President Bush said Saturday that his administration’s determination to remain in Iraq and its efforts to end violence in Lebanon are key to protecting the U.S. from future terrorist attacks. Democrats countered that Americans will be safer if the nation begins a phased pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq.
“It is no coincidence that two nations that are building free societies in the heart of the Middle East — Lebanon and Iraq — are also the scenes of the most violent terrorist activity,” Bush said in his weekly radio address. “We will defeat the terrorists by strengthening young democracies across the broader Middle East.”
He acknowledged that “the way forward will be difficult.” But, the president said, “America’s security depends on liberty’s advance in this troubled region.”
Democrats chose Joe Sestak, a former Navy vice admiral who is challenging Republican Rep. Curt Weldon in a competitive race outside Philadelphia, to deliver their party’s response to the president. Sestak argued for “a new direction for America’s security.”
He said it is time for the U.S. mission in Iraq to end.
“We must begin a phased redeployment of our forces so that we are prepared to face the security challenges we have worldwide,” he said.
National security as rallying cry
The nation’s safety looms as a major issue in the midterm elections Nov. 7, particularly after last week’s news of a foiled plot in Britain to blow up jetliners over the Atlantic. Both Republicans and Democrats are maneuvering for the political advantage in an election in which control of Congress is at stake.
Democrats have been accusing the Bush administration of trying to ignite fear among Americans and gain political points by claiming they alone can keep them safe. Republicans argue that Democrats are weak on national security.
With American deaths in Iraq over 2,600, the U.S. public growing more weary of the war, and even some troops frustrated with the pace of progress, Democrats have been increasingly vocal about what they say is the lack of a plan for success in Iraq and the need for a timetable for bringing U.S. forces home.
‘Culture of dependence in Iraq’
Sestak said ending the U.S. presence in Iraq would free up money and energy to concentrate on other dangers, such as nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran and bolstering homeland security protections. Two days of spending in Iraq would pay for screening all air cargo on passenger planes, while five days of Iraq costs would fund the screening of all cargo coming into the nation’s ports, he said.
“We are fostering a culture of dependence in Iraq,” Sestak said. “Iraqi leaders must be responsible for their own country. They must make the difficult political compromises that will stop the civil war and bring about stability. Completing our mission in Iraq will also make America safer everywhere.”
Bush argued that his approach is working.
“We will defeat the terrorists and expand freedom across the world, we’ll protect the American homeland and work tirelessly to prevent attacks on our country,” he said. “The terrorists remain determined to destroy innocent life on a massive scale, and we must be equally determined to stop them.”