Bush Opens Iraq OffensiveThu Aug 31, 2006 21:22
Bush Opens Iraq Offensive
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CBS/AP)- President Bush began a series of speeches on Iraq and terrorism Thursday by likening the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism with the fight against Nazis and communists in the last century.
"The war we fight today is more than a military conflict," Mr. Bush told thousands of veterans at the American Legion convention in Salt Lake City. "It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century."
He said opponents of the war in Iraq who are calling for a plan to bring home troops would create a disaster in the Middle East.
"Many of these folks are sincere and they're patriotic but they could be they could not be more wrong," the president said. "If America were to pull out before Iraq could defend itself, the consequences would be absolutely predictable, and absolutely disastrous. We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies -- Saddam's former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran, and al Qaeda terrorists from all over the world who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban."
Mr. Bush chose a friendly audience in a conservative state to begin a pre-election series of speeches touting his war strategy. The three-week campaign is centered on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
He described the current violence in the Middle East and the recently thwarted attack to blow up planes over the Atlantic Ocean as part of the same movement that resulted in the Sept. 11 attacks.
"As veterans you have seen this kind of enemy before," Mr. Bush said. "They are successors to fascists, to Nazis, to communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century. And history shows what the outcome will be.
"This war will be difficult. This war will be long. And this war will end in the defeat of the terrorists," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush acknowledged the unsettling times, marked by sectarian violence in Iraq, disputes along the Israel-Lebanon border and terrorists allegedly plotting to blow up planes between Britain and the United States.
"The images that come back from the front lines are striking and sometimes unsettling," he said. "When you see innocent civilians ripped apart by suicide bombs or families buried inside their homes, the world can seem engulfed in purposeless violence."
Mr. Bush said those who were responsible for bringing down the World Trade Center are united with car bombers in Baghdad, Hezbollah militants who shoot rockets into Israel and terrorists who wanted to bring down the flights between Britain and the United States.
"Despite their differences these groups form the outline of a single movement, a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology," Mr. Bush said. "And the unifying feature of this movement, the link that spans sectarian divisions and local grievances, is the rigid conviction that free societies are a threat to their twisted view of Islam."
Mr. Bush also delivered his starkest threat yet to Iran its defiance and delay to demands to stop enriching uranium.
"There must be consequences for Iran's defiance,'' he said, "and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons."
Thursday was the deadline for Tehran to heed the U.N. Security Council demand to stop enrichment.
"The world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime in Iran,'' the president said. "We know the depth of suffering that Iran's sponsorship of terrorists has brought. And we can imagine how much worse it would be if Iran were allowed to acquire nuclear weapons."
It is the third time in less than a year that Mr. Bush has made a series of speeches on Iraq and terrorism. The speeches come two months before congressional elections and at a time when when many Americans are disillusioned with his strategy.
But Mr. Bush insisted the speeches were not political.
"They are not political speeches," Mr. Bush said outside a Little Rock restaurant on Wednesday where he made a campaign stop with Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman who is running for governor against Democrat Mike Beebe.
"They're speeches about the future of this country and they're speeches to make it clear that if we retreat before the job is done, this nation will become even more in jeopardy."
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