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Bush in Salt Lake City

Posted by Richard on September 1, 2006

President Bush delivered a pretty good speech to the American Legion’s national convention in Salt Lake City this morning — you can read the whole thing at the White House website. It was the first of a series that — with the fall elections approaching — represent a renewed effort to educate and persuade the American people about the war against the Islamofascists.

The meat of this speech might be called "Bush channels Sharansky." Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy is an outstanding and immensely important book — I highly, highly recommend it. It’s been clear for some time that Sharansky had a profound impact on Bush, and Bush put a pretty good  "executive summary" of the Sharansky thesis into this speech (emphasis added):

In the coming days, I’ll deliver a series of speeches describing the nature of our enemy in the war on terror, the insights we’ve gained about their aims and ambitions, the successes and setbacks we’ve experienced, and our strategy to prevail in this long war. Today, I’ll discuss a critical aspect of this war: the struggle between freedom and terror in the Middle East, including the battle in Iraq, which is the central front in our fight against terrorism.

To understand the struggle unfolding in the Middle East, we need to look at the recent history of the region. For a half- century, America’s primary goal in the Middle East was stability. This was understandable at the time; we were fighting the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and it was important to support Middle Eastern governments that rejected communism. Yet, over the decades, an undercurrent of danger was rising in the Middle East. Much of the region was mired in stagnation and despair. A generation of young people grew up with little hope to improve their lives, and many fell under the sway of radical extremism. The terrorist movement multiplied in strength, and resentment that had simmered for years boiled over into violence across the world.

Extremists in Iran seized American hostages. Hezbollah terrorists murdered American troops at the Marine barracks in Beirut and Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Terrorists set off a truck bomb at the World Trade Center. Al Qaeda blew up two U.S. embassies in East Africa, and bombed the USS Cole. Then came the nightmare of September the 11, 2001, when 19 hijackers killed nearly 3,000 men, women, and children.

In the space of a single morning, it became clear that the calm we saw in the Middle East was only a mirage. We realized that years of pursuing stability to promote peace had left us with neither. Instead, the lack of freedom in the Middle East made the region an incubator for terrorist movements.

The status quo in the Middle East before September the 11th was dangerous and unacceptable, so we’re pursuing a new strategy. First, we’re using every element of national power to confront al Qaeda, those who take inspiration from them, and other terrorists who use similar tactics. We have ended the days of treating terrorism simply as a law enforcement matter. We will stay on the offense. We will fight the terrorists overseas so we do not have to face them here at home. (Applause.)

Second, we have made it clear to all nations, if you harbor terrorists, you are just as guilty as the terrorists; you’re an enemy of the United States, and you will be held to account. (Applause.) And third, we’ve launched a bold new agenda to defeat the ideology of the enemy by supporting the forces of freedom in the Middle East and beyond.

The freedom agenda is based upon our deepest ideals and our vital interests. Americans believe that every person, of every religion, on every continent, has the right to determine his or her own destiny. We believe that freedom is a gift from an almighty God, beyond any power on Earth to take away. (Applause.) And we also know, by history and by logic, that promoting democracy is the surest way to build security. Democracies don’t attack each other or threaten the peace. Governments accountable to the voters focus on building roads and schools — not weapons of mass destruction. Young people who have a say in their future are less likely to search for meaning in extremism. Citizens who can join a peaceful political party are less likely to join a terrorist organization. Dissidents with the freedom to protest around the clock are less likely to blow themselves up during rush hour. And nations that commit to freedom for their people will not support terrorists — they will join us in defeating them. (Applause.)

So America has committed its influence in the world to advancing freedom and democracy as the great alternatives to repression and radicalism. We will take the side of democratic leaders and reformers across the Middle East. We will support the voices of tolerance and moderation in the Muslim world. We stand with the mothers and fathers in every culture who want to see their children grow up in a caring and peaceful world. And by supporting the cause of freedom in a vital region, we’ll make our children and our grandchildren more secure. (Applause.)

Bush went on to sketch out how things have changed in the Middle East in the past five years, explaining again why Iraq is critical to the advance of freedom and democracy in the region. He argued that things have been tough, but are getting better, that the recent violence has been terrible, but stems from a small minority, not from a widespread civil war. He laid out a case for optimism, but didn’t sugar-coat it. In fact, he failed to cite two facts I think he should have emphasized, because no one will ever hear them from the mainstream media: first, because the Iraqi army is more and more taking the lead, U.S. casualties have fallen steadily, month after month, for the past five or six months; second, the joint American-Iraqi security offensive (which Bush did discuss) has already reduced the August death toll in Baghdad to half what it was in July.

But Bush made it clear that his "exit strategy" for Iraq is the only exit strategy that makes any sense — victory (emphasis added):

Some Americans didn’t support my decision to remove Saddam Hussein; many are frustrated with the level of violence. But we should all agree that the battle for Iraq is now central to the ideological struggle of the 21st century. We will not allow the terrorists to dictate the future of this century — so we will defeat them in Iraq. (Applause.)

We can decide to stop fighting the terrorists in Iraq and other parts of the world, but they will not decide to stop fighting us. General John Abizaid, our top commander in the Middle East region, recently put it this way: "If we leave, they will follow us." And he is right. The security of the civilized world depends on victory in the war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq. So the United States of America will not leave until victory is achieved. (Applause.)

Victory in Iraq will be difficult and it will require more sacrifice. The fighting there can be as fierce as it was at Omaha Beach or Guadalcanal. And victory is as important as it was in those earlier battles. Victory in Iraq will result in a democracy that is a friend of America and an ally in the war on terror. Victory in Iraq will be a crushing defeat for our enemies, who have staked so much on the battle there. Victory in Iraq will honor the sacrifice of the brave Americans who have given their lives. And victory in Iraq would be a powerful triumph in the ideological struggle of the 21st century. From Damascus to Tehran, people will look to a democratic Iraq as inspiration that freedom can succeed in the Middle East, and as evidence that the side of freedom is the winning side. This is a pivotal moment for the Middle East. The world is watching — and in Iraq and beyond, the forces of freedom will prevail. (Applause.)

Bush clearly described the choice we face — a dystopian, dangerous Middle East or his (and Sharansky’s) alternative vision:

For all the debate, American policy in the Middle East comes down to a straightforward choice. We can allow the Middle East to continue on its course — on the course it was headed before September the 11th, and a generation from now, our children will face a region dominated by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. Or we can stop that from happening, by rallying the world to confront the ideology of hate, and give the people of the Middle East a future of hope. And that is the choice America has made. (Applause.)

We see a day when people across the Middle East have governments that honor their dignity, unleash their creativity, and count their votes. We see a day when leaders across the Middle East reject terror and protect freedom. We see a day when the nations of the Middle East are allies in the cause of peace. The path to that day will be uphill and uneven, but we can be confident of the outcome, because we know that the direction of history leads toward freedom.

The Bush administration has had plenty of short-comings and policy screw-ups, but I’m solidly with Bush on his vision for the Middle East. There’s no reason Reagan’s shining city on a hill can’t have a few minarets, right? 🙂
 

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