Remarks by the Vice President at a Naturalization Ceremony for U.S. Service Members
10:45 A.M. (Local)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: General, all the general officers, Command Sergeant Major, all our military men and women and all the civilians here helping to free and make secure this great country -- I have to tell you, this is the second year in a row I’ve gotten to do this, and this is among the biggest kicks I’ve gotten since I’ve been Vice President of the United States of America. What an incredible honor.
And I have to say it again, what -- the thing I love so much about today is the irony. Here we are in the hunting lodge of a dictator who subjugated a people; who, in fact, stood for everything that we don’t stand for. And we’re in the middle of this marble palace, making a lie of everything that he stood for. I find it delicious that that’s happening. (Applause.)
I can think of no better place to be sworn in. We hold these truths self-evident, that all men -- all men, all men -- are created equal.
You’re a remarkable bunch of women and men. I’ve said this in every country and conflict that I’ve been in since I’ve been a United States senator -- was elected to the Senate 37 years ago. The one lesson every country has to learn, in my humble opinion, particularly as we deal with the resurrection of failed states around the world, is what you symbolize here today. And that is, until people understand that there is strength in diversity and not division, it makes it awfully difficult to unite a country.
Our Iraqi brethren are learning that right now, as they held a free election -- Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Indo-European, Arab. Ladies and gentlemen, their future lies in what you demonstrate, and I’m confident they’ll achieve it.
General, thank you for the introduction and, of course, for your extraordinary service, and I mean extraordinary service, to our country and, quite frankly, to this country, Iraq. And all of you, all of you, thank you from the bottom of America’s heart for your service and, I might add, for choosing us, for choosing America.
What a sight you are today. And what a powerful symbol -- what a powerful symbol you represent to those who yearn for freedom all across the world.
I can’t think of a more stirring example of patriotism than men and women volunteering, as the general pointed out, volunteering to fight for their country, to put their lives on the line, and some of your brethren, having lost their lives and limbs, to fight on foreign soil for their adopted country. You’re remarkable.
On this Fourth of July weekend, I’m reminded that you have carried the torch of our Founding Fathers, the one that they lit 234 years ago, you carried it around the world, in this case into a nation that’s not your own, in a uniform representing a nation that, until now, was not your own.
You hail from over 60 -- almost 60 countries, different countries, from Brazil to South Korea, and many more in between.
You came to America at different points in your lives. You came with parents aching for a better life than the ones they knew; others, to give a better life to their own children.
Your stories may all be different, but today you write a common chapter in American history. You’ll each raise your right hand in a moment, and in one proud moment together, you’ll recite the oath to be a citizen of the United States of America.
The general said he lived essentially in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. All of us up here, we spend our time, some more laboriously than others, tracing our roots as to how we got to this status of citizenship.
My wife and I, we were kidding, I may be Irish, but I was smart enough to marry an Italian. I married Dominique Gioccopa’s granddaughter. But we were going back and looking. On my side of the family we are Irish, we are English, we are German, we are French. We are all a mixture. And you’re just adding to that rich, rich, rich culture.
It’s the reason -- I would argue it’s the reason -- it’s the reason why we are who we are, because we have a document called the Constitution that ensures that that mixture will result in the incredible, incredible strain that we have spread all around the world; about freedom.
And for that, I congratulate you, and I welcome you. I know your service here has not been easy and as the general pointed out, some of you, it’s the third, fourth, fifth time you have served here in Iraq. Not long ago, Iraq was a country on the brink of civil war. This is my 15th, 16th, 17th trip in. And every time I come -- this is four times or five times since I’ve been Vice President -- every time I come, because of an awful lot of brave Iraqis who gave their lives and tens of thousands of Americans who risked and/or gave their lives, it gets better, every single time I’m here.
I was telling the general, last trip in, we were coming in, landing at night, coming in the on the helicopter because we were going into the Green Zone, and I looked down, I thought, what a wonderful thing -- there was a traffic jam. There were traffic jams. First time I flew in here, right after the war, there was nobody, nobody, nobody on the road.
This nation, once embroiled in sectarian strife and violence is moving toward a lasting security and prosperity with a government that represents the interest of every member of the community in Iraq, because until they get that straight -- and they’re getting it straight -- there’s no real shot they can become what they’re capable of.
And the United States is committed, we’re committed to cement that relationship through economic, political and diplomatic cooperation, not just by the use of arms.
Last year at this ceremony, I made what I was criticized for saying a bit of a bold statement. But I was confident then as I am now about other things that are going to happen.
I said last August of this year that we will have achieved two goals. We will have helped Iraq’s leaders set the conditions for a sovereign, stable and self-reliant nation for future generations of Iraqis within a year, and we will have ended our combat mission here after more than seven years. And I’m proud to report that because of you, and tens of thousands of our sons and daughters, including our son, we’ve made good on that promise.
Iraq recently held its second national election. You know the story, guys. The first election is not the one that determines, is not the most important election in a country’s history. It’s the second election -- the second election.
Now there’s a new parliament that’s been seated, and when the new government is formed, it will mark something absolutely extraordinary -- a peaceful transition of power encompassing all the people of Iraq, maybe for the first time in their history. We’re keeping -- we’re keeping our commitments.
Last year we pulled American combat troops out of all major cities on time and, on August 31st, the American combat mission in Iraq will end. We’ll go from 140,000 troops the day I was sworn in as Vice President with the President of the United States to 50,000, who will remain.
And of those 50,000 American, those forces will train and assist the Iraqi national security forces and be prepared to deal with exigencies that they may face.
But even as we draw down our forces, as I’ve said before, we are ramping up -- we are ramping up our engagement with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government, diplomatically, politically, economically, culturally, scientifically, in the hope of building a long and strong relationship and partnership with Iraq.
In the meantime, for those of you who remain, your safety and security has been and always will be the number one priority for the President and me and for the general officers of this United States military. And we promise, we make the commitment that we will keep, that everything you need to complete your mission will be available to you. And while you’re here, rest assured that your families at home will be honored and cared for as well.
And when you return home, all of your needs as veterans will be attended to as well. I’ve often said that the United States has only one -- and I mean this sincerely -- only one truly sacred obligation. That is to care for those who we send to war by giving them everything they need and making sure that everything that they need when they return home is available to them.
That’s the only sacred -- we have many obligations. Quite simply, we owe you. We owe all of you. And we owe your families. There’s that famous expression: “They also serve who stand in wait.”
My wife Jill was quite jealous of me the last four trips that I was in here. Our son was here, and she didn’t understand why she couldn’t come then. And so she is here with me now because she’s going to be meeting with an awful lot of the families here as well. But the point is, your families, we owe them as well, because they’re making a real, genuine sacrifice for the United States of America.
Quite frankly, folks, without you we wouldn’t survive. Without new blood and without those of you in uniform, we would not survive, we would not prevail. You represent what America has always stood for: strength, resolve, sacrifice and diversity.
America is that rare place where citizens are not defined by their ethnicity or by their religion, not by their nationality, but what they are committed to, their ideas and ideals, as stated in our Constitution.
Oh, I know everyone doesn’t -- can’t refer to the Constitution. When you ask people what it constitutes to be American, try it out. Literally try it out when you get back home. No one -- no one -- unlike any country in the world, will define it in terms other than ideas. They will not define it on what their race or religion is.
That’s our strength. That, coupled with our diversity, creates a way of life that most of the rest of the world aspires to if they haven’t already achieved it.
So what I see in front of me today is people of a different color, different stripes, of different backgrounds, of different beliefs -- all wearing the same uniform. And that uniform you wear is the ultimate symbol of what it means to be an American.
For me, this ceremony is only a formal declaration of what the President and I and your fellow countrymen believe to be true. You are already Americans.
But let’s go on now and make it official. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the service. It’s an honor to be with you. May God bless you and all may God protect our troops. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
10:57 A.M. (Local)