Thursday, July 5, 2007

President Bush yesterday used a July Fourth speech to airmen in West Virginia to brace Americans for another year of war in Iraq, saying the U.S. struggled for six years in the Revolutionary War to win independence from Britain.

“Our first Independence Day celebration took place in a midst of a war — a bloody and difficult struggle that would not end for six more years before America finally secured her freedom. More than two [centuries] later, it is hard to imagine the Revolutionary War coming out any other way. But at the time, America’s victory was far from certain,” the president said in a speech also heavy with praise for current troops and their families.

The Iraq war is in its fifth year, and Iraqi forces are not ready take over security duties from U.S.-led coalition forces. Earlier this year, Mr. Bush ordered another 21,500 combat troops into Iraq, but Democrats and some prominent Republicans say the move is too little too late.

Yet Mr. Bush, addressing more than 1,000 National Guard personnel and family members gathered inside a hangar at the West Virginia Air National Guard base in Martinsburg, praised the men who took up arms against Britain and said today’s troops are carrying on a grand tradition.

“Those who wear the uniform are the successors of those who dropped their pitchforks and picked up their muskets to fight for liberty. Like those early patriots, you’re fighting a new and unprecedented war — pledging your lives and honor to defend our freedom and way of life. In this war, the weapons have changed, and so have our enemies, but one thing remains the same: The men and women of the Guard stand ready to put on the uniform and fight for America,” he said to applause.

The president used the words of a West Virginia Guard member in the audience, Staff Sgt. Derek Brown — who suffered burns on his hands and face in a 2004 attack in Iraq but has since re-enlisted — to repeat a point he makes often.

“I want you to hear what Derek says. He said: ‘This war is something that has to be done — either over there or here. And I think it’s best we fight it over there,’ he said. ‘I’m proud to serve my country like those before me — for the cause of freedom,’ ” Mr. Bush said.

The president defended the war by criticizing some of its opponents as shortsighted.

“Oh, I know the passage of time has … maybe convinced some that danger doesn’t exist. But that’s not how I see it, and that’s not how many of you see it. These people want to strike us again,” he said.

After listing U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Bush warned that more hardship is to come. “Victory in this struggle will require more patience, more courage and more sacrifice,” said Mr. Bush, flanked by a giant American flag.

“However difficult the fight is in Iraq, we must win it — we must succeed for our own sake; for the security of our citizens, we must support our troops, we must support the Iraqi government, and we must defeat al Qaeda in Iraq.”

But as he did last week, the president urged patience and called on critics to give his “surge” strategy a chance to work. “Our goal is to help the Iraqi government protect their population, so they can make progress toward reconciliation and build a free nation that respects the rights of its people, and upholds the rule of law, and is an ally against these extremists and terrorists and killers,” he said.

“The time will come when Iraq has a stable, self-sustaining government that is an ally against these extremists and killers. That time will come when the Iraqi people will not need the help of 159,000 American troops in their country. Yet, withdrawing our troops prematurely based on politics, not on the advice and recommendation of our military commanders, would not be in our national interest.”

The president also noted that the U.S. has “lost some good men and women in this fight. And so on this Fourth of July, we pause to remember the fallen — and the grieving families they have left behind. We hold them in our hearts, we lift them up in our prayers, and we pledge to honor their memory by finishing the work for which they have given their life.”

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