Bush states case for war

Democrats assail `p.r. campaign'

September 01, 2006|By James Gerstenzang | James Gerstenzang,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SALT LAKE CITY -- President Bush began a new effort yesterday to shore up flagging support for the war in Iraq, telling a veterans group that the fight against terrorism was no mere military conflict but "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century."

The president responded to those - including some Republican allies in Congress - who have questioned whether the sectarian violence in Iraq had grown into a civil war, casting doubts on the U.S. role there. "Our commanders and our diplomats on the ground in Iraq believe that it's not the case," Bush said. "They report that only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence, while the overwhelming majority want peace and a normal life in a unified country."

Addressing the national convention of the American Legion, the president cast the fight as a successor to the grand campaigns of the 20th century, against fascism, Nazism and communism.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption in Friday's editions of The Sun misidentified an American Legion official. In the photo above, President Bush is shaking hands with the national adjutant, as Legion Commander Tom Boch looks on.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Repeating a past theme, he said that if the United States left Iraq before insurgents were defeated and the country was secure in its new democracy, the battle against terrorism would eventually be fought on American streets.

The speech was the first in a series that the president is planning to deliver in coming weeks, leading up to a Sept. 19 address to the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Public opinion polls show that U.S. support for the war continues to founder, potentially undermining what was a key element of the Republican Party's strength in the 2002 and 2004 elections.

A New York Times/CBS News poll made public last week found that Americans, more than before, do not see the war in Iraq and the war against terrorism as one battle, despite Bush's efforts to link the two. It found that 51 percent of those questioned saw no link between the two - 10 percentage points more than in June.

Democrats yesterday answered Bush's speech by saying that his policy in Iraq had failed.

"At a time that calls for serious leadership, the president is offering yet another public relations campaign," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, in a written statement. "His dire warnings of the cost of failure in Iraq do nothing to make success more likely, and his stubborn insistence on staying with a failed policy all but ensures continued violence and chaos."

"Iraq is in crisis, our military is stretched thin, and terrorist groups and extremist regimes have been strengthened and emboldened across the Middle East and the world," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Bush's remarks suggested he felt a need to remind Americans that the nation remains a target of terrorists.

Bush linked the fighters in Iraq to the terrorists who struck on Sept. 11, those arrested in the recent alleged plot in London, and Hezbollah forces that attacked Israel, and said each would "impose a dark vision of tyranny and terror across the world."

They are, he said, "successors to fascists, to Nazis, to communists, and other totalitarians of the 20th century." If the United States left Iraq before its government could defend itself, he told the veterans in a 44-minute address interrupted repeatedly by applause, the consequences would be "absolutely disastrous."

"We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies - Saddam's former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran, and al-Qaida terrorists from all over the world, who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban," he said.

Bush said the nation's enemies come from different parts of the world, draw varied inspiration, and are Sunni, Shiites and "home-grown terrorists." However, he added, "despite their differences, these groups form the outlines of a single movement, a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology."

The question of whether the fighting in Iraq is a civil war has grown in prominence since February, with the bombing of one of the country's major Shiite sanctuaries, the holy shrine of Samarra.

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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