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World War III

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, June 29, 2005; 1:20 PM

President Bush last night offered no new evidence to dissuade the growing majorities of Americans who believe that the United States is bogged down in Iraq, that the war was a mistake in the first place, and that he has no clear plan to bring troops home.

His prime-time speech did, however, contain a bold rhetorical shift. The president who took his country to war in Iraq on account of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, then recast the invasion as a pro-democracy move, is now arguing that Iraq is ground zero for World War III, the battle against terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001.

And having failed to capture or kill the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, the president who has been notoriously averse to even mentioning his name out loud last night actually quoted Osama bin Laden in support of the speech's central argument.

"Hear the words of Osama bin Laden," Bush said: " 'This Third World War is raging' in Iraq."

Aside from Bush's repeated invocation of Sept. 11, there was no looking back in his speech, and certainly no admission of error. No acknowledgement that his fixation on Iraq may have let bin Laden get away, or that his own acts created the conditions in Iraq in which terrorists and their supporters are flourishing.

There was also no talk of the unfound weapons of mass destruction, or of the growing credibility gap fueled in part by the Downing Street memos, which suggest that Bush misled the public about Iraq in the run-up to a war that he craved.

And in spite of all the clamoring, there was no exit strategy. Although press secretary Scott McClellan had promised that Bush would "talk in a very specific way about the way forward," the only forward-looking talk was incredibly vague.

"We're building up Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible," Bush said. "We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer."

Bush was greeted with stony, untelegenic silence by the troops the White House had gathered at Ft. Bragg to serve as his audience. There was only one outburst of applause, apparently provoked by a member of Bush's own advance team.

Here's the text of the speech. Here are overviews from Peter Baker and Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, David E. Sanger of the New York Times, and Paul Richter and Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times.

Live Online

I'm Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET, eager to respond to your reactions to and questions about the speech.

The 9/11 Allusions

Dan Balz writes in a Washington Post news analysis that Bush's "clearest message was to argue anew that Iraq is the critical battle in a war against terrorists that began with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He made repeated references to those attacks to underscore that U.S. security depends on defeating the insurgency in Iraq. 'After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people,' he said. 'This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy.' He then added, 'Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war.' "Sept. 11 remains Bush's most reliable argument with the public when he faces political headwinds; it gave him the highest-rated moments of his presidency and helped sustain him through a difficult reelection campaign. Surprisingly, given how effectively he has used the collective emotion of that day in the past, Sept. 11 has been largely missing in the administration's discussions of Iraq this year."


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