Bush told Americans that the world today is safer from the threat of Islamic extremists because he chose to take decisive action against Iraq on this date in 2003.
"Because we acted, Saddam Hussein no longer fills fields with remains of innocent men, women and children," Bush said. "Because we acted, Saddam's torture chambers and rape rooms and children's prisons have been closed for good. Because we acted, Saddam's regime is no longer invading its neighbors or attacking them with chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. Because we acted, Saddam's regime is no longer paying the families of suicide bombers in the Holy Land. Because we acted, Saddam's regime is no longer shooting at American and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones and defying the will of the United Nations. Because we acted, the world is better and the United States of America is safer."
Nevertheless, Bush said, over the past five years, the world has experienced a roller coaster of emotions over events in Iraq.
On the one hand, he said, there's the admiration felt for Iraqis who have twice "defied the terrorists" and voted for a new government. On the other, he cited revulsion at the suicide bombings and beheadings at the hands of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other militants.
And he said it's better that the U.S. war against the militants is being waged in Iraq and not in the United States.
"We watched in horror as Al-Qaeda beheaded innocent captives and sent suicide bombers to blow up mosques and markets," Bush said. "These actions show the brutal nature of the enemy in Iraq. And they serve as a grim reminder that terrorists who murder the innocent in the streets of Baghdad want to murder the innocent in the streets of America. Defeating this enemy in Iraq will make it less likely that we'll face the enemy here at home."
Trumpeting Success Of The Surge
Bush acknowledged that by late 2006, the militants were succeeding in making violent chaos the norm in much of Iraq. And so, he said, he consulted with his military commanders and decided to institute what's come to be known as "the surge."
Under the surge strategy, the United States increased its forces in Iraq by 30,000 to reduce violence and give the Iraqi government the time to mount reconciliation among its Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurdish factions, though progress there has been limited.
And that strategy worked, Bush said, preventing the violence from becoming what he called "full-blown sectarian warfare."
"For the terrorists, Iraq was supposed to be a place where Al-Qaeda rallied the Arab masses to drive America out," Bush said. "Instead, Iraq has become the place where Arabs join with Americans to drive Al-Qaeda out. In Iraq we're witnessing the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology and his murderous network, and the significance of this development cannot be overstated."
Now, Bush said, it's time to concentrate on delivering the coup de grace on the militants. He warned that to ease up now -- or worse, to begin withdrawing U.S. forces too soon -- would be to give back the ground that's been gained in the surge.
The president expressed special concern about some Americans -- including members of the Democratic Party and their leading presidential candidates -- for viewing the war less optimistically and calling for a quicker end to the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
"Successes we're seeing in Iraq are undeniable, yet some in Washington still call for retreat," he said. "War critics can no longer credibly argue that we are losing in Iraq, so they now argue that the war costs too much. In recent months we've heard exaggerated amounts of the costs of this war. No one would argue that this war has not come at a high cost, in lives and treasure, but those costs are necessary when we consider the cost of a strategic victory for our enemies in Iraq."
To act hastily, Bush said, would be to let Iraq plunge further into chaos than it has ever been before, and give back Al-Qaeda the areas where it dominated as recently as 2006. That, he said, could lead to exponential growth of new volunteers to the militant groups.
Bush also said a rushed withdrawal also could leave Al-Qaeda in control of Iraq's great oil wealth. The country has the world's second-largest known reserves of oil, after Saudi Arabia.
Instead, he called for a continued presence and an attitude of goodwill to Iraqis, which he said eventually would help them achieve the reconciliation they so badly need to become a beacon of democracy in a region mostly run by tyrants.
"A free Iraq will fight terrorists instead of harboring them. A free Iraq will be an example for others of the power of liberty to change the societies and to displace despair with hope," Bush said. "By spreading the hope of liberty in the Middle East, we will help free societies take root. And when they do, freedom will yield the peace that we all desire."
RFE/RL Iraq Report
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