By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2006 – The war against terrorism is an epic struggle of ideas as much as an armed conflict, President Bush told members of the American Legion in Salt Lake City today. The anti-terror war represents "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century," Bush told the veterans group at its 88th annual meeting.
Bush spoke to the group in the first of a series of speeches in coming weeks in which he'll update the U.S. public on the cause and course of the war. The president told the Legionnaires they'd fought and defeated al Qaeda- and Taliban-like enemies in the past. "They're successors to fascists, to Nazis, to communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century," Bush said. And history hasn't been kind to dictatorial regimes, he noted.
Today, "a new generation of Americans in uniform is showing great courage in defending our freedom in the first war of the 21st century," Bush said. The terrorists continue to present a threat to the United States and its citizens, Bush said, noting the five-year-old war is far from over. Some Americans might feel the danger has receded since terrorists attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, he acknowledged.
"That feeling is natural and comforting - and wrong," Bush said. The terrorists would like nothing more than to launch another deadly attack on the United States, he said. The terrorists also want "to turn back the advance of freedom and impose a dark version of tyranny and terror across the world," Bush told the group.
That's why he said it's imperative that United States stays the course in Iraq. "Victory in Iraq will be difficult, and it will require more sacrifice. The fighting there can be as fierce as it was at Omaha Beach or Guadalcanal," Bush acknowledged. And defeating terrorists in Iraq is as important to the United States as it was to win those World War II battles, he said.
The United States didn't ask for the war, Bush said, noting that Islamic radicals forced it upon America. Since the end of the Cold War, radical extremists combed stagnated portions of the Middle East to enlist jobless and disenchanted young people to their cause. Those young people's governments were often despotic in nature, Bush said, and had failed to provide sufficient economic opportunity for their citizens.
As extremist groups grew in the Middle East, they fanned resentment against the wealthier Western nations - particularly the United States, Bush said. Resultant extremist-conducted violence against the U.S. was amply demonstrated during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, the 1983 terror bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, and the 1996 attack on Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, Bush said.
Later, terrorists tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993. Al Qaeda blew up two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. And, then, terrorists attacked the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. "Then, came the nightmare of Sept. 11, 2001, when 19 hijackers killed nearly 3,000 men, women and children," Bush recalled. It suddenly became clear that the Middle East was no longer as calm as some once thought, he said.
"The lack of freedom in the Middle East made the region an incubator for terrorist movements," Bush said. Today, he said, the United States is pursuing a three-pronged strategy to defeat the terrorists. "First, we are using every element of national power to confront al Qaeda, those who take inspiration from them, and other terrorists who use similar tactics," Bush said.
Second, he said the United States will hold to account any nation that hosts or harbors terrorists. Thirdly, the country "has launched a bold, new agenda to defeat the ideology of the enemy by supporting the forces of freedom in the Middle East, and beyond," Bush said.
The "freedom agenda" for the Middle East is based on the premise that "promoting democracy is the surest way to build security," Bush said. Nations that commit to providing freedom for their people do not support terrorists, he said. "So, America has committed its influence in the world to advancing freedom, and democracy is a great alternative to repression and radicalism," Bush said. By supporting Middle Eastern leaders who favor democracy, he said, the United States will make its citizens more secure from terror.
Bush said great military victories have been achieved against terrorist enemies and Middle-Eastern despots in the past five years. He pointed to the fall of the radical Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, and the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in April 2003. But, this summer's conflict between Israeli army troops and Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerillas demonstrates the world now faces a grave threat from Iran, Bush said.
"The Iranian regime arms, funds, and advises Hezbollah," Bush said, "which has killed more Americans than any terrorist network except al Qaeda." And the Iranians are meddling in Iraq "by sponsoring terrorists and insurgents, empowering unlawful militias, and supplying components for improvised explosive devices," the president said.
Bush also scolded the Iranian government for its poor treatment of its citizens and its continued refusal to obey United Nations directives to stop its nuclear-enrichment activities. The president expected the Iranians to respond today to a United Nations proposal to settle the controversy over the contested uranium-enrichment issue. Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for nuclear power plants or to make atomic bombs.
"If Iran's leaders accept this offer and abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions, they can set their country on a better course," Bush said. The Iranian government can't be allowed to continue to defy the international community over the enriched uranium issue, Bush said, noting he'd work closely with U.S. allies to find a diplomatic solution to the problem. However, "there must be consequences for Iran's defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon," Bush said.