President Bush gave a major address on the war on terror and Iraq before the National Endowment for Democracy yesterday; you can read the whole thing here. You should read the whole thing, since it’s next to impossible to get an accurate sense of it from news accounts. this one in the New York Times is typical; it buries a few brief quotes from the speech amid commentary on Bush’s falling poll numbers, adverse reaction to the Miers nominiation, and the Democrats’ attacks on Bush. Here are a few key paragraphs from Bush’s speech. It began with the most specific and accurate description of the enemy that Bush has yet given publicly:
The images and experience of September the 11th are unique for Americans. Yet the evil of that morning has reappeared on other days, in other places — in Mombasa, and Casablanca, and Riyadh, and Jakarta, and Istanbul, and Madrid, and Beslan, and Taba, and Netanya, and Baghdad, and elsewhere. In the past few months, we’ve seen a new terror offensive with attacks on London, and Sharm el-Sheikh, and a deadly bombing in Bali once again. All these separate images of destruction and suffering that we see on the news can seem like random and isolated acts of madness; innocent men and women and children have died simply because they boarded the wrong train, or worked in the wrong building, or checked into the wrong hotel. Yet while the killers choose their victims indiscriminately, their attacks serve a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane.
Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it’s called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Jews and Hindus — and also against Muslims from other traditions, who they regard as heretics.
Many militants are part of global, borderless terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, which spreads propaganda, and provides financing and technical assistance to local extremists, and conducts dramatic and brutal operations like September the 11th. Other militants are found in regional groups, often associated with al Qaeda — paramilitary insurgencies and separatist movements in places like Somalia, and the Philippines, and Pakistan, and Chechnya, and Kashmir, and Algeria. Still others spring up in local cells, inspired by Islamic radicalism, but not centrally directed. Islamic radicalism is more like a loose network with many branches than an army under a single command. Yet these operatives, fighting on scattered battlefields, share a similar ideology and vision for our world.
Bush went after Syria and Iran, as well as the often-depraved Arab news media:
The influence of Islamic radicalism is also magnified by helpers and enablers. They have been sheltered by authoritarian regimes, allies of convenience like Syria and Iran, that share the goal of hurting America and moderate Muslim governments, and use terrorist propaganda to blame their own failures on the West and America, and on the Jews. These radicals depend on front operations, such as corrupted charities, which direct money to terrorist activity. They’re strengthened by those who aggressively fund the spread of radical, intolerant versions of Islam in unstable parts of the world. The militants are aided, as well, by 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, Somalia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Iraq.
Bush responded directly to the silly argument that current terrorist acts are caused by the Iraq war or other actions of the United States:
Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals. I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 — and al Qaeda attacked us anyway. The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse. The government of Russia did not support Operation Iraqi Freedom, and yet the militants killed more than 180 Russian schoolchildren in Beslan.
Over the years these extremists have used a litany of excuses for violence — the Israeli presence on the West Bank, or the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, or the defeat of the Taliban, or the Crusades of a thousand years ago. In fact, we’re not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We’re facing a radical ideology with inalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No act of ours invited the rage of the killers — and no concession, bribe, or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder.
On the contrary: They target nations whose behavior they believe they can change through violence. Against such an enemy, there is only one effective response: We will never back down, never give in, and never accept anything less than complete victory. (Applause.)
He then went on to lay out with considerable specificity the administration’s strategy to defeat militant Islam. He noted the many successes that we have had to date:
Together, we’ve killed or captured nearly all of those directly responsible for the September the 11th attacks; as well as some of bin Laden’s most senior deputies; al Qaeda managers and operatives in more than 24 countries; the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, who was chief of al Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf; the mastermind of the Jakarta and the first Bali bombings; a senior Zarqawi terrorist planner, who was planning attacks in Turkey; and many of al Qaeda’s senior leaders in Saudi Arabia.
Overall, the United States and our partners have disrupted at least ten serious al Qaeda terrorist plots since September the 11th, including three al Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States. We’ve stopped at least five more al Qaeda efforts to case targets in the United States, or infiltrate operatives into our country. Because of this steady progress, the enemy is wounded — but the enemy is still capable of global operations. Our commitment is clear: We will not relent until the organized international terror networks are exposed and broken, and their leaders held to account for their acts of murder.
President Bush put our efforts in Iraq into the context of the broader war, and the terrorists’ burning desire to control another country as they once controlled Afghanistan. He defended, ably, the progress that is being made in Iraq:
By any standard or precedent of history, Iraq has made incredible political progress — from tyranny, to liberation, to national elections, to the writing of a constitution, in the space of two-and-a-half years. With our help, the Iraqi military is gaining new capabilities and new confidence with every passing month. At the time of our Fallujah operations 11 months ago, there were only a few Iraqi army battalions in combat. Today there are more than 80 Iraqi army battalions fighting the insurgency alongside our forces. Progress isn’t easy, but it is steady. And no fair-minded person should ignore, deny, or dismiss the achievements of the Iraqi people.
Some observers question the durability of democracy in Iraq. They underestimate the power and appeal of freedom. We’ve heard it suggested that Iraq’s democracy must be on shaky ground because Iraqis are arguing with each other. But that’s the essence of democracy: making your case, debating with those who you disagree — who disagree, building consensus by persuasion, and answering to the will of the people. We’ve heard it said that the Shia, Sunnis and Kurds of Iraq are too divided to form a lasting democracy. In fact, democratic federalism is the best hope for unifying a diverse population, because a federal constitutional system respects the rights and religious traditions of all citizens, while giving all minorities, including the Sunnis, a stake and a voice in the future of their country. It is true that the seeds of freedom have only recently been planted in Iraq — but democracy, when it grows, is not a fragile flower; it is a healthy, sturdy tree. (Applause.)
I was talking with a liberal the other day, who tried to explain to me that democracy in Iraq is impossible because of that country’s religious and ethnic diversity. Only civil war can result from such conditions, he said. Oh, great, now they tell us–multiculturalism is impossible!
As he did before the war began, Bush laid out the most important purpose of the Iraq war: to promote the spread of freedom in the Middle East, as the only long-term solution to the perpetuation of Islamic terrorism:
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. This is a difficult and long-term project, yet there’s no alternative to it. Our future and the future of that region are linked. If the broader Middle East is left to grow in bitterness, if countries remain in misery, while radicals stir the resentments of millions, then that part of the world will be a source of endless conflict and mounting danger, and for our generation and the next. If the peoples of that region are permitted to choose their own destiny, and advance by their own energy and by their participation as 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 the hope and freedom of others, we make our own freedom more secure.
Four years after September 11, neither the Democrats nor anyone else has proposed an alternative to Bush’s strategy for long-term victory in the war on terror.
This was another in a series of great speeches in which President Bush has outlined his strategies and policies in the war. By contrast, the Democratic response was pathetic. As usual, it consisted mainly of an appeal to ignorance. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said:
The truth is, the administration’s mishandling of the war in Iraq has made us less safe, and Iraq risks becoming what it was not before the war: a training ground for terrorists.
As our readers know, this is a lie. (Here is one of many examples of Saddam’s Iraq as a terrorist training center.) But it is a lie that is constantly repeated by the Democrats, and I am sure that many Americans who are not as well informed as our readers believe it.
I haven’t seen a report on how many people watched Bush’s speech; in fact, I’m only assuming that it was broadcast by someone. My guess is that very few either saw it or will read it in its entirety. Instead, the overwhelming majority depend on what they read about Bush’s speech in the newspapers or hear on television news reports. Those articles and reports, with hardly any exceptions, will be carefully framed to minimize the speech’s impact.
People used to talk about the Presidency as a “bully pulpit,” but I think one lesson of the Bush years is that the President’s ability to communicate effectively with the American people, outside of the context of an election campaign, is limited. The real “bully pulpit” belongs to the mainstream press, which is just about unanimously devoted to undermining the President’s effort to communicate with, and thereby lead, the American people.