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Bush reiterates necessity of war on terror; challenges critics

TOBYHANNA, Pa. (BP)–President Bush, in a key Veterans Day speech, underscored anew the necessity of halting a murderous radicalism that seeks to enslave Islam and the Mideast and to send the United States into global retreat.

“We know the vision of the radicals because they have openly stated it — in videos and audiotapes and letters and declarations and on websites,” Bush said in an address to soldiers and veterans gathered at a Tobyhanna Army Depot warehouse in Pennsylvania.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, Bush noted that terrorists have continued to use bombings and bloodshed to extend their sway not only in Iraq and Israel, but also in Spain, England, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kenya, Indonesia, Morocco, Turkey, Russia and, most recently, Jordan.

“This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism, subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom,” Bush said. “These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Hindus and Jews — and against Muslims, themselves, who do not share their radical vision. …

“The terrorists are as brutal an enemy as we’ve ever faced, unconstrained by any notion of our common humanity or by the rules of warfare,” the president said.

The civilized world “knows very well that other fanatics in history, from Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot, consumed whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history,” Bush reminded. “Evil men, obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience, must be taken very seriously — and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply.”

Bush described the terrorists as having “endless ambitions of imperial domination … to make everyone powerless, except themselves. Under their rule, they have banned books, and desecrated historical monuments, and brutalized women. They seek to end dissent in every form, to control every aspect of life, to rule the soul itself. While promising a future of justice and holiness, the terrorists are preparing a future of oppression and misery.”

Specifying the terrorists’ strategy, Bush noted:

“First, these extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace, and stand in the way of their ambitions.” The United States’ abandonment of South Vietnam, Bush said, has stirred Al Qaeda’s number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician who has been in hiding with Osama bin Laden. “They believe,” the president said, “that America can be made to run again — only this time on a larger scale, with greater consequences.

“Second, the militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country — a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments,” Bush said.

“Third, these militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia,” the president said. “… With the greater economic, military and political power they seek, the terrorists would be able to advance their stated agenda: to develop weapons of mass destruction; to destroy Israel; to intimidate Europe; to assault the American people; and to blackmail our government into isolation.”

Many of the militants “are part of a global, borderless terrorist organization like al Qaeda — which spreads propaganda, and provides financing and technical assistance to local extremists, and conducts dramatic and brutal operations like the attacks of September the 11th,” the president said. “Other militants are found in regional groups, often associated with al Qaeda — paramilitary insurgencies and separatist movements in places like Somalia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and Algeria. Still others spring up in local cells — inspired by Islamic radicalism, but not centrally directed. …

“Yet these operatives, fighting on scattered battlefields, share a similar ideology and vision for the world,” Bush reiterated.

The radicals often are “sheltered by authoritarian regimes — allies of convenience like Iran and Syria,” the president said, challenging Syria in particular over its attempts “to intimidate and destabilize the Lebanese government” and its disdain toward a United Nations investigation into Syria’s role in the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafic Hariri, in February.

The president added that radical Islam also depends on “front operations, such as corrupted charities, which direct money to terrorist activity,” and on “elements of the Arab news media that incite hatred and anti-Semitism, that feed conspiracy theories, and speak of a so-called American ‘war on Islam’ — with seldom a word about American action to protect Muslims in Afghanistan and Bosnia and Somalia and Kosovo and Kuwait and Iraq or our generous assistance to Muslims recovering from natural disasters in places like Indonesia and Pakistan.”

The United States is “answering history’s call with confidence and with a comprehensive strategy,” Bush stated.

“Defeating a broad and adaptive network requires patience, constant pressure and strong partners in Europe and in the Middle East and North Africa and Asia and beyond,” he said. “Working with these partners, we’re disrupting militant conspiracies, we’re destroying their ability to make war, and we’re working to give millions in a troubled region a hopeful alternative to resentment and violence.”

Bush noted five key aspects of U.S. strategy:

“First, we’re determined to prevent attacks of the terrorist networks before they occur. … Together with our partners, we’ve disrupted a number of serious al Qaeda terrorist plots since September the 11th — including several plots to attack inside the United States.” Terrorist operatives have been captured or killed in more than two dozen countries, the president said.

“Second, we’re determined to deny weapons of mass destruction to outlaw regimes and to their terrorist allies who would use them without hesitation,” Bush said. “The United States, working with Great Britain and Pakistan and other nations, has exposed and disrupted a major black-market operation in nuclear technology led by A.Q. Khan,” he pointed out. “… And in the past year, America and our partners in the Proliferation Security Initiative have stopped more than a dozen shipments of suspect weapons technology, including equipment for Iran’s ballistic missile program. This progress has reduced the danger to free nations, but it has not removed it. Evil men who want to use horrendous weapons against us are working in deadly earnest to gain them. And we’re working urgently to keep the weapons of mass murder out of the hands of the fanatics.

“Third, we’re determined to deny radical groups the support and sanctuary of outlaw regimes,” Bush said. “State sponsors like Syria and Iran have a long history of collaboration with terrorists, and they deserve no patience from the victims of terror. The United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them, because they’re equally guilty of murder.

“Fourth,” Bush said, “we’re determined to deny the militants control of any nation, which they would use as a home base and a launching pad for terror.

“This mission has brought new and urgent responsibilities to our armed forces,” the president stated. “American troops are fighting beside Afghan partners and against remnants of the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies. We’re working with President Musharraf to oppose and isolate the militants in Pakistan. We’re fighting the regime remnants and terrorists in Iraq.”

In Iraq, Bush noted, “With two successful elections completed, and a third coming up next month, the Iraqi people are proving their determination to build a democracy united against extremism and violence.” Sunni Muslims, he added, are becoming involved in the political process.

“By any standard or precedent of history, Iraq has made incredible political progress — from tyranny, to liberation, to national elections, to the ratification of a constitution — in the space of two and a half years,” Bush noted.

“The fifth element of our strategy in the war on terror is to deny the militants future recruits by replacing hatred and resentment with democracy and hope across the broader Middle East,” the president said. “This is difficult, and it’s a long-term project, yet there is no alternative to it. Our future and the future of the region are linked.

“If the broader Middle East is left to grow in bitterness, if countries remain in misery while radicals stir the resentment of millions, then that part of the world will be a source of endless conflict and mounting danger, in our generation and for the next.”

But, Bush said, “If the peoples of that region are permitted to choose their own destiny, and advance by their own energy and participation of free men and women, then the extremists will be marginalized, and the flow of violent radicalism to the rest of the world will slow and eventually end. By standing for hope and freedom of others, we make our own freedom more secure.”

Challenging critics of the war on terror, Bush stated, “While it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments related to Iraq’s weapons programs.

“They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein,” the president continued. “They know the United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions citing his development and possession of weapons of mass destruction.”

More than 100 Democrats in the House and the Senate – “who had access to the same intelligence” – “voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power,” Bush reminded.

“The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges,” the president said. “These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America’s will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them. Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. And our troops deserve to know that whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united, and we will settle for nothing less than victory.”