- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 2, 2002

Americans must be prepared for "pre-emptive" military strikes against nations or groups that threaten the United States, President Bush said yesterday, and he pledged to "take the battle to the enemy, disrupt its plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge."
Speaking to nearly 1,000 graduating cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Mr. Bush said that "unbalanced dictators" an oblique reference to Iraq's Saddam Hussein must be stopped before they develop weapons of mass destruction or provide them to terrorist groups.
"Our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for pre-emptive action, when necessary, to defend our liberty and to defend our lives," the president said.
"We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best," he said. "In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action and this nation will act."
Stung by recent criticism that he failed to act on information he received in an Aug. 6 CIA briefing including intelligence that al Qaeda terrorists were planning to hijack U.S. commercial airplanes Mr. Bush said the United States will strike first against terrorist groups.
"The war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt its plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge," he said. "If we wait for threats to materialize, we will have waited too long."
The pledge of pre-emptive strikes comes amid calls by congressional Democrats for the creation of a commission to investigate what U.S. intelligence agencies knew before terrorists from Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group crashed airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing more than 3,000 people.
Last week, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III acknowledged the bureau missed key clues that terrorists were about to strike on U.S. soil, prompting the conservative Wall Street Journal to call for his resignation.
In his West Point speech, the 12th at the academy by a U.S. president, Mr. Bush reiterated his pledge to keep the U.S. military the best in the world, a cornerstone of what some consider his Reaganesque peace-through-strength policy.
"America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless," Mr. Bush said.
The president told the graduating cadets they face an uncertain world where confronting terrorism differs significantly from the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment.
"Deterrence, the promise of massive retaliation against nations, means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend," Mr. Bush said. "Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies."
But the new war on terror is similar to the Cold War with the Soviet Union, he said, in that the United States must remain committed to a clear moral purpose.
"Different circumstances require different methods, but not different moralities. Moral truth is the same in every culture, in every time and in every place. Targeting innocent civilians for murder is always and everywhere wrong. Brutality against women is always and everywhere wrong.
"There can be no neutrality between justice and cruelty, between the innocent and the guilty. We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name," he said to applause.
Mr. Bush did not shy away from declaring a moral absolute.
"Some worry that it is somehow undiplomatic or impolite to speak the language of right and wrong; I disagree By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem; we reveal a problem, and we will lead the world in opposing it," he said.
The new world where terror groups operate across borders and join forces with rogue nations to acquire the world's deadliest weapons presents grave dangers, he said.
"When the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology when that occurs, even weak states and small groups could attain a catastrophic power to strike at great nations."
Mr. Bush, who noted terrorist groups are spread over more than 60 countries, pledged that the United States would help allies train their militaries and would send diplomats to world flash points to head off escalating tensions.
"America needs partners to preserve the peace, and we will work with every nation that shares this noble goal. We can support and reward governments that make the right choices for their own people," he said.
But if those efforts fail, the president told the cadets, "we will send you, our soldiers, where you're needed."
Mr. Bush noted that some U.S. enemies "have been caught" seeking weapons of mass detruction. "They want the capability to blackmail us or to harm us or to harm our friends, and we will oppose them with all our power."
"All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price. We will not leave the safety of America and the peace of the planet at the mercy of a few mad terrorists and tyrants," he said.
More than 25,000 people packed into West Point's Michie Stadium, cheering throughout the 50-minute speech, which Mr. Bush began with a few jokes at his own expense.
"A few of you have followed in the path of the perfect West Point graduate, Robert E. Lee, who never received a single demerit in four years. Some of you followed in the path of the imperfect graduate, Ulysses S. Grant, who had his fair share of demerits and said the happiest day of his life 'was the day I left West Point.'
"During my college years, I guess you could say I was a Grant man," the former C-student said.
At the end of the ceremony, which included Mr. Bush's congratulating the newest members of the "long gray line" as they collected their diplomas, the crowd roared when graduates threw their white caps up against the blue sky.

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