Iraqi personnel, including nearly 2,000 officers and civilian defense officials trained inside Iraq plus an additional 800 Iraqi trained outside the country.
NATO has also helped Iraqis stand up a new military academy near Baghdad so Iraqis can develop their own military leaders in the years to come.
And NATO has contributed $128 million in military equipment to the Iraqi military including 77 Hungarian T-72 battle tanks.
By helping to equip the Iraqi security forces and training the next group of Iraqi military leaders, NATO is helping the Iraqi people in the difficult work of securing their country in their freedom.
Tomorrow I am going to travel to Jordan where I will meet with the Prime Minster of Iraq. We will discuss this situation on the ground in this country, our ongoing efforts to transport more responsibility to the Iraqi security forces and the responsibility of other nations in the region to support the security and stability of Iraq. We will continue to be flexible. And we will make the changes necessary to succeed.
But there is one thing I am not going to do. I am not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete. The battles in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a struggle between moderation and extremism that is unfolding across the broader middle east. Our enemy follows a hateful ideology that rejects fundamental freedoms like the freedom to speak, to assemble, or to worship god in a way you see fit. It opposes the rights for women. Their goal is to overthrow governments and to impose their totalitarian rule on millions.
They have a strategy to achieve these aims. They seek to convince America and our allies that we cannot defeat them and that our only hope is withdrawal and abandoned an entire region to their domination.
The war on terror that we fight today is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. And in this struggle, we can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren.
We see the struggle in Lebanon where last week gunmen assassinated that country's industry minister, Pierre Gemayel, a prominent leader of the movement that secured Lebanon independence last year. His murder showed once again the viciousness of those who are trying to destabilize Lebanon's young democracy.
We see the struggle in Syria where the regime allows Iranian weapons to pass through its territory into Lebanon and provides weapons and political support to Hezbollah.
We see the struggle in Iran where a reactionary regime subjugates its proud people, arrests free trade union leaders and uses Iran's resources to fund the spread of terror and pursue nuclear weapons.
We see the struggle in the Palestinian territories where extremists are working to stop moderate leaders from making progress toward the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
In each of these places, extremists are using terror to stop the spread of freedom. Some are Shia extremists, other are Sunni extremists. But they represent different faces of the same threat. And if they succeed in undermining fragile democracies and drive the forces of freedom out of the region, they will have an open field to pursue their goals.
Each strain of violent Islamic radicalism will be embolded in its efforts to gain control of states and establish new safe havens. The extremists would use oil resources to fuel their radical agenda. And to punish industrialized nations and pursue weapons of mass destruction. Armed with nuclear weapons they could blackmail the free world, spread their ideologies of hate, and raise a mortal threat to Europe, America, and the entire civilized world.
If we allow the extremists to do this, then 50 years from now history will look back on our time with unforgiving clarity and demand to know why we did not act.
Our alliance has a responsibility to act. We must lift up and support the moderates and reformers who are working for change across the broader Middle East. We must bring hope to millions by strengthening young democracies from Kabul to Baghdad to Beirut. And we must advance freedom as the great alternative to tyranny and terror.
I know some in my country, and some here in Europe are pessimistic about the prospects of democracy and peace in the Middle East. Some doubt whether the people of that region are ready for freedom or want it badly enough, or have the courage to overcome the forces of totalitarian extremism.
I understand these doubts, but I do not share them. I believe in the universality of freedom. I believe that the people of the Middle East want their liberty. I'm impressed by the courage I see in the people across the region who are fighting for that liberty. We see this courage in the eight million Afghan's who defied terrorist threats and went to the polls to choose their leaders.
We see this courage in the nearly 12 million Iraqi's who refused to let the car bombers and assassins stop them from voting for the free future of their country. We see this courage in the more than one million Lebanese who voted for a free and sovereign government to rule their land. And we see this courage in citizens from Damascus to Tehran, who like the citizens of Riga before them keep the flame of liberty burning deep within their hearts knowing that one day it's light will shine throughout their nations.
There was a time not so long ago when many doubted that liberty could succeed in Europe.
BUSH: There was a time not so long ago, when many doubted that liberty could succeed in Europe. Here in the Baltics many can still recall the early years of the "Cold War," when freedom's victory was no so obvious or assured. In 1944, the Soviet Red army reoccupied Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, plunging this region into nearly five decades of Communist rule.
In 1947, Communist forces were threatening Greece and Turkey. The reconstruction of Germany was faltering and mass starvation was setting in across Europe.
In 1948, Czechoslovakia fell to Communism. France and Italy were threatened by the same fate and Berlin was blockaded on the orders of Joseph Stalin.
In 1949, the Soviet Union exploded a nuclear weapon and weeks later Communist forces took control in China.
And in the summer of 1950, seven North Korean Divisions poured across the border into South Korea marking the start of the first direct military clash of the Cold War.
All of this took place in the six years following World War II.
And today, six decades later, the Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is no more and the NATO Alliance is meeting in the capital of a free Latvia.
Europe no longer produces armed ideologies that threaten other nations with aggression and conquest and occupation. And a continent that was for generations a source for instability and global war has become a source of stability and peace.
Freedom in Europe has brought peace to Europe. And freedom has brought the power to bring peace to the broader Middle East.
Soon after I took office, I spoke to the students at Warsaw University. I told them American has learned the lessons of history - I said no more Munichs and no more Yaltas. I was speaking at the time about Europe. But the lessons of Yalta apply equally across the world.
The question facing our nations today is this: will we turn the fate of millions over to totalitarian extremists and allow the enemy to impose their hateful ideology across the Middle East? Or will we stand with the forces of freedom in that part of the world and defend the moderate majority who want a future of peace?
My country has made its choice and so has the NATO Alliance. We refuse to give in to the pessimism that consigns millions across the Middle East to endless oppression. We understand that ultimately the only path to lasting peace is to the rise of lasting free societies.
Here in the Baltic region, many understand that freedom is universal and worth the struggle. During the Second World War, a young girl here in Riga escaped with her family from the advancing Red army. She fled westward, moving first to a refugee camp in Germany and then later to Morocco where she and her family settled for five-and-a-half years.
Spending her teen age years in a Muslim nation, this Latvian girl came to understand a fundamental truth about humanity - moms and dads in the Muslim world want the same things for their children as moms and dads here in Riga: a future of peace, a change to live in freedom and the opportunity to build a better life.
Today that Latvian girl is the leader of a free country, the iron lady of the Baltics, the President of Latvia.
And the lessons she learned growing up in Casablanca guide her as she leads her nation in this world.
Here's how she put it earlier this year in an address to the joint meeting of the United States congress. "We know the value of freedom, and feel compassion for those who are still deprived of it. Every nation on earth is entitled to freedom, your president said." She said, "we must share the dream that some day there won't be a tyranny left any where in the world. We must work for this future, all of us large and small together. Like your president, I believe this dream is within reach. And through the NATO alliance, nations large and small are working together to achieve it."
We thank the people of Latvia for your contributions to NATO.
And for the powerful example you set for liberty. I appreciate your hospitality at this summit. America is proud to call you friends and allies in the cause of peace and freedom. May God bless you and may God continue to bless America.
Thank you very much.