Five years after the worst terror attack in U.S. history, President George W. Bush Monday night tried one more time to turn the tragedy into political advantage, saying his often-hyped “war against terrorism” is “the calling of our generation.”
“America did not ask for this war, and every American wishes it were over,” Bush said. “The war is not over – and it will not be over until either we or the extremists emerge victorious.”
But America five-years later is a war-weary nation that no longer believes a chief executive caught in too many lies. Many Americans now believe it is the American President who may be the extremist who represents the greatest threat to our nation.
Bush, in a prime time address from the Oval Office, staunchly defended his war in Iraq even though he acknowledged that Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
He said Saddam’s regime, while lacking weapons of mass destruction, was a clear threat that posed “a risk the world could not afford to take.” At least 2,600 U.S. servicemen and women have died in Iraq.
“Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone,” the president said. “They will not leave us alone. They will follow us.”
What Bush did not say is that the U.S. invasion of Iraq created a haven for terrorists that did not exist under Hussein.
The address came at the end of a day in which Bush honored the memory of the attacks that rocked his presidency and thrust the United States into a costly and unfinished war against terror.
It was a day of mourning, remembrance and resolve. Before his address, Bush visited New York, Shanksville, Pa., and the Pentagon to place wreaths and console relatives of the victims.
“Five years ago, this date — Sept. 11 – was seared into America’s memory,” the president said. “Nineteen men attacked us with a barbarity unequaled in our history.”
Bush said that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the attack, and other terrorists are still in hiding. “Our message to them is clear: No matter how long it takes, America will find you and we will bring you to justice.”
Bush said the war on terror was nothing less than “a struggle for civilization” and must be fought to the end. He said defeat would surrender the Middle East to radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons.
“We are fighting to maintain the way of life enjoyed by free nations,” the president said. Two months before the November elections, he attempted to spell out in graphic terms the stakes he sees in the unpopular war in Iraq and the broader war on terror.
He said Islamic radicals are trying to build an empire “where women are prisoners in their homes, men are beaten for missing prayer meetings and terrorists have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilized nations.”
“The war against this enemy is more than a military conflict,” the president said. “It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation.”
However, reaction to Bush’s speech suggests the President has gone to this well once too often.