Image: President George W. Bush
Evan Vucci  /  AP
President George W. Bush returned to the U.S. Military Academy on Tuesday to focus on the pre-emptive military action strategy he introduced six years ago at West Point.
updated 12/9/2008 1:05:23 PM ET 2008-12-09T18:05:23

President George W. Bush defended his policy of pre-emptive military action Tuesday and said the United States must stay on the offensive to ensure that the American people are protected from harm.

Addressing the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, the president said that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U.S. saw the urgency of staying a step ahead of our enemies, a policy reflected in what is known as the Bush Doctrine. Bush said terrorism continues to pose a serious challenge, as seen in the attacks last month in Mumbai, but that the terrorists have been weakened.

"Al-Qaida's top two leaders remain at large, yet they are facing pressure so intense that the only way they can stay alive is to stay underground. The day will come — the day will come when they receive the justice they deserve," Bush said to loud applause.

Determined to shape his legacy, Bush has spoken about his record on combatting AIDS, his policy on the Middle East and what he has accomplished as commander in chief. He talked about strengthening allies against terrorism and sharing intelligence. And he talked about the military and military strategy since he took office in January 2001.

"With all the actions we've taken these past eight years, we've laid a solid foundation on which future presidents and future military leaders can build," Bush said. "America's military — America's military today is stronger, more agile and better prepared to confront threats to our people than it was eight years ago. In the years ahead, our nation must continue developing the capabilities to take the fight to our enemies across the world. We must stay on the offensive. We must be determined and we must be relentless to do our duty to protect the American people from harm.

It was at West Point on June 1, 2002, that Bush evoked the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and Gen. George C. Marshall's words about the United States as a symbol of freedom and power as he described a new, robust military policy.

"We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act," Bush told the graduating cadets that year.

The policy was the Bush Doctrine, in which the administration made no distinction between terrorists and those who supported and harbored them and was willing to confront threats before they fully materialized.

Ten months after Bush's speech, U.S. forces invaded Iraq, with the administration citing intelligence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could be used. Nearly seven years later, the war continues. No such weapons were found.

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