Former POW Senator McCain Says 'U.S.-Israel Alliance is Forged in Common Values'
December 5, 2006 - Washington, D.C.
Thank you for this extraordinary honor. It is a great privilege to receive an award named for one of America's great men, the late Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, and for this I am deeply grateful.
I got to know Scoop when I was the Navy liaison to the Senate in the late '70s. Scoop was and remains the model of what an American statesman should be. In 1979, I traveled to Israel with Scoop, where I knew he was considered a hero. I had no idea how great a hero he was until we landed in Tel Aviv. When we arrived, we were transferred to a bus big enough to accommodate our large delegation, as well as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel and several of his staff. About a hundred yards outside the airport, the bus was surrounded by a crowd of seven or eight hundred Israelis screaming for Jackson, waving signs that read "God Bless you, Scoop," "Senator Jackson, thank you," and dozens of other tributes. For a patriot like Scoop, their affection for him was nothing less than affection for America.
Senator John McCain delivering his acceptance address upon receiving JINSA’s Henry M. Jackson Distinguished Service Award.
And now, in these deeply challenging times, I wonder what Scoop might make of all that faces America. Would his belief that the United States requires a robust military capability have stood the test of time? Would his support for the fundamental values of freedom and democracy withstand the newfound emphasis on realpolitik? Would he maintain his conviction that security cooperation with our friends and allies, and especially with the State of Israel, profoundly serves American interests?
I believe the answer to these questions is a resounding "yes."
Scoop knew that, no matter how great the challenges, no matter how difficult the circumstances, America's faithfulness to its ideals constitutes its greatest strength. And with this in mind, I'd like to talk for a few minutes this evening about the Middle East, the foremost region in which our nation is being tested today.
The tests are, of course, not just America's but Israel's. The Jewish state has experienced tough times before - indeed, they have perhaps been the norm rather than the exception. When one thinks back over the conflicts - 1948, the Six Day War, Yom Kippur, Lebanon, the first Gulf War, two intifadas and Lebanon again - it is clear that Israel has been challenged more, in less time, than any nation on earth. Survival in the face of such trials would be impressive; flourishing would seem out of the question.
Yet Israel has thrived. I would like to believe that Israel's success has been aided by America, Israel's natural partner and ally. The tests continue today, however, in the form of suicide bombers and rocket fire, in the anti-Semitism so pervasive in the Arab press, and in the existential threats issued routinely by the Iranian president.
But Israel will survive. Just as it has thrived in the face of armies and terrorists, just as it has prospered in the most dangerous neighborhood on earth, so will it succeed in the face of today's threats. There will always, always be an Israel.
The path to future success for Israel will not be an easy one, and there will be a number of difficult issues. Foremost on many minds is, of course, Iran. The world's chief state sponsor of international terrorism, the Iranian regime defines itself by hostility to Israel and the United States. It is simply tragic that millennia of proud Persian history have culminated in a government today that cannot be counted among those of the world's civilized nations. When the president of Iran calls for Israel to be wiped off of the map, or asks for a world without Zionism, or suggests that Israel's Jewish population return to Europe, or calls the Holocaust a myth, we are dealing with a possibly deranged and surely dangerous regime.
Tehran's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons clearly poses an unacceptable risk. Protected by a nuclear deterrent, Iran would feel unconstrained to sponsor terrorist attacks against any perceived enemy. Its flouting of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty would render that regime obsolete, and could induce Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others to reassess their defense posture and arsenals. The world would live, indefinitely, with the possibility that Tehran might pass nuclear materials or weapons to one of its allied terrorist networks. And coupled with its ballistic missile arsenal, an Iranian nuclear bomb would pose an existential threat to the State of Israel.
In facing down this problem, European negotiators have outlined a positive endgame for Tehran, should it abandon its nuclear ambitions: far reaching economic incentives, external support for a civilian nuclear energy program, and integration into the international community. But Tehran has said no. It insists on maintaining and even accelerating its pursuit of nuclear weaponry. Iran's choice is clear. So must be ours.
Immediate UN Security Council action is required to impose multilateral political and economic sanctions. And every option must remain on the table. Military action isn't our preference. It remains, as it always must, the last option. We have a long way to go diplomatically before we need to contemplate other measures. But it is a simple observation of reality that there is only one thing worse than a military solution, and that, my friends, is a nuclear-armed Iran. The regime must understand that it cannot win a showdown with the world. And as Americans, we also need to reassure the reformers and the millions of Iranians who aspire to self-determination that we support their longing for freedom and democracy.
The same holds true for the Palestinian people. They are ill served by a terrorist-led government that refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, refuses to renounce violence, and refuses to acknowledge prior peace commitments. The United States cannot have normal relations with such a government, one that deliberately targets innocent Israeli civilians in an attempt to terrorize the Jewish population.
It is tragic that we have come so far since 1993, when Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn, when it seemed that the possibility of permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians might be at hand. We are far also from 2000, when Arafat rejected the best hope for peace the Palestinians may ever see. Today the dream of peace has transformed into a nightmare of terrorist attacks, the radicalization of the Palestinian population, and Gaza-based rocket barrages on Israel long after its withdrawal from the Strip.
In view of the increased threats to Israeli security, American support for Israel should intensify - to include providing needed military equipment and technology. No American leader should be expected to sell a false peace to our democratic ally, consider Israel's right to self-defense less legitimate than ours, or insist that Israel negotiate a political settlement while terrorism remains its adversaries' favored bargaining tool.
This is not to accept the eternal hopelessness of a political solution, but to embrace the hope that Israel's people can live in safety until a Palestinian leadership truly committed to peace emerges from the chaos and despair so evident under the rule of Arafat and now Hamas. No moral nation - neither Israel nor America - can allow terrorists to chart the political course of its people. Nor would we favor the Palestinian people if we were to confer our acquiescence or approval upon a terrorist syndicate that has won elections among a population desperate for change. We will defeat terrorism against America, and we will stand with Israel as she fights the same enemy.
This enemy will not be limited to Palestinian terrorism, as the war in Lebanon illustrated so graphically. The ceasefire, the UN Security Council resolution, and the peacekeeping force are all welcome attempts to stop the fighting that followed Hezbollah's unprovoked attack. And yet I fear that we are witnessing a mere pause in the fighting, rather than its end.
Israel's chance for peace with its northern neighbor resides in a Lebanon whose government has a monopoly on authority within its country. That means no independent militias, no Hezbollah fighters, no weapons and equipment flowing to Hezbollah. It means bolstering the security of Lebanon's borders and ensuring that Hezbollah is not deployed in the south. Yet neither the Lebanese Army nor the international force is prepared or willing to take on Hezbollah. So long as that is the case, the current pause is likely to enable Hezbollah to regroup, reconstitute, and rearm. There is one bottom line: to achieve peace, sooner or later, Hezbollah must be disarmed.
In the meantime, the international community must make sure that the Lebanese government, not Hezbollah, is able to win hearts and minds through social welfare activity. Hezbollah started handing out money and other forms of reconstruction assistance within days of the ceasefire. Only by empowering the Siniora government to provide this aid can we help marginalize Hezbollah and ensure that it does not remain a belligerent state within a state.
Now let me turn to Iraq. We have made a great many mistakes in this war, and history will hold us to account for them. I will not mince words: the situation in Iraq is dire. With civil war a real possibility, the temptation is to wash our hands of a messy situation.
To follow this impulse, however, is to risk catastrophe. Most observers inside Iraq agree that a precipitous American troop withdrawal would make the violence there much worse, not better. The Iraqi security forces are today plainly incapable of handling operations on their own. If U.S. forces begin a pullout, we risk all-out civil war and the emergence of a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, inviting intervention from Iraq's neighbors and the potential for region-wide conflict.
I believe victory is still attainable. But we will not succeed if we no longer have the will to win. Americans are tired of Iraq because they are not convinced we can still win there without an intolerable loss of additional lives and resources. But in no other time are we more morally obliged to speak the truth to our country, as we best see it, than in a time of war. So, let me say this: without additional combat forces we will not win this war. We can, perhaps, attempt to mitigate somewhat the terrible consequences of our defeat, but even that is an uncertain prospect. We don't have adequate forces in Iraq to clear and hold insurgent strongholds; to provide security for rebuilding local institutions and economies; to arrest sectarian violence in Baghdad and disarm Sunni and Shia militias; to train the Iraqi Army, and to embed American personnel in weak, and often corrupt Iraqi police units. We need to do all these things if we are to succeed. And we will need more troops to do them.
They will not be easy to find. The day after 9/11, we should have begun to increase significantly the size of the Army and Marine Corps. But we did not. Had we increased the size of the Army and Marines in 2003, 2004, or even 2005, we would have more troops for Iraq today. But we did not do that either. So now we must turn again to those Americans and their families who have already sacrificed so much in this cause. That is a very hard thing to do. But if we intend to win, then we must.
What we must not do, what we cannot do, is ask those Americans to return to Iraq, to risk life and limb, so that we might delay our defeat for a few months or a year. That is more to ask than patriotism requires. It would not be in the interest of the country, and it surely would be an intolerable sacrifice for so poor an accomplishment. It would be immoral, and I could not do it.
The debate over the conduct of our Iraq engagement has become part of a larger debate over the role of democracy promotion in U.S. foreign policy, and before I leave I'd like to close with a word or two on this. Critics charge that the emphasis America has placed on democracy in recent years has only led to results contrary to our interests, and cite real and perceived electoral setbacks in the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Iran, and elsewhere. These are real concerns, and we cannot dismiss them. Yet at the same time, we cannot always expect a linear, forward march to freedom in countries that have never known it. On the contrary, the road to democracy is likely to be long and winding, and elections are but one element of a larger democratic phenomenon - an element that sometimes comes at the beginning of the process, sometimes in the middle, and sometimes only at the end, after the appropriate institutions have been forged and values inculcated.
But if the alternative to our democracy promotion efforts is a return to the days in which we simply supported pro-American dictators throughout the Middle East, I say this cost is too high. We have learned the dangers in such approach, and the lessons have been painful. If the despair, the alienation, and the disenfranchisement wrought in Middle East autocracies contribute to the horrors of international terrorism, we owe it to ourselves and the world to promote change.
Scoop Jackson understood this. He knew that only this position is consistent with the values on which our nation is based. We share a faith in that simple but profound truth that all men and women are created equal and endowed by God with certain inalienable rights. And it is this moral bond that makes all the difference.
There has been a deep debate in recent months not simply about the role of democracy promotion in our foreign policy, but even about the wisdom of America's pro-Israel orientation. This debate, I submit, misses the point. As Scoop knew, the bond between America and Israel is not just a strategic one, though that is important. Today, in the war against terror, we have no stronger ally than Israel. The more profound tie between our two countries, however, is a moral one. We are two democracies whose alliance is forged in our common values. To be proudly pro-American and pro-Israeli is not to hold conflicting loyalties. As Scoop understood, it is about defending the principles that both countries hold dear.
And I stand before you today as I believe all of you stand: proudly pro-American and proudly pro-Israel.