President George W. Bush, ever focused on his legacy, said Wednesday "there can be no debate" about his record of preventing another terrorist attack.
Evoking harrowing memories of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush said virtually no one could have predicted back then that the country would not be hit again for the rest of his presidency.
"It's not a matter of luck," Bush said, defending his security policies.
Addressing a supportive military audience at the U.S. Army War College, Bush sought to shape how he will remembered after Barack Obama succeeds him on Jan. 20. Bush held little back in depicting his two terms as a time of transformational change, saying the world has "more people live in liberty than at any other time in human history."
He credited his administration terrorism fighting strategy: reorganizing the government's intelligence and military communities to confront the threat; pre-emptively targeting potential threats and making no distinction between terrorists and their supporters; and nurturing democracies.
"While there's room for an honest and healthy debate about the decisions I made — and there's plenty of debate — there can be no debate about the results in keeping America safe," Bush said.
There is debate about how to accomplish that. The planning, execution and purpose of the war in Iraq have been deeply divisive. So have the methods the administration has used to track, interrogate and detain those tied to terrorist activities.
Bush defended the war in Iraq in the context of Sept. 11. He said the U.S. could not tolerate a Saddam Hussein-led Iraq, a "dangerous force in the heart of the Middle East."
The president even made a rare mention of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader whose has escaped capture. Crediting the work of the U.S. military and the Iraqi people, Bush said, "We have delivered a devastating blow to al-Qaida in the land Osama bin Laden once called the central battleground in the war on terror."
Looking back on Sept. 11, Bush said he rejected a strategy of retreat that would have had Americans hunkering down or seeking quick revenge by attacking nations that supported terrorism, but without a broad plan to address the root cause of the threat.
He also reminded the nation of the plots he said have been disrupted since Sept. 11. He named an attempt to bomb fuel tanks at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, a plot to blow up jets bound for the East Coast and a plan to attack a shopping mall in the Chicago area.
"We'll never know how many lives have been saved," Bush said.