Senator John ThuneAs South Dakotans gather to celebrate the holidays and enjoy the warmth of family and friends, I hope we can all pause to consider what is perhaps our greatest Christmas gift -- the gift of freedom. And as we do, I hope we keep close in our thoughts and prayers the men and women who have given us that gift and continue to defend and protect it every day.
We are fortunate enough to live in a day when young men and women across the country act on a personal sense of duty and honor and voluntarily enlist to defend America and carry freedom’s torch to other parts of the world.
This Christmas, many of our soldiers are far from their families and the comforts of home. For many, these are lonely and difficult days.
But these are young people who have chosen service over self. I’m so humbled and inspired by their willingness to put our safety, our security and our well-being first.
The larger mission of our military today is sure to have an impact on America and the world for centuries to come. Their mission is greater than a single battle or a single conflict. Theirs is the fight for freedom.
Over the course of history, freedom has been challenged on many fronts and by scores of opponents who have willed tyranny over democracy, oppression over expression, and slavery over liberty.
But never before has freedom met an enemy so intent on destruction, so vile in its tactics, and so void of respect for innocent life.
This is an enemy who targets civilians, schemes in the shadows, bides its time and strikes without warning or provocation to exact the highest level of terror, destruction and death to innocent life possible.
Whether its working moms and dads on their morning commute in Madrid, young vacationers in a nightclub in Bali, subway riders in London, or—closest to home—3,000 men and women busy at work on a sunny Manhattan morning—our enemy has murdered them all, because they loved freedom and they represented good.
In recent weeks, Washington has seen a level of partisanship and division we have not witnessed since before our country came together on the days following September 11th.
Partisans have called the war in Iraq "unwinnable;" they’ve compared our soldiers to "terrorists;" they’ve accused the Commander in Chief of lying and intentionally misleading the country; they’ve blocked the passage of vital security measures to safeguard the nation; and they’ve called for the abandonment of democracy and security in Iraq by bringing our troops home before their mission is complete.
Yes, it has been four years since the nation was attacked on September 11th. It has been four years since we’ve seen the will of terrorists carried out on American soil.
Because of the strength and skill of our military, the second-to-none capabilities of our intelligence community, and the steadfastness of our President—America has been secure and terror-free since the attacks on 9/11.
But by no means does this signal that the threat of terrorism has expired and America can relax her resolve.
In the Middle East, America—along with our coalition partners and freedom-loving Afghanis and Iraqis—has transformed two formerly captive nations into beacons of freedom and models of democracy in an otherwise oppressed region.
The opportunity to see freedom’s permanence and growth in the Middle East is a giant step in the fight against terrorism.
But these roots are still shallow and fragile.
Terrorists have made it clear that Iraq is the center-stage in their fight against freedom. While progress is being made every day, including the recent, third, successful election in Iraq this year, insurgency continues and violence is a daily occurrence.
Now more than ever America must remain united and resolute. The partisanship and division we’ve witnessed in recent weeks only serves to undermine our efforts, discourage our men and women in uniform, and send a message of vulnerability to the terrorists.
The stakes are high. If we prevail, freedom will triumph and terror will fail.
If we falter, we risk losing the gift that all Americans, millions across the globe, and our newly liberated brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and Iraq hold so dear: the gift of freedom and the promise of a safe and secure tomorrow.
It is my hope we choose victory.
Merry Christmas, and may God continue to bless you, your families, and our brave soldiers.