President Bush on Wednesday compared the fight against terrorists to the struggle against tyranny that forced World War II, telling new Air Force officers Wednesday that the United States and its allies can win the battle by bringing freedom and reform to the Middle East.
“Our goal, the goal of this generation, is the same” as it was in World War II, Bush said. “We will secure our nation and defend the peace through the forward march of freedom.”
Bush told 981 graduates of the Air Force Academy that they will be joining a war whose central front is Iraq and the broader Middle East.
The graduates wore dress uniforms of white pants, blue tunics and gold sashes around their waists. Bush spoke in the academy’s football stadium — at more than 7,000 feet above sea level — under partly cloudy and breezy skies.
“Just as events in Europe determined the outcome of the Cold War,” he said, “events in the Middle East will set the course of our current struggle.”
“If that region is abandoned to dictators and terrorists, it will be a constant source of violence and alarm, exporting killers of increasing destructive power to attack America and other free nations,” Bush said. “If that region grows in democracy and prosperity and hope, the terrorist movement will lose its sponsors, lose its recruits and lose the festering grievances that keep terrorists in business.”
Bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq, Bush has argued, will undercut the stagnation and despair that feeds the extremist ideologies of al-Qaida and its terrorist allies.
GOP senator floats alternative
In Washington, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposed a “Middle East 21st-century trust” as an alternative to Bush’s Mideast initiative. The trust would use donations from wealthy countries to make grants aimed at economic and political reform in the Mideast. Lugar said the trust would be modeled on programs like the Global Aids Fund, the G-8 Africa Action Plan and the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account.
Lugar said his proposal incorporates many of the principles of Bush’s Mideast initiative but emphasizes the participation of many nations, including wealthy Mideast countries like Saudi Arabia. And, the recipient nations themselves would develop specific programs so as to bring about a “restructuring of the region from within,” Lugar said.
Defending his focus, Bush said, “Some who call themselves realists question whether the spread of democracy in the Middle East should be any concern of ours. But the realists in this case have lost contact with a fundamental reality: America has always been less secure when freedom is in retreat; America is always more secure when freedom is on the march.”
Iraq's interim government
The president’s trip to Colorado came after he voiced his support Tuesday for the interim Iraqi government taking shape before the scheduled June 30 transfer of political power from the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority. Bush praised the newly chosen prime minister, Iyad Allawi, and president, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, as part of democracy’s vanguard in Iraq.
The new Air Force officers will enter a military strained by an occupation of Iraq that has become increasingly violent in the past two months. Bush and other administration officials say they expect the violence to continue, even after the caretaker government takes over in July.
Plans call for elections in Iraq by January to form a fully independent Iraqi government. The U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq will remain largely in control of Iraqi security until then, and Pentagon officials say they expect to keep about 135,000 American troops in Iraq until at least the end of 2005.
Bush this week is repeating his pledges to stay the course in Iraq despite the surging violence and the failure so far to neutralize anti-American fighters ranging from Sunni extremists around Baghdad to followers of a radical Shiite cleric in southern Iraq.
Colorado is important to Bush for more than the Air Force Academy. Bush wants the nine electoral votes from a state he won four years ago, 51 percent to 42 percent for Al Gore. Republicans also want to keep the Senate seat of retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.