President Bush, hitting the campaign trail today with Sen. John McCain, vowed that "pessimists" would be proven wrong about the U.S. occupation of Iraq, just as they had nearly 50 years ago during the occupation of Germany after World War II.
Addressing troops at Fort Lewis, Wash., Bush cited a November 1946 New York Times report from Germany that described the country's post-war travails, calling it "a land in an acute stage of economic, political and moral crisis" where allied military officials were dealing with a "failed" occupation policy.
"Fortunately, the pessimists did not have their day," Bush said. "Fortunately, our predecessors stood firm in the face of cynicism and doubt."
He added: "We face the same challenges today. It's just in a different part of the world. There are those who doubt. There are those who are pessimistic."
Despite insurgency and terrorism in Iraq 14 months after the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces, Bush said, "Iraq's economy is moving forward and democracy is taking hold." He cited local elections, a proliferation of newspapers, the formation of dozens of political parties, the U.S. rehabilitation of thousands of schools, the training of teachers, the restoration of electricity and the collection of more than $11 billion in oil revenues for the benefit of Iraqis.
"Life is getting better for the Iraqi people, who have suffered for decades," Bush asserted. But he cautioned, "With each step forward on the path to self-government and self-reliance, the terrorists will grow more desperate and more violent. They see Iraqis taking their country back. They see freedom taking root. And these killers know they have no future in a free Iraq."
He said the insurgents "want us to abandon our mission," but that "they don't understand our country. . . . When America says we'll do something, we are going to do it and finish the job."
Bush made the comments, a version of his stock campaign speech defending his decision last year to invade Iraq, after an introduction by McCain. The Republican senator from Arizona has sometimes differed with Bush and competed with him for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. It was the first time McCain has campaigned with Bush this year.
The outspoken McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam who is popular among independents and some Democrats, was reportedly under consideration as a running mate for Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic nominee. But McCain has ruled out joining the Kerry ticket, and he accepted an invitation from Bush to campaign together today during Bush's two-day visit to western states.
In his opening remarks, Bush thanked McCain for joining him, saying it was a privilege to be introduced to soldiers "by a man who brought such credit to the uniform." When McCain "speaks of service and sacrifice, he speaks from experience," Bush said. "The United States military has no better friend in the United States Senate than John McCain."
After rallying the troops at Fort Lewis -- an appearance that was not considered a political event -- the two headed to Nevada for a campaign stop in Reno.
Introducing Bush at Fort Lewis, McCain expressed unqualified support for Bush's Iraq policy and for his handling of the war against terrorism.
"It's a big thing, this war, a fight between two ideologies completely opposed to each other," McCain told the troops. "It's a fight between right and wrong, good and evil. It's no more ambiguous than that."
And if America's terrorist enemies acquire the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons they seek, "this war will become an even bigger thing," McCain said. "It will become a fight for survival."
Turning to the continuing conflict in Iraq, McCain said, "Whether [former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein] possessed the terrible weapons that would have turned this war into a fight for survival or not, he had used them before and was, I have no doubt, firmly determined to possess them again someday -- for what terrible purpose we can only imagine with dread."
McCain hailed Bush's stewardship of the nation after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"He has led this country with moral clarity about the stakes involved and with firm resolve to achieve unconditional victory," McCain told the assembled soldiers. "There have been ups and downs, as there are in any war. But like you, he has not wavered in his determination to protect this country and to make the world a better, safer, freer place. You will not yield, nor will he."