WASHINGTON — President Bush used terrorists’ own words Tuesday to battle complacency among Americans about the threat of future attacks, defending his record as the fall campaign season kicks into high gear.
Quoting from letters, Web site statements, audio recordings and videotapes purportedly from terrorists, as well as documents found in various raids, Bush said that despite the absence of a successor on U.S. soil to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the terrorist danger remains potent.
“Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them,” the president said before the Military Officers Association of America and diplomatic representatives of other countries that have suffered terrorist attacks. “The question is ‘Will we listen? Will we pay attention to what these evil men say?”’
Bush said that al-Qaida has been weakened, with its leaders finding it harder to operate freely, move money or communicate with operatives. But, he said the terrorist network has adapted to U.S. defenses by increasingly using the Internet to spread propaganda, recruit new terrorists and conduct training. In addition, the movement has become more dispersed, with local cells more self-directed and responsible for more attacks.
The president also said extremists from Islam’s Shiite sect are learning from Sunni extremists, and asserted the danger of the Shiite-controlled nation of Iran. He said Iran is fighting a proxy war with the U.S. and Israel by funding and arming the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
‘America will not bow down’
“Like al-Qaida and the Sunni extremists, the Iranian regime has clear aims. They want to drive America out of the region, to destroy Israel and to dominate the broader Middle East,” Bush said. “America will not bow down to tyrants.”
One document Bush cited was what he called “a grisly al-Qaida manual” found in 2000 by British police during an anti-terrorist raid in London, which included a chapter called “Guidelines for Beating and Killing Hostages.” He also cited what he said was a captured al-Qaida document found during a recent raid in Iraq. He said it described plans to take over Iraq’s western Anbar province and set up a governing structure including an education department, a social services department, a justice department and an execution unit.
“The terrorists who attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, are men without conscience, but they’re not madmen,” he said. “They kill in the name of a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs that are evil but not insane.”
His speech came after the White House released a 23-page booklet called “National Strategy for Combating Terrorism,” which proclaims that the nation has made progress in the war on terrorism but al-Qaida has adjusted to U.S. defenses and “we are not yet safe.”
The White House rejected Democrats’ calls for replacing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. “It’s not going to happen,” said presidential spokesman Tony Snow. “Creating Don Rumsfeld as a bogeyman may make for good politics but would make for very lousy strategy at this time.”
In its updated counterterrorism strategy, the White House said, “The enemy we face today in the war on terror is not the same enemy we faced on Sept. 11. Our effective counterterrorist efforts in part have forced the terrorists to evolve and modify their ways of doing business.”
Two months before the midterm elections, the report was the White House’s latest attempt to highlight national security, an issue that has helped Republicans in past campaigns.
Dems: Attacks up, security down
Democrats, meanwhile, were releasing their own assessment, saying it shows the country is less secure today than before Bush took office.
Citing research by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, the report said the number of al-Qaida members has jumped from 20,000 in 2001 to 50,000 today.
It also charged that average weekly attacks in Iraq have jumped from almost 200 in spring 2004 to more than 600 this year, using numbers provided by the liberal-oriented Brookings Institution think tank.
“All the speeches in the world won’t change what’s going on in Iraq,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“The truth is the president’s policies have not worked and have not made us safer,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del.
Reinstate the draft?
Rep. John Murtha, a hawkish Pennsylvania Democrat who voted for the war but now favors withdrawing troops, said the administration has botched the war so badly that a draft might be needed.
The updated White House strategy comes in the wake of the weekend release of a new al-Qaida video that raised concerns about the possibility of another attack as the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 nears. The tape featured an American — believed by the FBI to have attended al-Qaida training camps — urging his countrymen to convert to Islam.
The Department of Homeland Security had raised the terror threat for aviation to red — its highest level — in mid-August when the British, working with the United States, broke up what was purported to be a plot against international flights bound from Britain to the U.S.
Five years after the attacks, about one-third of the American people think the terrorists are winning, according to a recent AP-Ipsos poll.
The administration’s updated terrorism-fighting strategy took credit for some successes but also acknowledged, “While the United States government and its partners have thwarted many attacks, we have not been able to prevent them all. Terrorists have struck in many places throughout the world, from Bali to Beslan to Baghdad.”
“There will continue to be challenges ahead, but along with our partners, we will attack terrorism and its ideology and bring hope and freedom to the people of the world,” the strategy booklet said. “This is how we will win the war on terror.”
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