Bush Says War Is Worth Sacrifice

President Bush greets soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., after a nationally televised speech pledging that
President Bush greets soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., after a nationally televised speech pledging that "we will stay in the fight until the fight is won." (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
By Peter Baker and Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 29, 2005

FORT BRAGG, N.C., June 28 -- President Bush appealed to the American public Tuesday night to remember "the lessons of September 11th" and not lose faith in the Iraq war effort despite unremitting violence, declaring in a prime-time address that "the proper response is not retreat."

Surrounding himself with uniformed soldiers and standing before a backdrop emblazoned with American flags, Bush portrayed the two-year-old war in Iraq as the logical extension of a larger struggle that began when hijackers slammed passenger jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. But with the public support wavering in recent polls, Bush spoke in blunt terms about the trauma in Iraq and the desire to bring troops home.

"Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed," Bush said in a 28-minute address from this military base, broadcast on all the major television networks. "Every picture is horrifying, and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country."

Bush wore a metal bracelet with the names of two soldiers killed in Iraq, given to him just before the speech by the widow of one. His sober language was a shift in tone from some of the administration's more optimistic statements lately, exemplified when Vice President Cheney asserted that the insurgency is in its "last throes."

But Bush rejected any change in course, ruling out either a deadline for troop withdrawals or an increase in troop levels, as critics from opposite sides of the spectrum have endorsed. Instead, he tried to reassure Americans that the U.S. venture in Iraq has made powerful strides toward establishing a democratic government that ultimately will be able to defeat the insurgency, and he urged Americans not to lose "our heart, our nerve" during "a time of testing."

Notably, at a time when military recruiting has suffered, Bush made his first direct pitch to young Americans to enlist.

"We fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we will fight them there, we will fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won," Bush said in the only moment when the audience of 750 soldiers and airmen in dress uniforms interrupted him with applause.

Bush invoked Sept. 11 five times in his speech and referred to it by implication several more times. Although he has previously agreed with investigators that there is "no evidence" of a link between Saddam Hussein's government and the attacks masterminded by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, he used much of his speech to depict the militants in Iraq as the same breed of Islamic terrorist who struck the United States. The White House titled his remarks a discussion on the "War on Terror," not Iraq.

"This war reached our shores on September 11th, 2001," Bush said. "The terrorists who attacked us -- and the terrorists we face -- murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom." He added that many of the insurgents in Iraq "are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania."

The address continued a shift in the administration's emphasis as it has justified the Iraq war, beginning with the threat posed by Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction, continuing to the need to promote democracy in the Middle East and now suggesting a more seamless link to the attacks on American soil.

"The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11th, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi, and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like bin Laden," Bush said Tuesday night, referring to Abu Musab Zarqawi, the insurgent leader in Iraq. Bush quoted bin Laden calling the Iraq conflict a "third world war" and added that terrorists "are trying to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried to shake our will on September 11th, 2001."

After the speech, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) issued a biting statement saying that Bush's "numerous references to September 11th did not provide a way forward in Iraq" but instead "served to remind the American people that our most dangerous enemy, namely Osama bin Laden, is still on the loose."

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