- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

SAN DIEGO — President Bush symbolically closed a crucial chapter of his presidency last night by declaring “victory” in Iraq aboard an aircraft carrier returning combat forces to the United States.”The tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free,” Mr. Bush told 5,000 cheering sailors and Marines, who interrupted his 22-minute address with 25 rounds of applause and six standing ovations.”The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11, 2001, and still goes on,” he said on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.Despite his use of the word “victory,” Mr. Bush was careful not to formally declare an end to the war. Such a declaration would force the United States to call off its hunt for Saddam Hussein and other regime leaders under the Geneva Convention.”Major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” the president said. “The United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.”The speech came less than six hours after Mr. Bush became the first president to help pilot a jet onto the deck of the Lincoln on its way home from Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was the first time he had taken the controls of an aircraft since his stint in the Texas Air National Guard more than 30 years ago.The Abraham Lincoln’s island — the sole piece of large superstructure on the flat-top ship — was draped with a banner reading “Mission Accomplished.”The White House portrayed last night’s speech as a “bookend” that marks the close of war in the same way the president’s March 19 speech from the Oval Office marked its beginning. Fresh from victory in Iraq, the president wants to turn to his domestic agenda, especially the economy, in advance of next year’s re-election campaign.Still, he was careful to say the war on terrorism is far from over — characterizing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as mere “battles” in the larger war on terror that began on September 11.”In these 19 months that changed the world, our actions have been focused, and deliberate, and proportionate to the offense,” he said.More than once, Mr. Bush invoked the horrors of that day in 2001 when al Qaeda terrorists killed 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.”We have not forgotten the victims of September 11th — the last phone calls, the cold murder of children, the searches in the rubble,” he said. “With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got.”Now that the administration has toppled rogue regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Bush issued a warning to similar states — without naming names.”Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups, and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction, is a grave danger to the civilized world and will be confronted,” he said.At the same time, the president extended an olive branch to nations that have been distrustful of America’s mission in Iraq.”Anyone in the world, including the Arab world, who works and sacrifices for freedom has a loyal friend in the United States,” he said.Mr. Bush heaped praise on the U.S. military for marching into Baghdad and toppling the Saddam Hussein dictatorship just three weeks after the commencement of hostilities.”Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision, speed and boldness that the enemy did not expect and the world had not seen before,” he said. “Marines and soldiers charged to Baghdad across 350 miles of hostile ground in one of the swiftest advances of heavy arms in history.”The president said the conflict marked “the arrival of a new era” in warfare that minimized civilian casualties while precisely targeting military threats. He contrasted this with earlier conflicts, such as World War II, in which armies waged scorched-earth campaigns and bombing raids that wiped out civilian populations while missing regime leaders.”With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians,” he said.”No device of man can remove the tragedy from war,” he added. “Yet it is a great advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent.”Sticking with his World War II theme, Mr. Bush said today’s troops demonstrated “the daring of Normandy, the fierce courage of Iwo Jima, the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies.”Without specifically referring to his own doctrine of military pre-emption, Mr. Bush likened it to the great doctrines of past presidents.”Our commitment to liberty is America’s tradition — declared at our founding, affirmed in Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, asserted in the Truman Doctrine, and in Ronald Reagan’s challenge to an evil empire.”But Mr. Bush received his loudest ovation from the Abraham Lincoln’s crew when he spoke of service members returning home. The ship was docking in San Diego after a 10-month tour of duty — the longest ever for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.In that period, the president noted, “150 babies were born while their fathers were on the Lincoln.”The president also said the search for weapons of mass destruction — a major reason for the war — has only just begun in Iraq.White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said this would be the president’s last major address on Iraq, “unless there is something else of a significant event that crops up.”“Clearly, we are emerging from a phase of intense focus on war in Iraq to a phase where there will be much more focus on the economy, properly so,” Mr. Fleischer said. “The Iraqi operation is winding down.”As evidence, he pointed out that Mr. Bush is no longer convening daily meetings of his National Security Council, which were a staple of the president’s mornings before and during the war. The meetings have been scaled back to three times a week.”We clearly are entering into a new phase internationally,” Mr. Fleischer said. But he added: “It remains an important part of the president’s job to provide for national security. It always will.”After last night’s speech, the president had dinner with 150 enlisted sailors and Marines. After spending the night in one of two captain’s quarters on the ship, Mr. Bush planned to eat breakfast this morning with senior officers and battle group commanders.However, 44 members on the Lincoln’s crew missed the president’s speech, although for a patriotic reason: to take their citizenship oaths.The sailors were naturalized yesterday in a ceremony at the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego thanks to an executive order that Mr. Bush signed in July to end a three-year wait required for members of the military.Petty Officer Philip Asmolov, a native of Ukraine, regretted that the ceremony forced him to miss greeting Mr. Bush.”You only get to see that guy once in your life, but I would rather be here,” he told the Associated Press.Mr. Bush planned to depart on the presidential Marine One helicopter because the ship will be much closer to shore today than yesterday. He was expected to fly from San Diego to Mountain View, Calif., for a tour and speech at United Defense Industries, which manufactures Bradley Fighting Vehicles.Later today, Mr. Bush will fly to his Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas, for a meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

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