Today, I had the privilege to hear from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on the current state of the war in Iraq and the progress that has been made there. We owe these two patriotic Americans a debt of gratitude for their selfless service to our country.
At the beginning of last year, we were engaged in a great debate about what to do in Iraq. Four years of mismanaged war had brought us almost to the point of no return. Sectarian violence in Iraq was spiraling out of control, life had become a struggle for survival, and a full-scale civil war seemed almost unavoidable. Al Qaeda in Iraq was on the offensive and entire Iraqi provinces were under the control of extremists.
However, rather than retreat from Iraq and face the terrible consequences that would ensue, we chose to change strategies and turn things around. I was proud to be an outspoken advocate for this change in strategy and endured much criticism from members of both parties. As I've said time and time again, I'd rather lose a campaign than lose a war.
"Never despair," Winston Churchill once said. And we did not despair. We were tested, and we rose to the challenge. Some political leaders close their eyes to the progress that the surge has made possible, and want only to argue about the past.
But the question for the next president is not about the past, but about the future and how to secure it.
While the job of bringing security to Iraq is not finished - as the recent fighting in Basra and elsewhere vividly demonstrated - we are no longer staring into the abyss of defeat, and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success. Success - the establishment of a peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic state that poses no threat to its neighbors and contributes to the defeat of terrorists - this success is within reach.
Should the United States choose to withdraw from Iraq as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama wish to do; before adequate security is established, we will exchange for this victory a defeat that is terrible and long lasting. Al Qaeda in Iraq would proclaim victory and increase its efforts to provoke sectarian tensions, pushing for a full scale civil war that could descend into genocide and destabilize the Middle East. Iraq would become a failed state that could become a haven for terrorists to train and plan their operations.
We cannot allow this to happen.
The American people deserve the truth from their leaders. Doing the right thing in the heat of a political campaign is not always the easiest thing. But when 4,000 Americans have given their lives so that America does not suffer the worst consequences of our failure in Iraq, it is a necessary thing. In such a grave matter, we must put the nation's interests before our own ambitions.
My opponents' calls for an immediate withdraw, regardless of the consequences, is a reckless and dangerous move that would threaten the long term security of our country. Leadership is not about bowing to the political pressures, it is about thinking through the consequences and having the experience and judgment to make the tough decisions.
Senators Clinton and Obama will surely echo the sentiments of their extreme liberal supporters and call for a pre-emptive withdrawal from Iraq. The American people deserve better. I encourage both candidates to move beyond empty and destructive rhetoric and elevate the debate to a level that the country deserves. There are tough decisions ahead and America deserves leaders that are up to the challenge.
As president, I will ensure that our troops come home victorious in this war that is part of the larger struggle against radical Islamic extremism and will continue to make keeping our nation secure my highest priority.
I have no comment, make of it what you wish.