By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 31, 2008 - The U.S. will prevail against extremism by protecting the homeland, staying "on the offense," and replacing hope with despair, President Bush predicted today. During a speech at the Emerald at Queensridge venue in Las Vegas, Nev., Bush laid out a strategy for winning what he described as an ideological struggle between those who advocate the march of freedom and those favoring chaos through asymmetric war.
"We will prevail in this ideological struggle because liberty is powerful; liberty is hopeful," he said. "The enemy we face can only convince people to join their cause when they find hopelessness."
Describing the second tier of his plan, Bush advocated staying on a daily, relentless hunt "to find (extremists) and bring them to justice." He said conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are not separate, but rather they're part of the same war on terrorism, which must be conducted with fervor.
"It's hard to plot, plan and attack America if you're running and hiding. It's hard to recruit if you're cutting off money. It is hard to spread your poison if other reasonable people join the cause," he said. "And so we spend a lot of time doing everything we can to keep the pressure on these folks, and we got some good people working it."
Before U.S. forces deployed to Afghanistan, Bush said, the Taliban-governed country presented a hopeless life for its residents.
"These thugs didn't believe in freedoms. They didn't believe in women having equal status. They didn't believe young girls should be educated," he said. "And if you dared express your opinion that didn't mesh with theirs, you'd be whipped in the public square or killed."
Bush said Operation Enduring Freedom liberated 25 million people and gave them a chance to realize the blessings of liberty. Since toppling the Taliban and routing al Qaeda from Afghanistan, he said, a safer Afghan populace has voted for a president and a parliament, girls are free to go to school, and highways and health centers are being constructed, Bush added.
"It's in our interest to help them because we believe that liberty is transformative, and a part of the world that was once a safe haven for an enemy to attack us will be a more hopeful place when freedom takes hold," he said.
On Iraq, the president said the decision to remove Saddam Hussein was correct and that the world is better off without him in power. Since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Bush said, Iraqis have written a constitution and participated in democratic elections.
In what he described as a surge by Iraqis, the country's citizens created 100,000 new soldiers and police in addition to 80,000 local citizens who volunteered to help patrol their own neighborhoods.
The original decision to begin military operations in Iraq was a tough one, based not "any Gallup poll or focus group," but on sound judgment from military people and "a lot of folks who were following Iraq."
"It was based upon what was right for the future of the United States, and that is, as opposed to pulling troops out, send more in," Bush told the audience.
Bush noted that the surge, which was initiated in early 2007, marked an influx of forces that included more than just members of the U.S. military. Diplomats and public service officials also surged, he said, improving life in areas where insurgents had been purged.
The president said pursuing enemies requires cooperation by all U.S. assets: sharing information across intelligence communities, applying muscle with military forces, and ratcheting up pressure from allies.
"America must not relent," he said. "If our most important job is to protect the American people, we have got to stay on the offense and defeat the enemy overseas so we do not have to face them here at home."
Bush conceded that there are cynics who doubt freedom's ability to take hold in parts of the world, but said he concluded that "liberty is transformative."
"People want to be free and, if given the chance, will be free, do the hard work necessary to be free. And liberty has got the capacity to transform an enemy to an ally," he said. "Therefore, we ought to have confidence in liberty's power to bring the peace we want, and not shy away from helping people realize the great blessings of freedom."