By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 28, 2008 - As President Bush outlined a full agenda of initiatives tonight during his final State of the Union address, he emphasized that a prosperous future for America "depends on confronting enemies abroad and advancing liberty in troubled regions of the world." The United States has witnessed stirring moments as liberty advanced over the past seven years, but also sobering images of devastation caused by those bent on preventing it from taking hold, Bush told a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol.
"We've seen wedding guests in blood-soaked finery staggering from a hotel in Jordan, Afghans and Iraqis blown up in mosques and markets and trains in London and Madrid ripped apart by bombs," Bush said.
But never was the message driven home more clearly, he said, than on Sept. 11, 2001.
"The advance of liberty is opposed by terrorists and extremists -- evil men who despise freedom, despise America and aim to subject millions to their violent rule," Bush told the assembly.
Calling this conflict "the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century," he vowed to continue taking the fight to the terrorists and extremists.
"We will stay on the offense, we will keep up the pressure, and we will deliver justice to our enemies," he said, drawing applause from the full chamber.
Bush pointed to successes the United States, 25 NATO allies and 15 partner nations are helping to realize in Afghanistan. Once a safe haven for extremists and the launching pad for the Sept. 11 attacks, Afghanistan now is a new democracy with a hopeful future.
"These successes must continue, so we're adding 3,200 Marines to our forces in Afghanistan, where they will fight the terrorists and train the Afghan army and police," he said. "Defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda is critical to our security."
Bush pointed to similar efforts in Iraq, where terrorists and extremists are fighting to defeat the new democratic government and establish new safe havens from which to launch future attacks. Thanks to a new U.S. strategy that's brought about a dramatic turnaround there, Bush said these enemies are now on the run.
The president noted that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, has warned that too fast a drawdown of U.S. troops could allow al Qaeda to regain lost ground. "Having come so far and achieved so much, we must not allow this to happen," he told the lawmakers.
Bush said a failed Iraq would embolden the extremists and give terrorists a base from which to launch new attacks against the United States and its friends and allies. It would also encourage Iran, where Bush said an oppressive regime works to squelch freedom wherever it advances in the Middle East.
"Iran is funding and training militia groups in Iraq, supporting Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon and backing Hamas' efforts to undermine peace in the Holy Land," he said. Meanwhile, the Tehran government is developing ballistic missiles of increasing range, and continuing to develop the uranium-enrichment capability needed to create a nuclear weapon, he added.
The United States has no quarrel with the people of Iran and looks forward to the day when they live in freedom, the president said. However, Bush offered a far stronger message to Iran's leaders: "Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment, ... come clean about your nuclear intentions and past actions, stop your oppression at home, cease your support for terror abroad.
"But above all, know this," the president continued. "America will confront those who threaten our troops. We will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf."
Ultimately, protecting the United States from the dangers terrorists and extremists pose requires changing the conditions that breed resentment and allow them to prey on despair, the president said.
"So America is using its influence to build a freer, more hopeful and more compassionate world," he said. "This is a reflection of our national interest; it is the calling of our conscience."
Bush said the United States' long-term security depends on its success in standing up to terrorism and extremism and spreading liberty to prevent their hateful ideologies from taking hold.
"We must do the difficult work today, so that years from now people will look back and say that this generation rose to the moment, prevailed in a tough fight, and left behind a more hopeful region and a safer America," he said.