- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — President Bush yesterday said the United States and its allies will “stay on the offensive” in the war against terrorism, one year after he ordered U.S. troops into Iraq to disarm dictator Saddam Hussein.

“In one year’s time, Saddam Hussein has gone from a palace to a bunker to a spider hole to jail,” the president said to cheers from more than 10,000 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division.

Mr. Bush, seeking to neutralize the election-year issue of Iraq and the continuing terrorist attacks there, said the world — including nations that opposed the U.S.-led coalition’s invasion — has learned that “when America makes a pledge, we keep our word.”

“By speaking clearly, by speaking consistently and by meaning what we say, it is more likely the world will be more peaceful,” he told the soldiers gathered in a muddy field on a bright, sunny day.

“Because of your service, because of your bravery, because of your dedication, the world is better off and the American people are more secure.”

But Mr. Bush acknowledged that terrorists who attacked Baghdad yesterday and Madrid last week, killing more than 200 civilians, are trying to break the will of the coalition and spawn fear across “the civilized world.”

“The murderers in Madrid have revealed once again the agenda and the nature of the terrorist enemy. They kill the innocent. They kill children and their mothers,” he said.

Yet they will “never be appeased,” a stark fact that the president said requires all nations to stand strong against a foe that seeks to destabilize the world.

“There is no safety for any nation in a world that lives at the mercy of gangsters and mass murderers. Eventually, there is no place to hide from the planted bombs or the far worse weapons that terrorists seek.

“For the civilized world, there’s only one path to safety. We will stay united, and we will fight until this enemy is broken,” the president said to thunderous applause.

The war in Iraq, which began one year ago today, is taking center stage in the presidential election. The presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, is a decorated Vietnam veteran who asserts that the United States has become “bogged down” in Iraq by an administration that “stubbornly holds to failed policies that drive potential allies away.”

“What we have seen is a steady loss of lives and mounting cost in dollars with no end in sight,” Mr. Kerry said Wednesday.

But Mr. Bush continues to cast himself as a “war president” who can best lead the United States through continuing military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has released a series of campaign commercials pointing out Mr. Kerry’s affirmative vote in the Senate last year to use force in Iraq and charging that the Massachusetts senator as president would weaken national security and the U.S. armed forces.

Across the nation, support for the war has ebbed steadily in the past year. A poll released yesterday by the Annenberg Public Policy Center showed 49 percent of those surveyed felt it was worth going to war, and 46 percent said it was not. That compares with a poll in January in which 53 percent said it was worth it and 41 percent said it was not. The percentage of supporters was in the high 70s last March.

But recent polls also show that Americans, by a 2-to-1 margin, approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling terrorism. The same margin thinks that Mr. Bush would do a better job than Mr. Kerry handling terrorist threats in the future.

The political implications of the situation in Iraq have become far more chaotic since the bomb attack in Madrid last week. Two days later, Spanish voters elected a new prime minister who campaigned on a pledge to withdraw the nation’s troops from Iraq. Although Spain’s 1,300 soldiers amount to 1 percent of the military force in Iraq, the move has prompted worries that Mr. Bush’s fragile coalition is beginning to crack and that opponents can argue the president’s policies have failed.

Yesterday, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said his country — a U.S. ally that has 2,500 soldiers in Iraq — had been “taken for a ride” about the reported existence of weapons of mass destruction.

But Mr. Bush contends that the world — and, most importantly, the United States — is far safer without Saddam.

“Because America and our allies acted, a state sponsor of terror was put out of business. The Iraqi regime gave cash rewards to the families of suicide bombers and sheltered terrorist groups.

“But all that’s over. When Saddam Hussein went down, the terrorists lost an ally forever,” the president said. “They’re testing our will. And day by day, they are learning our will is firm. Their cause will fail. We will stay on the offensive. Whatever it takes, we will seek and find and destroy the terrorists so that we do not have to face them in our country.”

To the soldiers, wearing the black, red and green berets of the regular Army, airborne and Special Forces, respectively, the president said they were serving “at a crucial hour in the history of freedom.”

“In the first war of the 21st century, you’re defending your fellow citizens against ruthless enemies. And by your sacrifice, you’re making our country more secure,” he said.

“You have delivered justice to many terrorists, and you’re keeping the rest of them on the run,” he said.

The Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq to neutralize a threat amounted to the first use of the Bush Doctrine, which calls for the United States to launch a pre-emptive strike against any country thought to hold weapons of mass destruction if it consorts with terrorists.

Mr. Bush said, “Because America and our allies acted, an aggressive threat to the security of the Middle East and to the peace of the world is now gone. September the 11th, 2001, taught a lesson I will never forget: America must confront threats before they fully materialize.”

Mr. Kerry, however, thinks that the United States should build bigger coalitions before taking action.

“We have to return more effectively to the international community,” he said Wednesday.

Although several soldiers at Fort Campbell, which has lost 81 members in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that they had no idea who Mr. Kerry was, Sgt. 1st Class Guy Zahn of southern Virginia said, “It’s not who I’ll be voting for.”

Sgt. 1st Class Charles Litrell of Michigan said, “I don’t know anyone — who I like — who’s going to vote for him.”

As for Mr. Bush, he said: “He’s a great boss. I’d rather go to war under him than anyone else I can even think of.”

But Pfc. Mack Reaves of South Carolina said Mr. Bush has done “nothing” for America’s military.

On Mr. Kerry, he said, “I think I’d pretty much vote for him,” adding, “It’s still a mess over in Iraq.”

But Pfc. Karl Hudson of Indiana contended: “It’s under control now.”

Mr. Bush, who did not mention Mr. Kerry by name, said: “The war continues. It’s a different kind of war, but it goes on.”

After his speech — his second at the sprawling Army base, where he first visited a month after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — the president ate lunch with soldiers and met with more than 100 family members of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To one widow, Mr. Bush said, “Thank you for your strength.”

To another widow who was crying, he said, “My heart aches for you.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide