San Diego Union Tribune

June 3, 2004

Bush: Mideast democracy key to terror war

By Otto Kreisher

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. President Bush yesterday compared the current fight against global terrorism to the 20th century's monumental struggles against fascism and communism, calling the drive for freedom and democracy in the Middle East the key to success in that battle.

In the second of what the White House has billed as a series of significant foreign-policy speeches leading up to the June 30 handover of Iraqi sovereignty, the president made his case before the graduates of the Air Force Academy.

With this appearance sandwiched between last weekend's dedication of the National World War II Memorial and Sunday's commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day assault in Normandy, Bush said today's goal is the same as that era's: "We will secure our nation and defend the peace through the forward march of freedom."

And, he added, "just as events in Europe determined the outcome of the Cold War, events in the Middle East will set the course of our current struggle."

If the Middle East "is abandoned to dictators and terrorists, it will be a constant source of violence . . . exporting killers of increasing destructive power to attack America and other free nations," Bush said. But if the region "grows in democracy and prosperity and hope, the terrorist movement will lose its sponsors," its recruits and "the festering grievances that keep terrorists in business."

The security of the United States is at stake, he said, "and success in this struggle is our only option."

Bush contrasted what he described as the terrorists' vision of the Middle East as a region of radical, oppressive regimes where dissent is crushed with the American vision that "societies find their greatness by encouraging the creative gifts of their people, not in controlling their lives."

But, he added, "we bring more than a vision to this conflict. We bring a strategy that will lead to victory."

That strategy consists of using every available tool to destroy the terrorists and their organizations; to deny terrorists sanctuaries in outlaw regimes; to prevent them from gaining chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; and to deny them what the president called "ideological victories."

In what could be a veiled shot at his certain Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Bush rejected the views of those "who call themselves 'realists' that the spread of democracy in the Middle East should not be America's concern."

"America has always been less secure when freedom is in retreat," he said. "America is always more secure when freedom is on the march."

Bush insisted that the fight against terrorism, much of which is fueled by Muslim extremists, is not a clash of cultures or of religions, noting that Islam "teaches moral responsibility that ennobles men and women and forbids the shedding of innocent blood.

"Instead, this is a clash of political visions," he said.

The president said all of the nation's commitments in the Middle East and its strategy for success are being tested in Iraq.

"Yet our coalition is determined and the Iraqi people have made it clear: Iraq will remain in the camp of free nations," he declared.

But he also appealed for perseverance, warning, "This conflict will take many turns, with setbacks on the course to victory."

Bush kicked off his current series of speeches last week at the Army War College.

On his arrival at Falcon Stadium, Bush was greeted by a long, roaring applause and cheers from the cadets on the stadium floor and the thousands of family members and friends in the stands.

Three cadets from San Diego County were among the dozens of graduates honored for various achievements. William Wisehart of Escondido received the Airmanship award, sponsored by the American Fighter Aces Association, for the "highest standards of leadership, character development and scholarship."

Joshua Edgington of El Cajon received the Element Leader award, sponsored by the Georgia Parents Club, in recognition of his "leadership qualities and exceptional performance as an element leader," which is one of the cadet class units. Edgington also received the Social Studies award, sponsored by the World War II 319th Bomb Group Reunion Association.

Brandon Shroyer of San Diego received the Legal Studies award, sponsored by the family of the late Maj. Gen. George Finch.