- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2003

ST. LOUIS — President Bush yesterday vowed “no retreat” from guerrilla attacks on American soldiers in Iraq and criticized world leaders for opposing U.S. efforts to rid the world of terrorism, saying “no nation can be neutral in the struggle between civilization and chaos.”

Declaring the current struggle in Iraq a “point of testing in the war on terror,” the president told a group of war veterans that “the more progress we make in Iraq, the more desperate the terrorists will become.”

“They have declared war on the entire civilized world,” he said, alluding to last week’s deadly attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

“The civilized world will not be intimidated. Retreat in the face of terror would only invite further and bolder attacks. There will be no retreat. We are on the offensive,” he said, drawing applause from thousands gathered for the 85th annual convention of the American Legion.

Reiterating a tenet of the Bush Doctrine, which he laid out shortly after the September 11 attacks, the president said the United States must take the battle to terrorists around the world, despite the risk to U.S. soldiers.

“We’ve adopted a new strategy for a new kind of war,” he said. “We will not wait for known enemies to strike us again. We will strike them in their camps or caves or wherever they hide, before they hit more of our cities and kill more of our citizens.”

Addressing critics on Capitol Hill who have begun to suggest the United States pull troops out of Iraq, Mr. Bush said such a move would jeopardize the safety of Americans.

“The stakes could not be greater for the American people,” he said. “Our military is confronting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and in other places so our people will not have to confront terrorist violence in New York, or St. Louis or Los Angeles,” he said.

The president also had harsh words for international opponents of the war in Iraq — which include France, Germany and Russia, each of which continues to oppose new efforts to spread the work in rebuilding the nation.

“Every nation that stands on the side of freedom and the value of human rights must condemn terrorism and act against the few who would destroy the hopes of the many,” Mr. Bush said, drawing loud applause.

The president’s comments came amid calls by liberal Democrats and news pundits for the United States to either pull troops out of Iraq or bolster deployments there.

Newspapers, networks and wire agencies also stated yesterday that the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq since May 1 — when Mr. Bush declared the end of major combat — now surpasses the number killed during the six-week war.

The numbers, however, are only partially accurate. While 141 U.S. soldiers have been killed since May 1, just 63 were killed in action; 78 died in nonhostile incidents. Between March 19 — when Mr. Bush first sent in troops — and May 1, 112 U.S. service members were killed in action. Twenty-five died in nonhostile incidents in that period.

A new poll released yesterday showed continued public support for the administration’s stance. An ABC survey found nearly 60 percent of all Americans back the war in Iraq. Almost seven in 10 said U.S. forces should stay in Iraq until civil order is restored.

The president told his audience that Americans must have patience as the nation begins a lengthy battle to purge terrorism from the world.

“The war on terror is a test of our strength. It is a test of our perseverance, our patience and our will. This nation has been tested before — by the character of men and women like you, we’ve come through every trial.

“And so it is today. Our course is set. Our purpose is firm. No act of terrorists will weaken our resolve or alter their fate. Our only goal, our only option, is total victory in the war on terror. And this nation will press on to victory,” he said to loud cheers.

With the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks just two weeks away, Mr. Bush sought to recall for Americans that day of “suffering and sorrow.”

“It was also a day of decision for our country. As a united and resolute people, America declared: We’ll start the war from here,” he said, asserting that “terrorists are gathering in Iraq to undermine the advance of freedom.”

Since that day in 2001, he said, U.S. armed forces have obliterated Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, which harbored Osama bin Laden’s terror group al Qaeda, and driven from power a declared U.S. enemy — Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

In little more than 100 days, the president noted, American and coalition forces have improved security, begun to restore vital services and foster democracy in Iraq.

Soldiers have also successfully hunted down top members of Saddam’s regime.

“As we help the Iraqi people establish security, we are working through that famous deck of cards. So far, of the 55 most wanted Iraqi leaders, 42 have been captured or killed,” Mr. Bush said.

“The search goes on for other former leaders of Iraq, and we will find them. After decades of smothering fear, the Iraqi people can be certain: The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone, and it is never coming back.”

Earlier in the day, at a campaign luncheon in St. Paul, Minn., Mr. Bush said, “Terrorists declared war on the United States of America and war is what they got.

“The enemies of freedom are not idle, and neither are we,” he told about 600 people at the $2,000-per-ticket event at the St. Paul RiverCentre. “This country will not rest, we will not tire and we will not stop until this danger to civilization is removed.”

On Monday, two top Bush administration officials urged Americans to be patient as the United States fights the latest battle of what will likely be a lengthy war on terrorism.

“We must remain patient,” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told several thousand delegates at the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in San Antonio.

“When Americans begin a noble cause, we finish it. We are 117 days from the end of major combat operations in Iraq. That is not very long.”

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said terrorists attacked America, prompting a “war we have to fight and we have to win, because there is no safe, easy middle ground.”

The Pentagon chief told reporters after addressing troops at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio that the choice is “either we take the war to the terrorists and fight them where they are — at this moment, to be sure, in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere — or at some point we will have to fight them here at home.”

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