He renewed the United States' commitment to building democracy across the Middle East and vowed that U.S. troops will not pull out of Iraq until that nation is fully democratic and at peace.
On the fifth anniversary of the event that defined his presidency, Bush also redefined the war on terror.
“This struggle has been called a clash of civilizations," he said. "In truth, it is a struggle for civilization. We are fighting to maintain the way of life enjoyed by free nations. And we are fighting for the possibility that good and decent people across the Middle East can raise up societies based on freedom, and tolerance, and personal dignity.”
A Focus On The Wider War
Bush spoke for 18 minutes from his desk at the White House, at a peak television-viewing time in the United States. Networks interrupted their regular programming to broadcast the speech.
The U.S. president had spent the day mourning the nearly 3,000 people who died in the September 2001 terrorist attacks. He visited the three sites where Al-Qaeda struck: New York City, Washington, D.C., and an empty field in Pennsylvania.
He spent the first moments of his speech reliving the horrors of the attacks on the United States -- speaking of widows and orphans and burning towers.
Then he turned to the global war on terror that day triggered.
The world is in the early stages of the struggle between "freedom and tyranny," Bush said, and this is the generation that has been called to battle. He said the war on terror cannot neither be postponed nor slowed, and is unlike any struggle mankind has ever faced.
The United States is safer, he said, but still not safe, and he used intensely personal language to describe the current threat -- he spoke of American homes and American children.
“We face an enemy determined to bring death and suffering into our homes. America did not ask for this war, and every American wishes it were over. So do I. But the war is not over, and it will not be over until either we or the extremists emerge victorious," he said.
"If we do not defeat these enemies now, we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons," Bush continued. "We are in a war that will set the course for this new century -- and determine the destiny of millions across the world.”
With just eight weeks before national elections, polls that show a majority of Americans believe the war on terror is not going well and oppose the war in Iraq.
This speech was Bush's chance to speak directly to millions of voters, though his aides insisted that the speech was not political.
Bush mentioned a number he rarely does -- the death toll of Americans from battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. That figure now stands at 2,999, more than the number killed in the 9/11 attacks.
There is deep anger in the country that the government has failed to find Osama bin Laden, and increasing questions about why the United States attacked Iraq when no weapons of mass destruction existed and Saddam Hussein had no link to Al-Qaeda.
For the first time, Bush acknowledged these doubts.
"I'm often asked why we're in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks," he said. "The answer is Saddam Hussein was a clear threat. My administration, the Congress, and the United Nations saw the threat. And after 9/11, Saddam's regime posed a risk that the world could not afford to take."
But he then issued a firm rebuke to the growing chorus of those who oppose the war and are calling for U.S. troop withdrawal. Iraq, he said is the center of a battle between "freedom and tyranny."
"We will not leave until this work is done," Bush said. "Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone. They will not leave us alone, they will follow us. The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad."
A Call For Unity
Bush both acknowledged the deep divisions in the country and sent what sounded like a political message to those who might vote for change in eight weeks when he urged Americans to set aside their disagreements and unite to face a common enemy.
“Our nation has endured trials and we face a difficult road ahead," Bush said. "Winning this war will require the determined efforts of a unified country. So we must put aside our differences, and work together to meet the test that history has given us. We will defeat our enemies, we will protect our people, and we will lead the 21st century into a shining age of human liberty.”
Bush ended his speech by saying if the country does not fully answer the call to wage war against terrorist, it will fall to "our children" to fight.