President Bush gave an excellent speech in Cleveland today. The full text is here. He touched on several issues, but devoted the largest portion to Iraq. He described once again, as he has many times in the past, his strategy for dealing with Islamic terror: in the short term, do whatever is necessary to protect the homeland while taking the fight to the enemy overseas. In the long term, promote freedom in Arab countries as an antidote to the ideology of Islamic extremism.
But the President went on from there to talk more specifically about events in Iraq, and the rationale for his policy there:
I was very optimistic at the end of ’05 when 12 million Iraqis went to the polls. I know it seems like a decade ago. It wasn’t all that long ago that, when given a chance, 12 million people voted. I wasn’t surprised, but I was pleased — let me put it to you that way. I wasn’t surprised because one of the principles on which I make decisions is that I believe in the universality of freedom. I believe that freedom belongs to every man, woman and child on the face of the Earth. As a matter of fact, to take it a step further, I believe it is a gift from an Almighty to every man, woman and child on the face of the Earth. And therefore, I wasn’t surprised when people, when given the chance, said, I want to be free. I was pleased that 12 million defied the car bombers and killers to vote.
Our policy at that point in time was to get our force posture in such a position, is that we would train the Iraqis so they would take the fight to those who would stop the advance of democracy, and that we’d be in a position to keep the territorial integrity in place, and chase down the extremists. That was our policy. We didn’t get there in 2006 because a thinking enemy — in this case, we believe al Qaeda, the same people that attacked us in America — incited serious sectarian violence by blowing up a holy religious site of the Shia. And then there was this wave of reprisal.
And I had a decision to make. Some of Steve’s colleagues — good, decent, patriotic people — believed the best thing for the United States to do at that point was to step back and to kind of let the violence burn out in the capital of Iraq. I thought long and hard about that. I was deeply concerned that violence in the capital would spill out into the countryside. I was deeply concerned that one of the objectives of al Qaeda — and by the way, al Qaeda is doing most of the spectacular bombings, trying to incite sectarian violence. The same people that attacked us on September the 11th is the crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women and children, many of whom are Muslims, trying to stop the advance of a system based upon liberty.
And I was concerned that the chaos would more enable them to — more likely enable them to achieve their stated objective, which is to drive us out of Iraq so they could have a safe haven from which to launch their ideological campaign and launch attacks against America. That’s what they have said. The killers who came to America have said, with clarity, we want you out of Iraq so we can have a safe haven from which to attack again.
I think it’s important for the Commander-in-Chief to listen carefully to what the enemy says. They thrive on chaos. They like the turmoil. It enables them to more likely achieve their objectives. What they can’t stand is the advance of an alternative ideology that will end up marginalizing them.
So I looked at consequences of stepping back — the consequences not only for Iraq, but the consequences for an important neighborhood for the security of the United States of America. What would the Iranians think about America if we stepped back in the face of this extremist challenge? What would other extremists think? What would al Qaeda be able to do? They’d be able to recruit better and raise more money from which to launch their objectives. Failure in Iraq would have serious consequences for the security of your children and your grandchildren.
And so I made the decision, rather than pulling out of the capital, to send more troops in the capital, all aimed at providing security, so that an alternative system could grow. I listened to the commanders that would be running the operation — in this case, the main man is a man named General David Petraeus — a smart, capable man, who gives me his candid advice. His advice, Mr. President, is we must change the mission to provide security for the people in the capital city of Iraq, as well as in Anbar Province, in order for the progress that the 12 million people who voted can be made. That’s why we’ve done what we’ve done.
I’ve been struck many times over the past several years by how clear and candid President Bush is in describing and explaining his policies. He said again today that he welcomes “a good, honest debate” about the war. Unfortunately, however, there is no honest debate going on. Most Democrats want to lose in Iraq so they can blame the Republicans and gain political advantage. Some Republicans care less about whether we win or lose than about their re-election next year. Neither group is in a position to tell the American people, honestly, what it wants. So President Bush is pretty much alone as a voice of reason and candor on the war.
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