Governor of Iowa
Central Campus Lawn
10 a.m., May 23, 2005
Thank you very much.
I consider it a distinct privilege and honor to be here this morning, and I want to first of all congratulate the class of 2006 on its accomplishments.
Normally when I give a commencement speech I read a children's story that was written by the president of my wife's college, Sam Babbitt. But today after having traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq, and just yesterday returning from Israel, I'd like to have a more serious conversation with all who are here today.
I want to talk about my country, America, recognizing that there are those in the graduating class who are not from here but whose lives are impacted and affected by what happens here. America. I believe in it. I've no choice given my own life's circumstances as an orphan, growing up in a troubled family, and finding myself as the governor of the great state of Iowa.
America. We live in a powerful nation some would say we live in the world's only superpower. Some might even say that we live in the most powerful nation in the history of humankind. But history and world circumstances often conspire to challenge and confound powerful nations, to create uncertainty and anxiety among its people. In that circumstance, some fear the challenge and the uncertainty and look inwardly and rigidly attempt to control events and circumstances, while other nations look to hope and accepting the challenge and coping creatively with the uncertainty. How a powerful nation chooses between fear and hope determines whether it survives as a great nation or fails, and its ruin becomes history. America has been one of those nations that has often sought hope. In choosing hope over fear, our core values of liberty, equality, justice, and opportunity have been advanced. In each case a generation of American patriots acting collectively as one, contributed to a higher and common purpose. In each case we were lead by visionary leaders who looked beyond the current crisis to a brighter and better future.
Today, America again finds itself at the crossroads of challenge and uncertainty. We face serious challenges from competitors and from enemies which threaten our economy, our way of life, our values, and maybe perhaps our existence. As a great nation we are once again asked to choose between hope and fear.
In the last year I've traveled to China, to India, and to South Korea, three highly motivated economic competitors of the United States. The people of these great nations want only what we want here: decent jobs to support their family, food on the table, a safe place to live, health care when they need it, and perhaps a little left over for a few of their wants. They are hungry. They are willing to work hard and to sacrifice for their future. They are willing to take full advantage of the global economy and the flat world that Thomas Friedman described recently in his best selling book The World is Flat. They are not our enemies, but they are surely our competitors.
But America does have enemies make no mistake about it. Governments, nations and terrorist groups who believe that globalization and western culture are corrupting influences; soft, decadent, not worthy. Understanding the mindset of our enemies is critical to responding appropriately to the challenge they present. Now our enemies live in the part of the world that is rich in history and culture, the birthplace of humankind, and three major religions. Now our enemies look about today and see poverty and hunger. They work to regain their self-respect and power. They, too, are willing to sacrifice - sacrifice their very lives. I recently came from a place where suicide bombers are honored and revered. They have declared war on America, and in doing so have changed the rules of war by putting innocent civilians at risk. These enemies are real, they're dangerous and they are unforgiving.
This is the world, Class of 2006, you enter and face. And with the previous generations of Americans, you will be asked to meet this challenge and deal with its uncertainties. Will you, will we, succumb to fear? Or will you, or will we, demand hope as our response. I'm here today to argue for hope, and the rejection of the current policies and politics of fear. Hope will require much of us, much more than fear. Realizing that some of the graduating class may be from outside America, let me also simply say that the challenge is the world's challenge as well. We must all choose hope over fear.
Now for Americans to embrace hope, we must be safe. In a phrase, America's security first and foremost does not, and I repeat, does not mean the acceptance of current policies designed to keep us more fearful than safe. We must reject the unilateral approach governing our policies today, for no country including America, is powerful enough to approach security unilaterally. Nor is the answer to isolate our country. I believe the class of 2006 must challenge America and the world to commit itself to a coordinated multilateral approach that commits our homeland security, national security and national policies to a useful effort in working with other nations to accomplish three critical missions: the reduction of war and other conflicts, the containment of terrorism, and the expansion of economic opportunity.
The 20th century was the world's deadliest century. Over 200 wars claimed 120 million lives. You, the class of 2006, we in America, must lead the effort to reduce war, by expanding the number of nations that agree on the limited circumstances when a war may in fact be justified. To stop genocide. To prevent the use of nuclear, biological, or other weapons of mass destruction or in self-defense. In the fight against terrorism, we must do a more competent job of finding, capturing and perhaps killing terrorist leaders, disrupting financial and communication systems, and building our capacity to mitigate the effects of a terrorist attack.
But you, the class of 2006, must urge us to do much more. You must urge us to open up a second front in this effort to contain terrorism. For this is a war of the mind and the heart, as much as of might. To win the war of the mind and heart, we must show the world that the fruits of liberty and freedom can conquer the unconquerable. I challenge you today to dedicate yourselves and your country and the world to a massive effort in a coordinated fashion, to eradicate hunger and illiteracy from developing and under-developed nations. For well-fed, healthy and well-educated children may be the best containment strategy the world has to fight terrorism, to have hope trump fear.
As America promotes opportunities through trade, we and other nations must be prepared to approach the issues of work conditions and the environmental impacts, with the same enthusiasm as we do for the economic benefits of trade.
A word about Iraq and Afghanistan: America's security first and foremost, has been compromised by our effort in Iraq. We were wrong about the reasons for going to war, we were wrong about planning the aftermath of the war, we were wrong about how best to win the peace, and we were wrong about treatment of prisoners. These represent critical errors in our efforts to win hearts and minds. While the fighting may continue in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we must recognize that the actual war in each country is over. This means clearly that the Iraq and Afghan governments rightfully have the primary responsibility and accountability for maintaining safety and building a functioning economy. Given current circumstances, this should require fewer troops in Iraq, but perhaps more troops in Afghanistan.
In the future, American presence in either country may be less about the circumstances in those countries, and more about the dangerous situation in Iran. Confirmed reports of threats to eliminate Israel, and the United States, combined with a growing capacity to produce a nuclear weapon, demands our attention, your attention, and the world's attention. Your generation, in meeting the serious challenge of American security first and foremost must do so while also energizing America's economy. In a competitive global economy, you will be challenged to develop the undeveloped, to think the unthinkable, to create what doesn't yet exist. Hope requires that you, the class of 2006, commit your time, your talent, your intelligence and your energy to the acceleration and growth of a new American economy, devoted to being the most innovative, creative, independent, and competitive in the world. You must begin and you must start by asking this nation to adopt and to establish a new natural resource and infrastructure policy which promotes innovation, guarantees energy independence, and compels a wiser use of our land and water in the creation of sustainable communities.
As if securing America and energizing a new American economy were not enough, you will have the additional challenge of building a new American community. By that I mean not a physical location, but a sense of connection between all of us, where we reject the philosophy of today that we are each on our own, and embrace a balance between personal achievement and collective responsibility for one another. In this new American community that you will help build, we will be healthier and have quality health care available to all. We will retire with financial security we've earned through hard work and saving. We will become a nation of curious, lifelong learners who understand the value of quality education. We'll enjoy an economy with businesses and jobs that supports families and communities. And we will recognize the responsibility that each of us has to give something back to America.
These are the tall orders that hope requires. You are called to be the next generation of America's patriots, willing to work, to sacrifice and to lead. The road will not be easy. It never was for the patriots who have gone before you. But there are inspiring examples among us. Let me leave you with one.
One of the tasks that I have as governor of this great state is to be the commander-in-chief of National Guard forces. There are 9700 mean and women in our National Guard. They have been called away from their families and their friends, their communities, their jobs, their sense of security, asked to go halfway around the world and put themselves in harm's way. They do it willingly. Forty of those brave men and women never returned home, and my job is to contact the families of those who have lost a loved one. I remember each of those calls. But the one I will remember most is to Mrs. Olivia Smith.
Olivia and Bruce smith were married for over 20 years. They were the proud parents of two children. Bruce was 42 years of age when he was yet again called by his country to service. He was the grandfather, if you will, of the National Guard. His job was to ferry troops through dangerous circumstances and situations in Iraq in a helicopter. On one fateful day his helicopter was struck by a missile. Bruce had a split second decision to make, I'm told, whether to put his own life at risk and help save perhaps those on board, or perhaps save his own life and put those on board at risk. Bruce did what he was trained to do. He did what you would expect him to do. He did what a hero would do. He put his own life at risk. He died that day, as did his copilot. But 18 men lived. I had to call his wife.
What exactly do you say in that circumstance? What words are there to express the grief, to express the sacrifice? I realized as I was visiting with Mrs. Smith that I was groping for words, and she realized it as well. And she stopped me in mid sentence. And she said, "Governor, I've got this figured out." I thought to myself, that's extraordinary. She said, "The way I've got it figured, those 18 men needed Bruce more in that split second than I will need him the rest of my life."
I put the phone down after talking with her. I realized I'd been in the presence of greatness. The greatness that has built this country. The greatness of ordinary individuals who understand that there is a common purpose and a higher purpose to be served, and sometimes it calls for sacrifice. For some it calls for the ultimate sacrifice. For the rest of us it calls for small sacrifices. She is one of those American patriots. She, and you, are the reason why I continue to believe in America.