Invoking the spirit of Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Bush on Tuesday cast the war in Iraq as the modern-day moral equivalent of the struggle against Nazi fascism and Japanese imperialism in World War II, arguing that the United States cannot retreat without disastrous consequences.
Bush used a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the victory over Japan to try to fortify public will at a time of unremitting violence in Iraq. It was third time in the last week that he has delivered a stay-the-course speech to counter an energized antiwar sentiment. Speaking at a naval base near the docked USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, Bush characterized Iraqi insurgents as every bit a "ruthless" enemy as the Germans and the Japanese.
"Now, as then, they are trying to intimidate free people and break our will, and now, as then, they will fail," Bush said to applauding sailors in white uniforms and Marines in camouflage. "They will fail, because the terrorists of our century are making the same mistake that the followers of other totalitarian ideologies made in the last century. They believe that democracies are inherently weak and corrupt and can be brought to their knees." But, he added, "America will not run in defeat, and we will not forget our responsibilities."
Reaching back into history, Bush repeatedly cited Roosevelt's steadfastness as the model for today's conflict, comparing the Japanese sneak assault on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. Much as Roosevelt fought pre-Pearl Harbor isolationism, Bush urged against a return to what he called the "pre-9/11 mindset of isolation and retreat."
"He knew that it was the lack of democracy in Japan that allowed an unelected group of militarists to take control of the state, threaten our neighbors, attack America and plunge an entire region into war," Bush said of Roosevelt. "And he knew that the best way to bring peace and stability to the region was by bringing freedom to Japan."
While praising Democratic presidents Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, Bush implicitly criticized Bill Clinton for showing weakness during the 1990s. Citing a succession of terrorist attacks in recent times, all but two during Clinton's presidency, Bush said the country's enemies took heart from the lack of forceful response. "They concluded that free societies lack the courage and character to defend themselves against a determined enemy," he said, without naming Clinton.
If the United States were to lose in Iraq, Bush added, terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi would win strength -- and precious oil supplies. "If Zarqawi and bin Laden gain control of Iraq," he said, "they would create a new training ground for future terrorist attacks, they'd seize oil fields to fund their ambitions, they could recruit more terrorists by claiming an historic victory over the United States and our coalition."
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean tried to turn around the World War II argument. "Democratic Presidents Roosevelt and Truman led America to victory in World War II because they laid out a clear plan for success to the American people, America's allies and America's troops," Dean said in a statement. "President Bush has failed to put together a plan, so despite the bravery and sacrifice of our troops, we are not making the progress that we should be in Iraq."
Bush's summer vacation in Texas has been shadowed by the war in Iraq. Peace protesters set up camp near his ranch and negotiators in Baghdad struggled to produce a constitution that ultimately shut out leaders of the Sunni minority.
Although Bush gave his speech only hundreds of yards from the towering hulk of the USS Ronald Reagan at Naval Air Station North Island, the White House made certain the ship was not in the television shot -- an image that could remind viewers of the president's 2003 speech on the Iraq invasion given on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in front of a premature "Mission Accomplished" banner.
Joined by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Bush defended his oft-criticized Pentagon chief, calling him "a trusted adviser" and a "man who is doing an excellent job." After the president's speech, Rumsfeld traveled to nearby Coronado Island to visit Navy SEALs at the Naval Amphibious Base, and he presented Bronze Stars those who fought in Iraq.
Rumsfeld echoed the president's message. "The goal in this war is not complicated. It is victory," Rumsfeld said, later vowing to stay in the fight. "And let there be no doubt: We will prevail."