President Bush delivered the first in a series of speeches advancing his war policies before an American Legion audience in Salt Lake City earlier today. The transcript is here. The subject of today’s speech was, in Bush’s words, “a critical aspect of this war: the struggle between freedom and terror in the Middle East, including the battle in Iraq, which is the central front in our fight against terrorism.”
The President’s themes were ones he has sounded many times before: the failure of our decades-old, pre-September 11 policy of pursuing “stability” in the Middle East; the forward strategy of attacking terrorists where they live; and the long-run importance of bringing freedom to Islamic countries. The President talked about Iran:
This summer’s crisis in Lebanon has made it clearer than ever that the world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime in Iran. The Iranian regime arms, funds, and advises Hezbollah, which has killed more Americans than any terrorist network except al Qaeda. The Iranian regime interferes in Iraq by sponsoring terrorists and insurgents, empowering unlawful militias, and supplying components for improvised explosive devices. The Iranian regime denies basic human rights to millions of its people. And the Iranian regime is pursuing nuclear weapons in open defiance of its international obligations.
Bush said, again, that “we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.” But the key paragraphs related, I think, to Iraq. He reviewed our reasons for toppling Saddam, and the history of the conflict there. He acknowledged the current “crisis” in Baghdad, and described the current security campaign there. Bush then turned to the home front:
Here at home we have a choice to make about Iraq. Some politicians look at our efforts in Iraq and see a diversion from the war on terror. That would come as news to Osama bin Laden, who proclaimed that the “third world war is raging” in Iraq. It would come as news to the number two man of al Qaeda, Zawahiri, who has called the struggle in Iraq, quote, “the place for the greatest battle.” It would come as news to the terrorists from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and other countries, who have to come to Iraq to fight the rise of democracy.
It’s hard to believe that these terrorists would make long journeys across dangerous borders, endure heavy fighting, or blow themselves up in the streets of Baghdad, for a so-called “diversion.” Some Americans didn’t support my decision to remove Saddam Hussein; many are frustrated with the level of violence. But we should all agree that the battle for Iraq is now central to the ideological struggle of the 21st century. We will not allow the terrorists to dictate the future of this century — so we will defeat them in Iraq.
A little later came what seems to me to be the most vital point:
We can decide to stop fighting the terrorists in Iraq and other parts of the world, but they will not decide to stop fighting us. General John Abizaid, our top commander in the Middle East region, recently put it this way: “If we leave, they will follow us.” And he is right. The security of the civilized world depends on victory in the war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq. So the United States of America will not leave until victory is achieved.
I think a great many Americans mostly wish the war against the terrorists would go away. A childish attitude, shared by many, rests on the idea that the current conflict is of our choosing, and that we can somehow say “never mind,” and it will disappear. I am reminded of Trotsky’s grim dictum: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” The terrorists are interested in us, whether we like it or not. There is nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. We didn’t choose this war, but we are in it, and have been since 1979. There are only two choices: win the war or lose it. That is the choice that President Bush will be laying before the American people in the weeks to come.