[Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents Volume 44, Number 49 (Monday, December 15, 2008)]
[Pages 1487-1492]
[Online from the Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]

<R04>
Remarks at the Saban Forum

December 5, 2008

    Thank you. John, thank you very much. I thought for a minute you 
were going to say I was your favorite rabbi, but--[laughter].
    I appreciate you giving me a chance to come. I too want to thank Mr. 
Saban for his vision and for sponsoring this forum. I am honored to be 
with you. Madam Secretary, thank you for joining us. Justice Breyer, I 
am pleased to see you yet again. I thank Ambassador Indyk. Minister 
Mofaz, it's good to see you, sir, and I appreciate you being here for 
this forum.
    I want to thank the Members of Congress who have joined us, members 
of the diplomatic corps, and of course, the distinguished guests.
    The Saban Forum is one of the world's premier venues for discussion 
on the Middle East. I thank you for the debates you provoke and the 
differences you have made. And I'm honored to be with you.
    Over the past 8 years, I have had the privilege to see the Middle 
East up close. I have stood on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and I 
have hiked the cliffs of Masada. I have enjoyed dinner in the desert of 
Abu Dhabi and prayed at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. I have 
looked into the eyes of courageous elected leaders from Iraq, Lebanon, 
Israel, and the Palestinian Territories. I have been convinced that no 
region is more fundamental to the security of America or the peace in 
the world than the Middle East.
    This evening I will share some thoughts on our policies in the 
region these past 8 years, and our vision for the future: a Middle East 
where our friends are strengthened and the extremists are discredited, 
where economies are open and prosperity is widespread, and where all 
people enjoy the life of liberty that is the universal gift of an 
Almighty God.
    From our earliest days as a nation, the Middle East has played a 
central role in American foreign policy. One of America's first military 
engagements as an independent nation was with the Barbary pirates. One 
of our first consulates was in Tangiers. Some of the most fateful 
choices made by American Presidents have involved the Middle East, 
including President Truman's decision to recognize Israel 60 years ago 
this past May.
    In the decades that followed that brave choice, American policy in 
the Middle East was shaped by the realities of the cold war. Together 
with strong allies in the Middle East, we faced down and defeated the 
threat of communism to the region. With the collapse of the Soviet 
Union, the primary threat to America and the region became violent 
religious extremism. Through painful experience, it became clear that 
the old approach of promoting stability is unsuited to this new danger, 
and that the pursuit of security at the expense of liberty would leave 
us with neither one. Across the Middle East, many who sought a voice in 
the future of their countries found the only places open to dissent were 
radical mosques. Many turned to terror as a source of empowerment. And 
as the new century dawned, the violent currents swirling beneath the 
Middle East began to surface.
    In the Holy Land, the dashed expectations resulting from the 
collapse of the Camp David peace talks had given way to the second 
intifada. Palestinian suicide bombers struck with horrific frequency and 
lethality. They murdered innocent Israelis at a pizza parlor or aboard 
buses or in the middle of a Passover Seder. Israeli Defense Forces 
responded with large-scale operations. And in 2001, more than 500 
Israelis and Palestinians were killed.
    Politically, the Palestinian Authority was led by a terrorist who 
stole from his people and walked away from peace. In Israel, Ariel 
Sharon was elected to fight terror and pursue a ``greater Israel'' 
policy that allowed for no

[[Page 1488]]

territorial concessions. Neither side could envision a return to 
negotiations or the realistic possibility of a two-state solution.
    Elsewhere in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein had begun his third 
decade as the dictator of Iraq, a reign that included invading two 
neighbors, developing and using weapons of mass destruction, attempting 
to exterminate Marsh Arabs and many Kurds, paying the families of 
suicide bombers, systematically violating U.N. resolutions, and firing 
routinely at British and U.S. aircraft patrolling a no-fly zone.
    Syria continued its occupation of Lebanon, with some 30,000 troops 
on Lebanese soil. Libya sponsored terror and pursued weapons of mass 
destruction. And in Iran, the prospect for--of reform was fading, the 
regime's sponsorship of terror continued, and its pursuit of nuclear 
weapons was largely unchecked.
    Throughout the region, suffering and stagnation were rampant. The 
``Arab Human Development Report'' revealed a bleak picture of high 
unemployment, poor education, high mortality rates for mothers, and 
almost no investment in technology. Above all, the Middle East suffered 
a deep deficit in freedom. Most people had no choice and no voice in 
choosing their leaders. Women enjoyed few rights, and there was little 
conversation about democratic change.
    Against this backdrop, the terrorist movement was growing in 
strength and in ambition. For three decades, violent radicals had landed 
painful blows against America: the Iranian hostage crisis, the attacks 
on our Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, the destruction of Pan Am 
Flight 103, the truck bombing of the World Trade Center, the attack on 
Khobar Towers, the bombing of our Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and 
the strike on the USS Cole.
    And then came September the 11th, 2001, when 19 men from the Middle 
East carried out the worst attack on the United States since the strike 
on Pearl Harbor 67 years ago this weekend. In the space of a single 
morning, 9/11 etched a sharp dividing line in our history. We realized 
that we're in a struggle with fanatics pledged to our destruction. We 
saw that conditions of repression and despair on the other side of the 
world could bring suffering and death to our own streets.
    With these new realities in mind, America reshaped our approach to 
the Middle East. We made clear that we will defend our friends, our 
interests, and our people against any hostile attempt to dominate the 
Middle East, whether by terror, blackmail, or the pursuit of weapons of 
mass destruction. We have carried out this new strategy by following 
three overriding principles.
    First, we took the offense against the terrorists overseas. We are 
waging a relentless campaign to break up extremist networks and deny 
them safe havens. As part of that offensive, we pledged to strengthen 
our partnership with every nation that joins in the fight against 
terror. We deepened our security cooperation with allies like Jordan and 
Egypt, and with our friends in the gulf. Saudi Arabia, long a breeding 
ground for radicalism, has become a determined partner in the fight 
against terror, killing or capturing hundreds of Al Qaida operatives in 
the Kingdom. We dramatically expanded counterterrorism ties with 
partners in North Africa. And we left no doubt that America would stand 
by our closest ally in the Middle East, the State of Israel.
    Second, we made clear that hostile regimes must end their support 
for terror and their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, or face the 
concerted opposition of the world.
    This was the approach we took in Iraq. It is true, as I've said many 
times, that Saddam Hussein was not connected to the 
9/11 attacks. But the decision to remove Saddam from power cannot be 
viewed in isolation from 9/11. In a world where terrorists armed with 
box cutters had just killed nearly 3,000 of our people, America had to 
decide whether we could tolerate a sworn enemy that acted belligerently, 
that supported terror, and that intelligence agencies around the world 
believed had weapons of mass destruction.
    It was clear to me--it was clear to members of both political 
parties and to many leaders around the world--that after 9/11, that was 
a risk we could not afford to take. So we went back to the United 
Nations Security Council, which unanimously passed Resolution 1441 
calling on Saddam Hussein to

[[Page 1489]]

disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. With this resolution, we 
offered Saddam Hussein a final chance to comply with the demands of the 
world. And when he refused to resolve the issue peacefully, we acted 
with a coalition of nations to protect our people and liberated 25 
million Iraqis.
    When Saddam regimes fell--when Saddam's regime fell, we refused to 
take the easy option and install a friendly strongman in his place. Even 
though it required enormous sacrifice, we stood by the Iraqi people as 
they elected their own leaders and built a young democracy. When the 
violence reached its most dire point, pressure to withdraw reached its 
height. Yet failure in Iraq would have unleashed chaos, widened the 
violence, and allowed the terrorists to gain a new safe haven, a 
fundamental contradiction to our vision for the Middle East.
    So we adopted a new strategy and deployed more troops to secure the 
Iraqi people. When the surge met its objective, we began to bring our 
troops home under the policy of return on success. Yesterday, building 
on the gains made by the surge, the democratic Government of Iraq 
approved two agreements with the United States that formalize our 
diplomatic, economic, and security ties and set a framework for the 
drawdown of American forces as the fight in Iraq nears its successful 
end.
    After 9/11, we also confronted Libya over its weapons of mass 
destruction. The leader of Libya made a wise choice. In 2003, Colonel 
Qadhafi announced that he would abandon his weapons of mass destruction 
program. He concluded that the interests of his people would be best 
served by improving relations with America, and Libya turned over its 
nuclear centrifuges and other deadly equipment to the United States.
    The defeat of Saddam also appears to have changed the calculation of 
Iran. According to our intelligence community, the regime in Tehran had 
started a nuclear weapons program in the late-1980s, and they halted a 
key part of that program in 2003. America recognized that the most 
effective way to pursue--persuade Iran to remove its nuclear weapons--
renounce its nuclear weapons ambitions was to have partners at our side, 
so we supported an international effort led by our allies in Europe. 
This diplomacy yielded an encouraging result when Iran agreed to suspend 
its uranium enrichment.
    Sadly, after the election of President Ahmadi-nejad, Iran reversed 
course and announced it would begin enriching again. Since then, we've 
imposed tough sanctions through United Nations resolutions. We and our 
partners have offered Iran diplomatic and economic incentives to suspend 
enrichment. We have promised to support a peaceful civilian nuclear 
program. While Iran has not accepted these offers, we have made our 
bottom line clear: For the safety of our people and the peace of the 
world, America will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
    Third, America identified the lack of freedom in the Middle East as 
a principal cause of the threats coming from the region. We concluded 
that if the region continued on the path it was headed, if another 
generation grew up with no hope for the future and no outlet to express 
its views, the Middle East would continue to simmer in resentment and 
export violence.
    To stop this from happening, we've resolved to help the region steer 
itself toward a better course of freedom and dignity and hope. We're 
engaged in a battle with the extremists that is broader than a military 
conflict and broader than a law enforcement operation. We are engaged in 
an ideological struggle. And to advance our security interests and moral 
interests, America is working to advance freedom and democracy as the 
great alternatives to repression and terror.
    As part of this effort, we're pressing nations across the region, 
including our friends, to trust their people with greater freedom of 
speech and worship and assembly. We're giving strong support to young 
democracies. We're standing with reformers and dissidents and human 
rights activists across the region. Through new efforts like the Middle 
East peace partnership initiative and the Broader Middle East and North 
Africa Initiative, we're supporting the rise of vibrant civil societies.
    We're also advancing a broader vision that includes economic 
prosperity, quality health care and education, and women's rights. We've 
negotiated new free trade agreements

[[Page 1490]]

in the region, supported Saudi Arabia's accession to the World Trade 
Organization, and proposed a new Middle East free trade area. We have 
signed Millennium Challenge agreements with Jordan and Morocco to grant 
American assistance in return for anticorruption measures, free market 
policies, and investments in health and education. We're training Middle 
Eastern schoolteachers, translating children's school books into Arabic, 
and helping young people get visas to study here in the United States.
    We're encouraging Middle Eastern women to get involved in politics 
and to start their own businesses and take charge of their health 
through wise practices like breast cancer screening. Efforts like these 
extend hope to the corners of despair, and in this work we have had a 
lot of help, but no finer ambassador of good will than my wife, Laura 
Bush.
    Finally, to advance all the principles that I've outlined--
supporting our friends and pressuring our adversaries and extending 
freedom--America has launched a sustained initiative to help bring peace 
to the Holy Land. At the heart of this effort is the vision of two 
democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace 
and security. I was the first American President to call for a 
Palestinian state and support--and build support for the two-state 
solution has been a top priority of my administration.
    To earn the trust of Israeli leaders, we made it clear that no 
Palestinian state would be born of terror, we backed Prime Minister 
Sharon's courageous withdrawal from Gaza, and we supported his decision 
to build a security fence, not as a political border but to protect the 
people from terror.
    To help the Palestinian people achieve the state they deserve, we 
insisted on Palestinian leadership that rejects terror and recognizes 
Israel's right to exist. Now that this leadership has emerged, we're 
strongly supporting its efforts to build institutions of a vibrant 
democratic state.
    With good advice from leaders like former Prime Minister Tony Blair 
and Generals Jones, Dayton, Fraser, and Selva, the Palestinians are 
making progress toward capable security forces, a functioning legal 
system, Government Ministries that deliver services without corruption, 
and a market economy. In all our efforts to promote a two-state 
solution, we have included Arab leaders from across the region, because 
we fully understand that their support will be essential for the 
creation of a state and lasting peace.
    Last fall at Annapolis, Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab leaders came 
together at an historic summit. President Abbas and Prime Minister 
Olmert agreed to launch direct negotiations on a peace agreement. 
Nations around the globe, including many in the Arab world, pledged to 
support them. The negotiations since Annapolis have been determined and 
substantial. Secretary Rice has encouraged both sides by hosting a 
series of trilateral meetings. And while the Israelis and Palestinians 
have not yet produced an agreement, they have made important progress. 
As they stated to the Quartet, they have laid a new foundation of trust 
for the future.
    On this issue, and on our overall approach to the Middle East these 
past 8 years, America has been ambitious in vision, we have been bold in 
action, and we have been firm in purpose. Not every decision I've made 
has been popular, but popularity was never our aim. Our aim was to help 
a troubled region take the difficult first steps on the long journey to 
freedom and prosperity and hope. Some have called this idealistic, and 
no doubt it is. Yet it is the only practical way to help the people of 
the Middle East realize the dignity and justice they deserve. And it is 
the only practical way to protect the United States of America in the 
long term.
    As with any large undertaking, these efforts have not always gone 
according to plan, and in some areas we've fallen short of our hopes. 
For example, the fight in Iraq has been longer and more costly than 
expected. The reluctance of entrenched regimes to open their political 
systems has been disappointing. There have been unfortunate setbacks at 
key points in the peace process, including the illness suffered by Prime 
Minister Sharon, the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, and the 
terrorist takeover of Gaza.
    Despite these frustrations and disappointments, the Middle East in 
2008 is a freer, more hopeful, and more promising place than it was in 
2001.

[[Page 1491]]

    For the first time in nearly three decades, the people of Lebanon 
are free from Syria's military occupation. Libya's nuclear weapons 
equipment is locked away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Places like the UAE 
and Bahrain are emerging as centers of commerce. The region--the regime 
in Iran is facing greater pressure from the international community than 
ever before. Terrorist organizations like Al Qaida have failed 
decisively in their attempts to take over nations; they're increasingly 
facing ideological rejection in the Arab world.
    Iraq has gone from an enemy of America to a friend of America, from 
sponsoring terror to fighting terror, and from a brutal dictatorship to 
a multireligious, multiethnic constitutional democracy. Instead of the 
Iraq we would see if a Saddam Hussein were in power--an aggressive 
regime vastly enriched by oil, defying the United Nations, bullying its 
Arab neighbors, threatening Israel, and pursuing a nuclear arms race 
with Iran--we see an Iraq emerging peacefully with its neighbors, 
welcoming Arab ambassadors back to Baghdad, and showing the Middle East 
a powerful example of a moderate, prosperous, free nation.
    The most vexing problem in the region--the Israeli-Palestinian 
conflict--there is now greater international consensus that at any point 
in modern memory. Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs recognize the 
creation of a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state is in their 
interests. And through the Annapolis process, they started down a path 
that will end with two states living side by side in peace.
    In fits and starts, political and economic reforms are advancing 
across the Middle East. Women have run for office in several nations and 
been named to important Government positions in Bahrain and Oman and 
Qatar, the UAE and Yemen. Trade and foreign investment have expanded. 
Several nations have opened up private universities, and Internet use 
has risen sharply. Across the region, conversations about freedom and 
reform are growing louder. Expectations about government responsiveness 
are rising, and people are defying the condescending view that the 
culture of the Middle East is unfit for freedom.
    There are still serious challenges facing the Middle East. Iran and 
Syria continue to sponsor terror. Iran's uranium enrichment remains a 
major threat to peace. Many in the region still live under oppression. 
Yet the changes of the past 8 years herald the beginning of something 
historic and new. At long last, the Middle East is closing a chapter of 
darkness and fear and opening a new one written in the language of 
possibility and hope. For the first time in generations, the region 
represents something more than a set of problems to be solved or the 
site of energy resources to be developed. A free and peaceful Middle 
East will represent a source of promise and home of opportunity and a 
vital contributor to the prosperity of the world.
    Those who ask what this future will look like need only look around. 
We see the new story of the Middle East in Iraqis waving ink-stained 
fingers, with Lebanese taking to streets in the Cedar Revolution. We see 
it in women taking their seats in elected Parliaments and bloggers 
telling the world their dreams. We see it in the skyscrapers rising 
above Abu Dhabi and living--and thriving Middle Eastern businesses that 
are now connected to the global economy. We see it in a Saudi king 
sponsoring an interfaith dialog, Palestinian reformers fighting 
corruption and terror, and Israelis who love their ancient land, but 
want to live in peace.
    These are striking images, and they do point the way to a brighter 
future. I believe the day will come when the map of the Middle East 
shows a peaceful, secure Israel beside a peaceful and democratic 
Palestine. I believe the day will come when people from Cairo and Riyadh 
to Baghdad and Beirut to Damascus and Tehran live in free and 
independent societies, bound together by the ties of diplomacy and 
tourism and trade. The day will come when Al Qaida and Hizballah and 
Hamas are marginalized and then wither away, as Muslims across the 
region realize the emptiness of the terrorists' vision and the injustice 
of their cause.
    Earlier this year, I laid out this vision in my address to the 
Israeli Knesset, and then in my address to the World Economic Forum in 
Egypt. It was not a Jewish vision or an

[[Page 1492]]

Arab vision or an American vision; it is a universal vision. It unites 
all who yearn for freedom and peace in the Middle East. And if we lead, 
and if we persevere, and if we keep faith in our ideals, that vision 
will become a reality someday.
    Thanks for letting me come, and God bless.

Note: The President spoke at 5:09 p.m. in the Newseum. In his remarks, 
he referred to John L. Thornton, chairman of the board of trustees, 
Brookings Institute, who introduced the President; Haim Saban, chairman 
and chief executive officer, Saban Capital Group, Inc.; Secretary of 
State Condoleezza Rice; former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin S. 
Indyk, director, Saban Center for Middle East Policy; Prime Minister 
Ehud Olmert, Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, and former Prime 
Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel; former Prime Minister Tony Blair of the 
United Kingdom, Quartet Representative in the Middle East; Gen. James L. 
Jones, USMC (Ret.), Special Envoy for Middle East Security; Lt. Gen. 
Keith W. Dayton, USA, U.S. Security Coordinator to Israel and the 
Palestinian Authority; Gen. William M. Fraser III, USAF, Vice Chief of 
Staff of the U.S. Air Force; Lt. Gen. Paul J. Selva, USAF, assistant to 
the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu 
Mazen) of the Palestinian Authority; and King Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz 
Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. This item was not received in time for 
inclusion in the appropriate issue.