As support for the war in Iraq continues to slide and a controversial vote on that country's new constitution looms next week, President Bush took to the airwaves Thursday morning (October 6) for a speech the White House promised would deliver major information on the war on terror.
While the 40-minute address was, for the most part, short on details, the president did claim in it that the United States and its partners had disrupted 10 serious al Qaeda plots since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, including three plans by the group to attack within U.S. borders.
Bush did not offer any details on those plots, but instead spent much of the speech speaking in vague, rhetorical terms about Islamic radicalism, attempting to tie its ideology to that of communism and fascism, and to once again link the war in Iraq with the fight against al Qaeda.
"In this new century, freedom is once again assaulted by enemies, determined to roll back generations of democratic progress," Bush said in his opening remarks. "Once again we're responding to a global campaign of fear with a global campaign of freedom. And once again we will see freedom's victory."
With his approval ratings wobbling — largely due to the ongoing war in Iraq, the bungled government response to Hurricane Katrina, a series of scandals involving prominent Republicans, and a Supreme Court nominee that has drawn fire from his own party — the president once more evoked the September 11 attacks in an attempt to rally the country behind the war in Iraq.
"We will not tire or rest until the war on terror is won," he said. "The images and experience of September 11 are unique for Americans, yet the evil of that morning has appeared on other days in other places," the president said, reeling off a list of attacks by terrorist bombers across the globe, including recent ones in London and Bali.
"All these separate images of suffering and destruction we see on the news can seem like random and isolated acts of madness," Bush said. "Innocent men, 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."
The president made a clear distinction between the religion of Islam and radical Islamists who use the religion as a basis for their deadly acts, accusing radicals of trying to "enslave whole nations and intimidate the world." He claimed that the forces of radical Islam have made Iraq their main front in the battle against freedom and democracy and that they are using the Arab news media to incite hatred and anti-Semitism.
"The militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia," Bush said.
"Against such an enemy, there's only one effective response: We never back down, never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory." Answering critics who have said that the war in Iraq is helping to fuel radicalism across the globe, Bush again invoked September 11, saying that U.S. troops were not in Iraq on that day, and that even though Russia did not support the war, a terrorist attack in Beslan, Russia, in 2004 left more than 300 schoolchildren dead.
"The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in the war against humanity. And we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror," Bush said, citing Syria and Iran as "allies of convenience" who back terrorist actions.
Once more answering the increasing drumbeat of critics who have called for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq, the president said he will not waver, despite the temptation "in the middle of a long struggle to seek the quiet life, to escape the duties and problems of the world and to hope the enemy grows weary of fanaticism and tired of murder."
A CNN/ USA Today/ Gallup poll from late September found that 59 percent of people surveyed considered the 2003 invasion of Iraq a mistake, 63 percent said they wanted to see some or all U.S. troops withdrawn and only 32 percent approved of Bush's handling of the conflict.
Iraq faces a major test on October 15 when voters will cast ballots on a whether to accept a new constitution. If passed, elections for a permanent government would follow. But if the referendum fails, elections would have to be held for a new transitional government and a new national charter would have to be drafted from scratch.