U.S. won't retreat, BUsh says

Right response to terror is `to prevail,' U.N. is told

Addresses General Assembly

September 22, 2004|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Playing down future dangers in Iraq, President Bush vowed yesterday not to retreat in the face of violent setbacks and claimed that American-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan had boosted the long-term security of the world.

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Bush demanded that other nations "do more" to help Iraq move toward democracy and placed the war within a framework of a "new definition of security" for the 21st century that calls for "advancing the rights of mankind."

Later, Bush dismissed as "guessing" the grim assessment delivered to him two months ago in a 60-page report from the nation's intelligence community.

The report laid out three possible directions for Iraq that could unfold by the end of next year: all-out civil war, extremism and fragmentation of the country that impede progress, or a tenuous stability.

"The CIA laid out a - several scenarios that said, life could be lousy, life could be OK, life could be better. And they were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like," Bush said during a meeting with Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi. The assessment, called a National Intelligence Estimate, was disclosed last week.

Although Bush never mentioned Democratic candidate John Kerry, the president's speech at the United Nations carried an implicit rebuttal of his opponent's harsh criticism Monday, as well as Kerry's statement that, if elected, he would seek to begin pulling forces out of Iraq next summer and hope to complete the withdrawal over four years.

At a rally last night in Orlando, Kerry responded:

"Does that make you feel safer? Does that give you confidence that this president knows what he's talking about? The CIA was `just guessing.'

"This president ought to be turning this CIA over, upside down, if that's all they were doing. And let me tell you, the CIA and the nation deserve a better assessment than that by the president."

Bush's speech came on the same day that a militant group in Iraq believed to be linked with al-Qaida claimed to have killed a second American, Jack Hensley, who was among three men taken hostage last Thursday. On Monday, the group put a videotape on the Internet showing the beheading of an American engineer, Eugene Armstrong.

The president told the annual gathering of world leaders that such terrorism would likely increase in the weeks leading up to elections - set for October in Afghanistan and January in Iraq - and acknowledged, "The work ahead is demanding."

"But these difficulties will not shake our conviction that the future of Afghanistan and Iraq is a future of liberty. The proper response to difficulty is not to retreat. It is to prevail," Bush said.

Making Iraq a major focus of his first of two days at the United Nations seemed geared as much to Bush's domestic audience as to the attentive dignitaries in the assembly chamber, many of whom represent countries where the war - and the administration's overall foreign policy - are shown by polls to be widely unpopular.

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said for the first time that the war was "illegal" because the United States launched the invasion without explicit approval from the Security Council.

As he has before, Bush portrayed the war in Iraq and the more internationally accepted war in Afghanistan as parts of the same larger struggle against terrorism, a struggle he depicted in vivid language describing the school massacre early this month in Beslan, Russia.

Critics, including Kerry, have called the war in Iraq a costly distraction from the fight against al-Qaida and the hunt for its leader, Osama bin Laden.

But Bush told the assembly, "Eventually, there is no safe isolation from militant networks, or the failed states that shelter them, or outlaw regimes, or weapons of mass destruction. Eventually, there is no safety in looking away, seeking the quiet life by ignoring the struggles and oppression of others."

In the new century, he said, "Our security is not merely found in spheres of influence or some balance of power. The security of our world is found in the advancing rights of mankind."

He said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had ignored more than a decade of U.N. resolutions and finally had been threatened with "serious consequences" by the Security Council before the U.S.-led invasion. "When we say `serious consequences,' for the sake of peace, there must be serious consequences," he said.

Bush did not mention that the main reason for the council's threat was the assumption that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction or that the war cut short the work of international arms inspectors. No such weapons were found in Iraq.

In a broadening of recent statements on the stump that Americans are more secure because U.S. forces are waging war against terrorists in Iraq, Bush said the battle means that "peaceful nations around the world will never have to face them within our own borders."

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