President Bush’s speech at the Naval Academy today was a brilliant exposition of his strategy in Iraq and in the war on terror. It was thematically similar to a number of other excellent speeches he has given over the past four years, many of which we have quoted and linked to, but it included a more detailed analysis of the progress of Iraqi units in taking over the defense of their country than we have seen before. It is a little-known fact, I’m afraid, that, in a series of speeches extending over a period of years, President Bush has articulated his policy vision more consistently and more eloquently than any President since Lincoln. His speeches have, for the most part, gone unheard, unread, and uncovered by the mainstream media. Let’s hope this one is different in that regard.
Here are a few highlights:
The terrorists in Iraq share the same ideology as the terrorists who struck the United States on September the 11th. Those terrorists share the same ideology with those who blew up commuters in London and Madrid, murdered tourists in Bali, workers in Riyadh, and guests at a wedding in Amman, Jordan. Just last week, they massacred Iraqi children and their parents at a toy give-away outside an Iraqi hospital.
This is an enemy without conscience — and they cannot be appeased. If we were not fighting and destroying this enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our own borders. By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people. Against this adversary, there is only one effective response: We will never back down. We will never give in. And we will never accept anything less than complete victory. (Applause.) ***
As the Iraqi forces gain experience and the political process advances, we will be able to decrease our troop levels in Iraq without losing our capability to defeat the terrorists. These decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders — not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington. (Applause.)
Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would send a message across the world that America is a weak and an unreliable ally. Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would send a signal to our enemies — that if they wait long enough, America will cut and run and abandon its friends. And setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would vindicate the terrorists’ tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder — and invite new attacks on America. To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your Commander-in-Chief. (Applause.)
Some critics continue to assert that we have no plan in Iraq except to, “stay the course.” If by “stay the course,” they mean we will not allow the terrorists to break our will, they are right. If by “stay the course,” they mean we will not permit al Qaeda to turn Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban — a safe haven for terrorism and a launching pad for attacks on America — they are right, as well. If by “stay the course” they mean that we’re not learning from our experiences, or adjusting our tactics to meet the challenges on the ground, then they’re flat wrong. As our top commander in Iraq, General Casey, has said, “Our commanders on the ground are continuously adapting and adjusting, not only to what the enemy does, but also to try to out-think the enemy and get ahead of him.” Our strategy in Iraq is clear, our tactics are flexible and dynamic; we have changed them as conditions required and they are bringing us victory against a brutal enemy. (Applause.)
Most Americans want two things in Iraq: They want to see our troops win, and they want to see our troops come home as soon as possible. And those are my goals as well. I will settle for nothing less than complete victory. In World War II, victory came when the Empire of Japan surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri. In Iraq, there will not be a signing ceremony on the deck of a battleship. Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq’s democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation.
Before our mission in Iraq is accomplished, there will be tough days ahead. A time of war is a time of sacrifice, and we’ve lost some very fine men and women in this war on terror. Many of you know comrades and classmates who left our shores to defend freedom and who did not live to make the journey home. We pray for the military families who mourn the loss of loves ones. We hold them in our hearts — and we honor the memory of every fallen soldier, sailor, airman, Coast Guardsman, and Marine.
One of those fallen heroes is a Marine Corporal named Jeff Starr, who was killed fighting the terrorists in Ramadi earlier this year. After he died, a letter was found on his laptop computer. Here’s what he wrote, he said, “[I]f you’re reading this, then I’ve died in Iraq. I don’t regret going. Everybody dies, but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it’s not to me. I’m here helping these people, so they can live the way we live. Not [to] have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators_. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark.”
There is only one way to honor the sacrifice of Corporal Starr and his fallen comrades — and that is to take up their mantle, carry on their fight, and complete their mission. (Applause.)
Our friend Michelle Malkin must be very proud that her publication of Corporal Starr’s last letter, which was sent to her by one of his relatives after his name was misused by the New York Times, made it into the President’s speech.
Today’s speech focused on the training of Iraqi units; future speeches will elaborate on other aspects of the administration’s strategy for victory.