Bush American Legion Speech

After controversial speeches to the American Legion by Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, President Bush yesterday delivered a speech that, finally, outlines his strategy in the fight against the Jihadists in a succinct, comprehensive way.

The enemies of liberty come from different parts of the world, and they take inspiration from different sources. Some are radicalized followers of the Sunni tradition, who swear allegiance to terrorist organizations like al Qaeda. Others are radicalized followers of the Shia tradition, who join groups like Hezbollah and take guidance from state sponsors like Syria and Iran. Still others are “homegrown” terrorists — fanatics who live quietly in free societies they dream to destroy. Despite their differences, these groups from — form the outlines of a single movement, a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology. And the unifying feature of this movement, the link that spans sectarian divisions and local grievances, is the rigid conviction that free societies are a threat to their twisted view of Islam.

The war we fight today is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. (Applause.) On one side are those who believe in the values of freedom and moderation — the right of all people to speak, and worship, and live in liberty. And on the other side are those driven by the values of tyranny and extremism — the right of a self-appointed few to impose their fanatical views on all the rest. As veterans, you have seen this kind of enemy before. They’re successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists, and other totalitarians of the 20th century. And history shows what the outcome will be: This war will be difficult; this war will be long; and this war will end in the defeat of the terrorists and totalitarians, and a victory for the cause of freedom and liberty. (Applause.)

[…]

To understand the struggle unfolding in the Middle East, we need to look at the recent history of the region. For a half- century, America’s primary goal in the Middle East was stability. This was understandable at the time; we were fighting the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and it was important to support Middle Eastern governments that rejected communism. Yet, over the decades, an undercurrent of danger was rising in the Middle East. Much of the region was mired in stagnation and despair. A generation of young people grew up with little hope to improve their lives, and many fell under the sway of radical extremism. The terrorist movement multiplied in strength, and resentment that had simmered for years boiled over into violence across the world.

[…]

The status quo in the Middle East before September the 11th was dangerous and unacceptable, so we’re pursuing a new strategy. First, we’re using every element of national power to confront al Qaeda, those who take inspiration from them, and other terrorists who use similar tactics. We have ended the days of treating terrorism simply as a law enforcement matter. We will stay on the offense. We will fight the terrorists overseas so we do not have to face them here at home. (Applause.)

Second, we have made it clear to all nations, if you harbor terrorists, you are just as guilty as the terrorists; you’re an enemy of the United States, and you will be held to account. (Applause.) And third, we’ve launched a bold new agenda to defeat the ideology of the enemy by supporting the forces of freedom in the Middle East and beyond.

The freedom agenda is based upon our deepest ideals and our vital interests. Americans believe that every person, of every religion, on every continent, has the right to determine his or her own destiny. We believe that freedom is a gift from an almighty God, beyond any power on Earth to take away. (Applause.) And we also know, by history and by logic, that promoting democracy is the surest way to build security. Democracies don’t attack each other or threaten the peace. Governments accountable to the voters focus on building roads and schools — not weapons of mass destruction. Young people who have a say in their future are less likely to search for meaning in extremism. Citizens who can join a peaceful political party are less likely to join a terrorist organization. Dissidents with the freedom to protest around the clock are less likely to blow themselves up during rush hour. And nations that commit to freedom for their people will not support terrorists — they will join us in defeating them. (Applause.)

So America has committed its influence in the world to advancing freedom and democracy as the great alternatives to repression and radicalism. We will take the side of democratic leaders and reformers across the Middle East. We will support the voices of tolerance and moderation in the Muslim world. We stand with the mothers and fathers in every culture who want to see their children grow up in a caring and peaceful world. And by supporting the cause of freedom in a vital region, we’ll make our children and our grandchildren more secure. (Applause.)

The speech also outlines a way ahead in Iraq that, while perhaps wishful, at least demonstrates a cohesive vision rather than a reactionary ad hocracy.

More troubling, however, it seems to be a continuation of a case for war with Iran.

This summer’s crisis in Lebanon has made it clearer than ever that the world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime in Iran. The Iranian regime arms, funds, and advises Hezbollah, which has killed more Americans than any terrorist network except al Qaeda. The Iranian regime interferes in Iraq by sponsoring terrorists and insurgents, empowering unlawful militias, and supplying components for improvised explosive devices. The Iranian regime denies basic human rights to millions of its people. And the Iranian regime is pursuing nuclear weapons in open defiance of its international obligations.

We know the death and suffering that Iran’s sponsorship of terrorists has brought, and we can imagine how much worse it would be if Iran were allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Many nations are working together to solve this problem. The United Nations passed a resolution demanding that Iran suspend its nuclear enrichment activities. Today is the deadline for Iran’s leaders to reply to the reasonable proposal the international community has made. If Iran’s leaders accept this offer and abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions, they can set their country on a better course. Yet, so far, the Iranian regime has responded with further defiance and delay. It is time for Iran to make a choice. We’ve made our choice: We will continue to work closely with our allies to find a diplomatic solution — but there must be consequences for Iran’s defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)

Despite the rhetoric, beginning with the “Axis of Evil” speech, the administration has thus far seemed content to approach the situation in Iran diplomatically. Frankly, it hasn’t worked. Unfortunately, as I’ve noted here on multiple occasions, there do not appear to be any better options.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Outlining the strategy: James Joyner comments on President Bush’s speech to the American Legion yesterday. (Outside The Beltway)

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  3. LJD says:

    And on the other side are those driven by the values of tyranny and extremism — the right of a self-appointed few to impose their fanatical views on all the rest.

    Democrats?

  4. Anderson says:

    JJ, could you perhaps indicate what in this speech isn’t the same old boilerplate? I think we could compile a list of OTB posts on The Bush Speech That Finally Gets the Point Across.

    As for Iran, well, not much new there, either. Glenn Greenwald draws the obvious comparison to the 2002 Cincinatti speech that laid out the case for war on Iraq.

    The Iranian regime arms, funds, and advises Hezbollah, which has killed more Americans than any terrorist network except al Qaeda.

    And how many of those were *after* 1983?

    The Iranian regime interferes in Iraq

    Laughing my ass off on that one, folks.

    denies basic human rights to millions of its people

    As opposed to quietly planning to abandon Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions? And is Iran somehow unique? War with China would liberate even *more* people!

    We know the death and suffering that Iran’s sponsorship of terrorists has brought, and we can imagine how much worse it would be if Iran were allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.

    We can “imagine” lots of things. Like Iraq having WMD’s, for ex. Could we please get a foreign policy based on something other than our imaginations?

  5. LJD says:

    indicate what in this speech isn’t the same old boilerplate?

    For someone without a plan, he sure seems to have consistently presented his, PLAN.

    And how many of those were *after* 1983?

    You’re right. The statue of limitations on the lives of Americans expires after 20 years. Besides, look at the new kinder, gentler Hezbollah at work in the world today.

    Laughing my ass off on that one, folks.

    Again, why care about the increase in IED technology killing Americans. In twenty years we can forget about it.

    As opposed to quietly planning to abandon Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions?

    Yeah because we’re just as bad as Iran, in fact worse.

    Could we please get a foreign policy based on something other than our imaginations?

    O.K. Just close your eyes and repeat: All is well. All is well…

  6. Despite the rhetoric, beginning with the “Axis of Evil” speech, the administration has thus far seemed content to approach the situation in Iran diplomatically. Frankly, it hasn’t worked. Unfortunately, as I’ve noted here on multiple occasions, there do not appear to be any better options.

    Okay, I don’t get it. You seem distressed that Bush has approached the Iran question diplomatically and say “frankly, it hasn’t worked”, but you don’t like the notion that he’s making a case for potential war with Iran.

    What do you suggest, then? Modern dance?

  7. James Joyner says:

    Anderson,

    I agree that there’s not much new here in the sense that he’s said variations of these things before. Putting them into a single speech, though, and tying the threads together is helpful.

    It was only recently that Bush has been willing to say that we are fighting an Islamist movement. Until then, he always couched things in terms of “terrorists” who “hated us for our freedom,” which missed the point entirely.

    I do agree, though, that a causus beli dating to 1983–similar to making a case against Saddam based on attrocities committed during the Iran-Iraq War–is bizarre. While there’s not a “statute of limitations” on such things, I’m not much impressed unless they’re given as part of a much longer chain that continues to this present.

  8. Anderson says:

    LJD, sorry your sense of irony’s off today, but can you name another state besides Iran that has “interfered” just a wee bit in Iraq in the past 3 years or so?

    Let me know when you give up, and I will enlighten you.

    As for the “SOL on American lives,” I thought we outsourced our retribution to the Israelis … besides, that’s LAW ENFORCEMENT talk. Whose side are you on, jihadi boy?

  9. Anderson says:

    It was only recently that Bush has been willing to say that we are fighting an Islamist movement. Until then, he always couched things in terms of “terrorists” who “hated us for our freedom,” which missed the point entirely.

    Well, it is indeed good that he’s caught up that far, at least. Though “Islamist” doesn’t even seem like a word. Would fundmentalist Christian terrorists be “Christist”? “Christic”? Sounds like Heidegger.

    I’m reading The Looming Tower, and “Takfirs” seems a pretty good word for the kind of quasi-Muslims we’re fighting. Though probably not technically accurate.

  10. Jim Henley says:

    The Administration’s “diplomatic approach” seems to involve everything except actual diplomacy.

  11. LJD says:

    I say potato, you say blahblibbiergurgleblapblah.

    If you are equating internationally requested U.S. intervention in the Middle East (remember Kuwait?), and the U.S. desire to enforce the terms of ceas fire when we spanked Saddam the first time, then I guess you could say that is interfering (with Saddam’s desire to support terror abroad and on his own people). What frickin twisted view you have.

    How far does this lassez faire policy of yours go? What kind of 9/11 would have to occur to justify any response? Is that your policy, to wait it out until an enemy’s aims are proven with their actions (at the cost of many innocent lives)?

    Which side are you on, Takfir-boy?

  12. Anderson says:

    Is that your policy, to wait it out until an enemy’s aims are proven with their actions

    Well, LJD, how else would you gauge people’s actual aims? Since the U.S., the richest & most powerful country in the history of the world, doesn’t seem to be able to do such a bang-up job of that.

    If we’re going to invade countries whose nationals actually pose a terror threat to the U.S. homeland, Iran is pretty far down the list, isn’t it? Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are an order of magnitude more dangerous, with Egypt not far behind.

  13. […] Outside the Beltway comments that this is a continuation of the case for war with Iran. […]

  14. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    As long as people like Anderson use every nuance and technicality in their argument against defending ourselves. We are in serious trouble. Anderson, I have to ask you this. How do you think you loquacious bloviating would influence the islamo-fascist preparing to remove your head, to be televised on Arab TV? What part of “we are at war” with these people is it that you do not understand? It is us against them, and you seem to side with them, wanting us to play by some irrational rules that only apply to us. I refer you to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie for a discussion of rules. In this fight, loss is not an option.

  15. M1EK says:

    “Second, we have made it clear to all nations, if you harbor terrorists, you are just as guilty as the terrorists; you’re an enemy of the United States, and you will be held to account.”

    So we’re going after Saudi Arabia, right?

  16. Michael says:

    While as a whole this is a well constructed and executed speech, there were some portions that I was surprised to find:

    For a half- century, America’s primary goal in the Middle East was stability. This was understandable at the time; we were fighting the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and it was important to support Middle Eastern governments that rejected communism. Yet, over the decades, an undercurrent of danger was rising in the Middle East

    Read: We used you as pawns against the Russians, and now we’re paying the price. This isn’t new, it’s been said before, but not that I can recall from the President himself so clearly.

    Democracies don’t attack each other or threaten the peace. Governments accountable to the voters focus on building roads and schools — not weapons of mass destruction.

    This was most unusual, since we are a democracy that attacked another country that was not an immediate threat to us, we are falling behind much of the world in terms of education and public transportation, and we are still developing new weapons of mass destruction. Now not all this is bad (except education and transportation), and not all of this is the fault of the current administration (except the invading Iraq part). I’m just surprised it made it’s way into this speech.

    As for LJD’s “statute of limitations” comment, the point wasn’t that the atrocities should be forgotten, but that they should be responded to in a timely manner, not decades later (see Iraq here also). You can’t claim self-defense against an action that took place 20 years ago.

  17. Anderson says:

    As long as people like Anderson use every nuance and technicality in their argument against defending ourselves

    You say “nuance and technicality,” I say “functional literacy.”

    You say “defending ourselves,” I say “making it harder to defend ourselves.”

    Not much room for agreement there, Z. baby.

  18. MrGone says:

    A couple of interesting observations:

    “Democracies don’t attack each other or threaten the peace.”

    Aren’t the leaders of Iran elected?

    and

    “For a half- century, America’s primary goal in the Middle East was stability”

    Isn’t this still the goal? If not, we can just leave Iraq now and let the whole thing implode.

    Bottom line, more war drums. Just can’t figure out if it’s real or for the November show.

  19. Michael says:

    MrGone,
    Iran’s President is elected, but the Supreme Council is appointed for life, and they hold the final say in Iranian politics.

  20. anjin-san says:

    I guess if you harbor a terrorist, you are just as guilty as they are unless you are Pakisatan…

  21. Stylo says:

    Has anyone read Fiasco? It highlights in precise detail the astounding mistakes made during the war These strategic errors fueled if not created the insurgency. Bush is talking in grandiose historical rhetoric while ignoring the mounting chaos on the ground and continuing a fundamentally flawed strategy in Iraq.