Calling for a hard line in the war against terror, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told delegates to the American Legion's 92nd National Convention on Tuesday that the United States cannot afford to think in the "short term" when dealing with terrorists who are "in it for the long haul."
"This is a war that began well before the tragic events of 9/11," Boehner told thousands of Legionnaires. "It is a war the American people did not seek and did not start. This is an enemy that first tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993. This is an enemy that then took its desire to kill Americans abroad - to Riyadh in 1995, to Khobar Towers in 1996, to East Africa in 1998, and to the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000. This is an enemy that seeks to impose a pernicious legal code and wills the death and destruction of anyone who opposes them.
"Before 9/11, the United States treated terrorism like a law-enforcement issue. We handled each incident as separate and unique, content with investigating after the fact rather than focusing on preventing the attack. We characterized the perpetrators as criminals to be tried and contained, rather than terrorists to be deterred and defeated."
Boehner said it's the government's responsibility to stop what he sees as a slide back to that type of thinking.
"Now more than ever, the American people deserve every assurance that their government has the right legal authorities and the right mindset in place to prevent future attacks," Boehner said. "Just days ago, the Justice Department announced it would not be pursuing charges against the terrorist who allegedly coordinated the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. This is no garden-variety terrorist. This is a terrorist who has the blood of 17 American sailors on his hands. This is a terrorist who worked hand-in-hand with one of the 9/11 hijackers.
"When it comes to holding those who kill innocent Americans responsible for their heinous acts, politics should be the last thing on our mind. We are a nation at war. A patchwork of political promises does not represent a coherent strategy to confront and defeat the terrorist threat. We need a Congress that will hold our government accountable for an over-arching capture, detention and interrogation policy. And we need a Congress that will use every tool at its disposal to keep terrorists off U.S. soil."
As the combat mission shifts to a training and advisory role for remaining U.S. forces in Iraq, Boehner said the operation's success will be measured not by what politicians say today, but by what unfolds in the future.
"The hard truth is that Iraq will continue to remain a target for those who hope to destroy freedom and democracy," Boehner said. "The people of that nation - and this nation - deserve to know what America is prepared to do if the cause for which our troops sacrificed their lives in Iraq is threatened.
"Over the past several months, we've often heard about ending the war in Iraq, but not much about winning the war in Iraq. If we honor what our men and women fought for, we cannot turn our backs now on what they have achieved. Our troops in harm's way should never have to doubt Congress' commitment to supporting their mission."
That means, Boehner said, giving them the tools to get the job done.
"When asked to provide our troops in harm's way with the resources they need, we should do so without delay," he said. "That means no more troop funding bills held up by unrelated, extraneous domestic spending and pork-barrel projects. We need a Congress that understands when we send our sons and daughters to risk all in defense of our security - victory is the only option - and we will do whatever it takes to provide them with the necessary support so they can return home swiftly and successfully.
"No voice - no matter how strong or committed - can substitute for the voice of the commander-in-chief. That is why the president must take the time to articulate in a coherent, consistent matter to their families and fellow citizens the cause, purpose, and goal of their mission. These imperatives should not be communicated in the manner of ‘checking a box.' These missions should not be bunched together among a laundry list of political challenges."