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President Bush Speaks Before Heritage Foundation

Aired November 11, 2003 - 13:19   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to the president. He is speaking before the Heritage Foundation. That's a conservative thinktank in Washington. The subject is Iraq, we are told, on this veterans day. Let's listen.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Long after putting away his uniform, one American expressed his pride in having served in World War II. He said, "I feel like I've played my part in turning this from a century of darkness into a century of light."

This is true of all who have served and sacrificed in the struggles of the 20th century. They maintain the greatest fighting force in the world, they kept our country free and we're grateful to them all.


We come to this Veterans Day in a time of war. And today's military is acting in the finest traditions of the veterans who came before them. They have given all that we have asked of them. They are showing bravery in the face of ruthless enemies and compassion to people in great need.

Our men and women in uniform are warriors and they are liberators, strong and kind and decent. By their courage, they keep us safe. By their honor, they make us proud.


When we lose such Americans in battle, we lose our best.

And this time of brave achievement is also a time of sacrifice. Not far from this place, at Army and Navy medical centers, young servicemembers are recovering from injuries of war.

BUSH: Not far from here, at Arlington National Cemetery, as in hometowns across America, we have laid to rest young men and women who died in distant lands.

For their families, this is a terrible sorrow and we pray for their comfort. For the nation, there is a feeling of loss and we remember and we honor every name.


Our people in uniform know the cost and the risk of war. They also know what is at stake in this war. Army Command Sergeant Major Iaokimo Falaniko recently lost his son, Private Jonathan Falaniko, in an attack near Baghdad. Father and son both served in Iraq in the same unit, the 1st Armored Divisions Engineered Brigade.

At his son's memorial service, Command Sergeant Major Falaniko said this, "What our country brings to Iraq, is a chance for freedom and democracy, making a difference every day. My son died for a good cause: He answered the nation's call."

Our mission in Iraq, in Afghanistan is clear to our servicemembers and clear to our enemies. Our men and women are fighting to secure the freedom of more than 50 million people who recently lived under two of the cruelest dictatorships on Earth.

Our men and women are fighting to help democracy and peace and justice rise in a troubled and violent region. Our men and women are fighting terrorists enemies thousands of miles away in the heart and center of their power, so that we do not face those enemies in the heart of America.

BUSH: Our men and women...


Our men and women are fighting for the security of America and for the advance of freedom, and that is a cause worth fighting for.


The work we are in is not easy, yet it is essential. The failure of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq would condemn every advocate of freedom in those two countries to prison or death, and would extinguish the democratic hopes of millions in the Middle East.

The failure of democracies in those two countries would provide new bases for the terrorist network and embolden terrorists and their allies around the world.

The failure of democracy in those two countries would convince terrorists that America backs down under attack, and more attacks on America would surely follow.

The terrorists cite the examples of Beirut and Somalia as evidence that America can be made to run. Five years ago, one of the terrorists said that an attack could make America retreat in less than 24 hours.

The terrorists are mistaken.


The United States will complete our work in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Democracy in those two countries will succeed, and that success will be a great milestone in the history of liberty.

A democratic revolution that has reached across the globe will finally take root in the Middle East. BUSH: The stagnation and isolation and anger of that region will give way to progress and opportunity.


America and the world will be safer from catastrophic violence because terror is not the tool of the free.


The United States has made an unbreakable commitment to the success of freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have a strategy to see that commitment through.

In Afghanistan we're helping to build a free and stable democracy, as we continue to track down and destroy Taliban and Al Qaida forces. Following years of cruel oppression, the Afghan people are living with hope and they're making steady progress.

In Iraq the terrorists have chosen to make a stand and to test our resolve. Their violence is concentrated in a relatively small area of that country, yet the terrorists are dangerous. For the sake of Iraq's future, for the sake of America's security, these killers must be defeated.


After the swift advance of our coalition to Baghdad and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, some remnants of the regime fled from the battlefield.

Over time, Baath Party and Fedayeen fighters and other Saddam loyalists have organized to attack our forces, to terrorize international aid workers and to murder innocent Iraqis. These bitter holdouts would rather see Iraqis dead than see them free.

BUSH: Foreign jihadists have arrived across Iraq's borders in small groups with a goal of installing a Taliban-like regime. Also present in the country are some terrorists from Ansar Islam and from Al Qaida, who are always eager to join in the killing and who seek revenge after their defeat in Afghanistan.

Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists may have different long- term goals, but they share a near-term strategy: to terrorize Iraqis and to intimidate America and our allies.

Recent reportings suggests that despite their differences, these killers are working together to spread chaos and terror and fear. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, 93 percent of terror attacks have occurred in Baghdad and five of Iraq's 18 provinces. The violence is focused in 200 square miles known as the Baathist triangle, the home area of Saddam Hussein and most of his associates.

Here the enemy is waging the battle, and it is here that the enemy will be defeated.


In the last few months, the adversary has changed its composition and method and our coalition is adapting accordingly.

We're employing the latest battlefield technology to locate mortar positions and roadside bombs. Our forces are moving against specific targets based on intelligence gathered from Iraqis.

We're conducting hundreds of daily patrols. Last month alone, we made 1,500 raids against terrorists.

The recent operations have resulted in the capture or death of more than 1,000 killers, the seizure of 4,500 mortar rounds, 1,600 rocket-propelled grenades have been seized, thousands of other weapons and military equipment.

BUSH: Our coalition is on the offensive in Iraq and we will stay on the offensive.


The long-term security of Iraq will be assured by the Iraqis themselves. One hundred and eighteen thousand Iraqis are now serving as police officers and border guards, civil defense personnel and in the facilities protection service. Iraq's security forces joined in operations with our troops and they patrol towns and cities independently.

Some 700 troops are now serving in the new Iraqi army. Thousands more are being trained and we expect to see 35,000 Iraqi troops in the field by the end of next year.

Increasingly, the Iraqi people are assuming the responsibilities and the risks of protecting their own country. And their willingness to accept these duties is one of the surest signs that the Iraqis want freedom and that the Iraqis are headed toward self-government.


O'BRIEN: The president of the United States before the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C., certainly a sympathetic audience there, on a Veterans Day address, where he chose to remember those who are veterans and those who did not live to become veterans, honoring those lost most recently in Iraq and also indicating once again the U.S. will continue its resolve in Iraq.

Let's go to CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider to talk a little bit about the president's message. Bill Schneider, I guess not a surprising speech, especially when you consider the audience.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: No, not a surprising speech, though he made an assertion, which repeats something he said last week, that what America is fighting for in both Iraq and Afghanistan is democracy. That's our objective. He said the failure of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq would convince terrorists that Americans backed down under attack, that it would provide a new basis for terrorist networks and embolden terrorists around the world. Now that's a controversial assertion. I'm not sure most Americans with quite with the president in understanding that this is all a fight for bringing democracy in the Middle East.

In the long run, democracy is certainly a good thing. But the immediate problem is security, and I think the more reassuring of the president's remarks came just now when he said our coalition is on the offensive in Iraq, we will stay on the offensive, we are using intelligence from Iraqis, we are staging raids against terrorists, and we are capturing killers and their weapons. That's the most important thing Americans want to hear right now.

O'BRIEN: Bill Schneider, it seems to me, when the president sets the bar at instituting democracy in the Middle East, he puts the bar as high as it can go.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Does he set himself up for trouble eventually?

SCHNEIDER: A lot of people, not just Americans, a lot of people around the world are saying, is that a reasonable objective? Is that -- it is certainly a desirable far-off objective, but the immediate problem is security and doing something about terrorism.

So the president has set a very idealistic goal in the Middle East. A lots of people wonder is that a realistic goal, democracy? Is that something that can achieved in the knee future? Certainly, it's desirable in the long run. There's a link there somewhere between democracy and the war on terrorism that I'm not sure many people understand.

O'BRIEN: It does seem clear, at least at this juncture, of course, we are loathe to make too many long-range predictions when it comes to politics. It does seem that Iraq is front and center, right at the heart of the debate, as the presidential season grows.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, it is. The Democrats have clearly been energized by if Iraq issue. Howard Dean is moving into the front- runner position, certainly raising a lot of money from his supporters. And with the improving economy, I think Iraq is becoming front and center, the issue in which Democrats see an opening that they can run against President Bush.

The important thing, however, is that Iraq is one battle in a larger war on terrorism. President Bush still gets very high marks for the war on terrorism, but much lower marks on his conduct for the policy in Iraq. So Democrats have to be very careful to show that they're just as committed to the war on terrorism and national security as President Bush is, but they have a better policy for dealing with Iraq.

O'BRIEN: Bill Schneider, thanks very much for your analysis. Appreciate it.


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