The Hard Work of Democracy

Prepared Remarks by Secretary of the Navy, The Honorable Gordon England

Jun 30, 2004

Mr. Hamilton, thank you for inviting me here today and thank you for your lifetime of service to America, as well as your leadership with the Woodrow Wilson Center and your recent work for our country on the 9-11 Commission.

It's a privilege to be with you and the many distinguished scholars of this esteemed organization, as well as the other guests here today, in order to freely exchange ideas and thereby promote a better understanding of issues. It's a privilege we should never take for granted -- one that Woodrow Wilson encouraged -- and now one enjoyed by millions of Iraqis who have joined their rightful place among free and sovereign nations of the world.

For the last two weeks, I was looking forward to meeting with you on a historic day; namely the handover of sovereignty in Iraq that was scheduled to occur today, June 30th.

I wasn't sure if it was just coincidence or superb scheduling by Lee Hamilton and his staff that was to have me addressing you on such an historic day. But as we all know, on Monday morning I found myself upstaged by the now extinct Coalition Provisional Authority. That was a positive event for Iraq and for the world.

Certainly the turnover of sovereignty in Iraq is of major importance. But rather than focus solely on that topic -- its potential and its pitfalls -- I thought that given the current events and the namesake of this Center, it might be worth commenting on the broader historical perspective of Iraq. I believe that knowing where you've been is helpful in knowing where you are and where you might be going in the future.

If you think about it, the nation we know today as Iraq really came into being in Woodrow Wilson's time. Too often we overlook or forget the geopolitics and dynamics that exist behind a nation's borders or politics. For instance, most contemporary discussions on Iraq or the Middle East look only at the "headline" of the day or the week and overlook a historical perspective.

But consider this: in 1918, Woodrow Wilson was advocating his Fourteen Points, rooted in respect for self-determination, liberty, and democracy, but just four years later, the world's powers, the victors of World War One, were literally carving up the Middle East.

Last year, Colonel Ahmed, the Defense Attaché from Bahrain handed me a book that I read, and that I would recommend to all of you, entitled, The Peace to End All Peace, a New York Times bestseller by David Fronkin. This book gives a thorough perspective of the history of the Middle East. One review of the book makes the following synopsis of the region:

"The system of states as we know it in the Middle East was crafted by Europeans around 1922 as a way to grab new expansions to their empires, to carve up the fallen Ottoman Empire and to establish influence as they had done with other countries after previous wars."

By the way, the phrase "Middle East" was invented only in 1902 by the American naval officer and historian, Alfred Thayer Mahan, to designate the area between Arabia and India.

The book goes on to state that the process of Middle Eastern statehood is a story involving Britain, France, Russia, Greece, and on the fringes, America. The road is littered with misinformation on all sides; disastrous assumptions and unwarranted mistakes; egos, and blatant grabs for power.

The nation of Iraq (meaning "well-rooted country") came out of this process when it replaced Mesopotamia on 23 August 1922. We tend to think of Mesopotamia as ancient history, but technically it was within our lifetime.

So this is some of the context of understanding where we are today. More importantly, understanding that what we're trying to change today is, in part, unfortunately still fixing the consequences of the past.

In contemplating the new Iraq and the war and decisions that brought us here -- and still while considering Woodrow Wilson -- one thing I asked myself is what was it that convinced President Wilson to take our nation to war back in 1917?

I say this because isn't it one of history's great ironies that Wilson, who was re-elected as a peace candidate in 1916, led America into the first world war? After all, in January of 1916, he stated, "so far as I can remember, this is a government of the people, and this people is not going to choose war."

I bring this up because in a similar context, when candidate Bush was campaigning, he stressed his belief in reducing our military presence overseas and getting out of the business of "nation building". Yet, today, we are at the center of two of the biggest security, stability, and reconstruction efforts in recent history in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

But I don't see either of these situations, President Wilson's or President Bush's, as conflicting or hypocritical. I see them as the reality of the geopolitical setting and understanding the context of the situation at hand. I see them as a sign of vision, leadership, and pragmatism to adapt a changing state of the world.

President Wilson made a "leap" of understanding during his time that the Nation had a critical stake in the outcome of the war in Europe. This notion went against all conventional wisdom of the time that the affairs of Europe simply did not concern the United States. But Wilson saw that the future well-being of America depended heavily on the geopolitical situation "over there", the balance of power and economics, and an emotional commitment to support freedom and democracy. This is much the same as when President Bush stated just yesterday, "Democracy leads to justice within a nation – and the advance of democracy leads to greater security among nations."

The President went on to say, "I believe freedom is the future of the Middle East, because I believe freedom is the future of all humanity."

For Wilson, none of his views were simple conclusions, nor were they easy to implement, such as leading a reluctant nation to war, especially when the shores of the United States were not physically threatened. And now, President Bush has led the Nation through a reluctant war, a war where some argue, similarly, that Iraq never threatened our shores. President Bush saw an inherent interest in what was happening in Iraq and the Middle East, much like Wilson saw an interest in Europe during his time.

However, real change is always difficult. In fact, Wilson once said, "If you want to make enemies, try to change something."

Today, Iraq, the United States, and the International Community all face enemies and adversity toward the change we are seeking to take place. We were brought here by a belief that change was necessary. The geopolitical and security environments changed dramatically with September 11th and necessitated a different approach and response to international terrorism, failed states, non-cooperative dictators, WMD proliferation, and the importance of basic rights and freedoms.

Wilson made his "leap" in vision and understanding in his time, including taking the nation to war and his historic Fourteen Points. And although many of his points seem practical and sensible today, such as an end to imperialism, open diplomacy, and free economic development, they were controversial in his time. Sarcastically, French Premier Georges Clemenceau wondered why Wilson needed Fourteen Points when God required only Ten – a political commentary of the time.

Today, we and the world are trying to make our own necessary "leap". However, this is easier said than done.

I will not try to match Wilson's Fourteen Points, but I will share a few of my personal thoughts on what we need to pursue to successfully shift into the new environment.

First, it's important to understand that our actions today, in the now-years, are more important than what we do in the out-years. The dangers and consequences are close and immediate. Starting two days ago in Iraq, we set the tone for our future course of action and ultimately for success.

And we are achieving many successes in Iraq. While we may have had higher expectations, that doesn't belittle the accomplishments to date. Most importantly:

Recent polling shows a high level of support (>68%) for the Iraqi interim government. Specifically, 73% have confidence in the new Prime Minister (Ayad Allawi) and 84% have confidence in the President (Shakh Ghazi al-Yawir).

By many other diverse measures, the economy and social institutions are also improving. For example:


  • The Iraqi dinar has been stable for over 4 months and appreciating on the world market.
  • All 240 hospitals and more than 1,200 clinics have been refurbished and are open.
  • Under Saddam, the government spent only $13 million dollars on health care, the equivalent of less than $1 dollar per person per year. Today the Health Care budget is over $1 billion dollars.
  • 90% of Iraqi children now receive routine immunizations.
  • On 22 JUN, total electricity production for the day reached 103,000 MW – the highest level since the war.
  • Total number of cell phone subscribers is 50% higher than pre-war levels.
  • Today, attendance at schools is as high or higher than pre-conflict levels. More importantly, children have access to new books, ideas, and teachers.
  • Women hold a more equal social status and rights – in the new government, 6 women hold ministerial posts and 5 women hold deputy ministerial positions.
  • Oil production is at 2.5 million barrels per day and continues to grow, generating $6 billion dollars in revenues for the Iraqi people, not Saddam's coffers.



By the way, I was in Iraq last month and I was impressed to see oil tankers loading off the coast. In fact, one of the oil terminals where a ship was loading had been closed since the Iran-Iraq war. Now, it is open and pumping oil for international markets.

In relating these accomplishments, I exclude the prospect of failure because that isn't an option.

The Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr. Goh, addressing the Council on Foreign Relations recently, put it best when he stated, "The key issue is no longer WMD or even the role of the UN. The central issue is America's credibility and will to prevail. If that is destroyed," he said, "Islamic extremists everywhere will be emboldened. We will all be at greater risk."

As we go forward, before articulating actions, it's critical that we understand the characteristics of today's threat, of fundamentalist terrorism.

The enemies of today are dynamic, unpredictable, diverse, fluid, networked and constantly evolving. They operate with very little infrastructure (that translates to very little bureaucracy) and their command and control system largely consists of cell phones, the Internet, and word of mouth. Their weapons of choice are Improvised Explosive Devices, RPG's, car bombs and suicide bombers. Martyrdom is a virtue. They are low tech, but with high impact.

This enemy has traded the kind of nationalistic political objectives that underpinned the IRA, the Red Brigade, and other terrorist organizations in the past, for a deep-seated hatred of the West and Western values like liberty, tolerance, and equality.

As they seek ancient glory, their goals seem to be little more than a radical and perverted religious fantasy in which violent acts substitute for symbols and rituals, martyrdom equates with heroism and heaven.

This does not preclude al-Qaida from planning and executing specific acts of real politick that support their fantasy, however. Identifying Western weak points or points of leverage can be done in an almost Clausewitzian manner. September 11th and the train bombings in Spain are two examples. So are suicide bombers.

Clearly, al-Qaida and its imitators are not the kind of enemies our fathers and grandfathers faced on Omaha Beach or Heartbreak Ridge, at Khe San or even in Desert Storm. This enemy doesn't play by any civilized rules of engagement and they'll be with us for a long time.

What we must accept is the terrorists cannot be reasoned with, persuaded, or appeased. Negotiating with them is not an option. Changing the way we live or what we believe is not an option. Most importantly, it would not stop them from living out their fantasy. Ending their reign of terror, with military force as need be, is the only solution open to the world.

Based on three years in Washington, which is not a long time, I feel that we should consider federal changes beyond the Department of Homeland Security. The number one responsibility of our government, of any government, is the security of its citizens. Meanwhile, however, the foundation of our country is a clear division of responsibility between the executive, legislative and judicial systems. We have a nation of checks and balances, but in a more pragmatic sense one that is "stove piped" by design, and that design carries through to the organizations within each of these pillars of our system.

This is exactly the issue that has been examined by Lee Hamilton and the 9/11 Commission regarding intelligence. Specifically, how do we horizontally connect the intelligence organizations to better integrate the data for decision and response?

This is not an issue unique to intelligence. In times of national emergency and when we need to effectively confront a new enemy such as global terrorism, horizontal interconnects are essential. While our enemy has a small infrastructure with diverse horizontal communications, we still tend to operate within vertical organizations. Our communications and data flow horizontally but our decision loop still encompasses vertical organizations that, in many cases, predate the Cold War.

Perhaps we need a national government Goldwater-Nichols type of effort to better integrate horizontally across the Federal government. Keep in mind, however, that even a successful Goldwater-Nichols approach is no short-term panacea. The military has been implementing Goldwater-Nichols since 1986 and is still working diligently under Secretary Rumsfeld to achieve more jointness.

Where I work, it's not clear that we have fully made our own "leap". The Department of Defense and the Department of the Navy have indeed made dramatic changes in the past three years – perhaps more than in the last 30 years -- but I am still not comfortable that we have examined the institutions from the ground up to be certain that we have an organizational and institutional advantage against the new threat. For example, we still have a two-year budgeting and Congressional approval cycle but face a threat that morphs almost daily.

I also recognize, however, that change comes very slowly in Washington.

Cooperation and assistance with allies will continue to be key to success and that is why President Bush just returned from a NATO summit in Turkey, a Muslim country with whom we share a variety of common interests and values. In fact, all of our NATO allies have adopted strong measures in combating terrorism, and all 26 NATO nations are actively engaged in security and stability operations in Afghanistan. Multi-lateralism is also why Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Powell are in Eastern Europe and Indonesia, engaged with our partners there.

I would be remiss if I did not touch upon the Navy's role with respect to this current threat and response.

First, the world's oceans are international by nature, and navies, which operate in these "commons", are inherently global and multi-lateral. Navies share common bonds and interests such as rescue at sea, freedom of navigation, and safeguarding against piracy that bring them together to naturally cooperate. These are bonds almost independent of governments.

Recently I attended a naval conference that is hosted every two years in Newport, RI. This conference regularly brings together the CNOs from nations all around the world. This conference, like the ones that have preceded it, included CNOs from 55 nations.

Personally, I know of no other international body or organization, aside from the United Nations itself that brings together 55 different countries to cooperate on common interests and issues. In this case, the common interest to defeat global terrorism.

In our new security environment, it's important to recognize the increasing confluence, or at least the potential confluence, of organized crime, weapons proliferation, and terrorism by sea. In general, the seas are un-policed and unregulated and, therefore, attractive to those who want to exploit or abuse them. For instance, piracy is up by over 56 percent in recent years and some particularly dangerous waterways have seen a 150 percent jump in incidents. There are more than 460 incidents of piracy each year, meaning that, on average, more than one ship each day is attacked, robbed, hijacked, or sunk.

The threat is not the attacks themselves, some of which are petty, but the ability of criminal groups to operate at sea, undetected and unchecked. Additionally, sea routes are linked to black markets and networks that are able to move drugs, contraband, and illegal immigrants from country to country.

To arise to these challenges, the Navy's strategy is to form international bonds to control the Great Commons – the seas and oceans of the world. By the very nature of our profession, Navies help promote stability and security as they insure the routes over which global trade flows. Navies encourage cooperation – even between adversaries. There is something about facing the wrath of the sea that creates a common bond among Sailors. Those bonds translate to these benefits:


  • Cooperation among countries
  • Unimpeded flow of commerce
  • Mutual support on the seas to include humanitarian assistance
  • Visible presence to deter or dissuade and
  • Lastly, to defend or defeat, if necessary.



President Bush is right. It will take the international community working together to defeat terrorism. It will also take the international Navies to help achieve this objective.

This war against terrorism will be a thousand fights across the globe and across the years.

Our goal should not be the avoidance of another 9-11, 2001, but rather, a freedom from fear of another 9-11 anywhere in the world. This is now the battle for our generation and the next and together we will prevail.

In closing, I would like to thank Lee Hamilton and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars for having me here today. In the spirit of Woodrow Wilson, your important work and research contribute to securing freedom throughout the world.