By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 22, 2007 - President Bush voiced his support for Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during an address today at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Kansas City, Mo. He also pointed out that a free Iraq would provide hope throughout the Middle East. "It's not up to politicians in Washington, D.C., to say whether he will remain in his position -- that is up to the Iraqi people who now live in a democracy, and not a dictatorship," Bush said, drawing applause.
"A free Iraq is not going to transform the Middle East overnight," he said. "But a free Iraq will be a massive defeat for al Qaeda, it will be an example that provides hope for millions throughout the Middle East, it will be a friend of the United States, and it's going to be an important ally in the ideological struggle of the 21st century."
Bush said U.S. forces in the midst of a troop surge in Iraq are seeing "progress on the ground," and highlighted cooperation between coalition forces and former Sunni insurgents as a sign of hope. Every month since January, he said, coalition forces have killed or captured more than 1,500 al Qaeda terrorists and extremists.
As the Sept. 15 due date approaches for a congressional report on Iraqi benchmarks by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, the president allayed fears that his support for troops would be anything but steadfast.
"As (U.S. forces) take the initiative from the enemy, they have a question: whether elected leaders in Washington pulled the rug out from under them just as they're gaining momentum and changing the dynamic on the ground in Iraq," Bush said. "Here's my answer: We'll support our troops, we'll support our commanders; and we will give them everything they need to succeed."
The president compared past wars against North Vietnam, North Korea and Imperial Japan with the terror war, calling them "ideological struggles" against enemies bent on spreading a "merciless vision" for humanity.
"Today the names and places have changed, but the fundamental character of the struggle has not changed," Bush said. "Like our enemies in the past, the terrorists who wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places seek to spread a political vision of their own, a harsh plan for life that crushes freedom, tolerance and dissent."
Bush said prevailing in Iraq is essential to the United States' future and wondered if "today's generation of Americans (will) resist the allure of retreat."
Citing the Vietnam War as historical precedent, the president suggested that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would invite the kind of violence and bloodshed that followed retreat from Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s.
"One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps,' and 'killing fields,'" he said.
Americans were persuaded to withdraw from Vietnam and were similarly misguided during conflicts elsewhere on the Asian continent by critics who Bush dismissed as "so-called experts" who would later learn the costs of such "misimpressions."
Critics of the Iraq war have claimed that the U.S. military's presence is responsible for fueling much of the region's unrest and that withdrawal of U.S. forces would significantly stem violence. Others consider comparing wars in Iraq and Vietnam an inaccurate analogy.
But Bush suggested that withdrawing from Iraq would play into the enemy's hands, quoting high-profile terrorists to illustrate possible implications of force reduction.
"In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that the American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam, and they must do the same today," Bush said.
"Number 2 man (Ayman al-)Zawahiri has also invoked Vietnam," he continued. "In a letter to al Qaeda's chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed, 'to the aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents.'"
Remaining in Iraq and Afghanistan fulfills the United States' moral obligation and strategic interests, Bush said.
"Across the Middle East, millions of ordinary citizens are tired of war; they're tired of dictatorship and corruption, they're tired of despair," he said. "And that is why millions of Iraqis and Afghans turned out to the polls, and that's why their leaders have stepped forward at the risk of assassination, and that's why tens of thousands are joining the security forces of their nations.
"These men and women are taking great risks to build a free and peaceful Middle East," Bush said. "And for the sake of our own security we must not abandon them."
Pointing to conflicts and reconstruction efforts in North Korea and Japan, the president suggested positive results can occur from U.S. intervention, even if met with initial skepticism.
"Critics also complained when America intervened to save South Korea from communist invasion. ... And while it's true the Korean War had its share of challenges, the United States never broke its word," he said. "Without America's intervention during the war and our willingness to stick with the South Koreans after the war, millions of South Koreans would now be living under a brutal and repressive regime."
In defiance of critics who argued that democracy would be impossible to implant in Japan, Bush said, the country now enjoys a thriving democratic government and serves as a key U.S. ally.
"In the aftermath of Japan's surrender, many thought it naive to help the Japanese transform themselves into a democracy," he said. "Then, as now, the critics argued that some people were simply not fit for freedom.
"Japan retains its religions and cultural traditions," Bush said, "and stands as one of the world's greatest free societies."