NEW HAVEN – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said Monday our national security depends not just on defense of Americans at home and abroad, but also on building bridges to the Muslim World.
Lieberman was the keynote speaker at an event that included 9/11 family advocate Mary Fetchet and others to discuss implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations following Congressional approval of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2004. Senator Susan Collins, R-Me., and Lieberman co-authored that legislation to respond to the Commission’s recommendations. President Bush signed the legislation into law December 17, 2004.
Among the reforms contained in the legislation was a call to build better relations through outreach programs to Muslim youth. Lieberman and Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., also have introduced the ADVANCE Democracy Act, which provides resources to promote freedom in non-democratic and struggling democratic nations.
“I believe that our national security lies not just in protecting our borders, but in bridging divides,” Lieberman said. The ADVANCE Democracy Act “also demands that we cease placing political expediency before our core American values. We will speak frankly to our friends about the need for democratic reform as the path to a greater peace.”
Following is the full text of Lieberman’s speech:
Thank you Mary and thank you Seth. And good afternoon to you all.
As I stand here with Mary and Seth I am reminded of Anthropologist Margaret Mead’s famous observation – and I quote – “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s all that ever has.”
Mary and Seth – and the organizations they represent – are grass roots agents for change. They are helping to make America more secure at home and respected abroad by working to advance the cause of freedom, equality and understanding everywhere.
Seth and the members of Americans for Informed Democracy are working to bridge the cultural divide between ourselves and the Muslim world through live, video Town Hall meetings.
I know the conversations have sometimes been disturbing. There are clearly misunderstandings between our cultures. But that’s all the more reason these conversations must take place.
In fact, I think this kind of approach is so important, I am sponsoring legislation, along with my colleague John McCain, to make this kind of outreach our official government policy.
Mary and I have become both close friends and colleagues over the past several years through her tireless, dogged work – along with many other 9/11 family members – in support of the of the creation of the 9/11 Commission to investigate the terrorist attacks and then the adoption of many of the commission’s recommendations as part of last year’s Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act to make the nation safer.
The opposition to reform was fierce, as I’m sure you heard in the first panel earlier today.
But in the end we saw the answer to the age-old physics puzzle: What happens when the immovable object – in this case the status quo – meets the irresistible force – in this case, Mary and her friends.
Well . . . the status quo is dust – as it deserved to be. In its place we are now building new intelligence structures under a single director that will facilitate the sharing of information among 15 different federal intelligence agencies, as well as with state and local law enforcement agencies that desperately need to know about possible threats in their jurisdictions.
We are also strengthening our border and transportation security, and implementing programs to thwart terrorists as they travel overseas or attempt to enter and move around the United States.
These new programs are still evolving and it will take the continued oversight of both Congress and an engaged public to see that these new laws are implemented fully and fairly.
For instance, there is a move in the House to use stricter federal standards for driver’s licenses, birth certificates and other state IDs contained in the 9/11 reforms as a backdoor attack on immigration that would also saddle states and local law enforcement with crushing financial burdens.
I will be fighting these and other attempts to use the 9/11 reforms to advance agendas not related to improving our security.
A little noticed part of the 9/11 reforms – but a section I am especially proud of – is dedicated to building better relations with the Muslim world through an aggressive outreach program similar in many ways to what Americans for Informed Democracy is trying to accomplish.
It’s a part of the 9/11-reform package that I plan to further build upon this year because I believe that our national security lies not just in protecting our borders, but in building bridging divides.
Part of the 9/11 Reform Act calls for establishing an International Youth Opportunity Fund that will help build and operate primary and secondary schools in Muslim nations committed to public education, but who can’t afford to pay for it.
Where there is no public education, students often attend Madrassahs that – while free of charge – do not teach the disciplines – math, science and engineering – that young people in the Muslim world desperately need if they are to compete in the modern world. This lack of a quality education too often leads to poverty, despair and resentment that terrorists use to enlist new recruits.
But with the Youth Opportunity Fund we say that we are not only ready to go to the front lines of the terrorist world and take away the sanctuaries where they hide – we want to take back minds they steal as well.
And replace hate with hope.
Sen. John McCain and I want to take this a step further with the ADVANCE Democracy Act we recently introduced in the Senate and which has also been introduced in the House by Representatives Lantos and Wolf.
Our bill is inspired by a fundamental lesson of the September 11 attacks: where repression rules, the lack of political participation and economic opportunity can engender despair and even extremism.
With this Act we say that the inalienable rights endowed by the Creator in the Declaration of Independence, are not only for Americans. Rather, it is a universal declaration of the human rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I believe we stand at a unique moment in the history of the world when it comes to the spread of freedom and equality that our Founding Fathers only dreamed of and that has teased and eluded every President in the 20th Century.
Last year, Afghanistan had its first democratic election ever – and a woman cast the very first vote.
In Iraq, the people defied death threats and car bombs and stood bravely in long exposed lines to choose their own leaders after decades of despotic rule.
In the Rose Revolution in Georgia two years ago and the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine last year, we saw democratically elected representatives take control of their governments.
Today in Lebanon, the people are seeking an end of Syrian occupation and right to fully control their destiny.
President Mubarak of Egypt is talking about holding the first truly competitive, multiparty elections in his nation’s history.
In Kyrgyzstan, the President resigned – paving the way for elections and a leader truly chosen by the people.
And for the first time we see glimmers of the long dreamed of chance for a democratic Palestinian nation that is able to live at peace with Israel.
But the outcome for these and other emerging democracies is still uncertain.
In a recent column, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times warned that “while the necessary conditions [for democratization] may now be in place, the sufficient conditions for democratization are still not present in any of these arenas.”
This ADVANCE Democracy Act makes a national commitment consistent with American values to help both emerging democracies and remaining non-democratic nations find their own unique path to liberty.
This bill commits our government to make American embassies abroad “islands of freedom” with the promotion of democracy at the forefront of United States policy.
This bill also demands that we cease placing political expediency before our core American values. We will speak frankly to our friends about the need for democratic reform as the path to a greater peace.
But this bill is more than just a statement of purpose. It creates new structures and a commitment of human and financial resources to spread the power of freedom.
This bill authorizes $250 million for the Human Rights and Democracy Fund that will dramatically increases resources available for grass-roots democracy promotion efforts through institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. Institute for Peace and a host of indigenous organizations committed to finding their own way towards democratic governance.
This is an exciting time. I believe we stand at the edge of a new age – a Golden Age – of freedom that will rival any of the great eras of world history because it will be the entire world itself that is changing.
Our own history tells us that such change will not come without struggle and hard work. And I hope you will be among that group of committed people Margaret Mead spoke of who are ready to bring that change to the world because . . . . indeed . . . you are all that ever has.