In a speech beamed live to U.S. forces around the globe, President Bush said democracy is being born in Iraq even though insurgents are killing Iraqi officials and blowing up oil pipelines.
“We have come not to conquer, but to liberate people and we will stand with them until their freedom is secure,” Bush told several thousand troops in a hanger at MacDill Air Force Base, home of the United States Central Command.
“By helping the rise of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and throughout the world, you are giving people an alternative to bitterness and hatred, and that is essential to the peace of the world,” Bush said in a speech broadcast via satellite to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and being carried on Armed Forces Radio and TV.
Bush outlined the upcoming transfer of political control to the new Iraqi interim government. He said that Iraqis will gather next month from across the nation for a national conference, which will choose a national council to advise and support the interim prime minister and his cabinet.
In a hot and humid hanger where walls were decorated with camouflage nets, Bush repeatedly praised troops for their sacrifice.
“By fighting the terrorists in distant lands, you are making sure your fellow citizens do not face them here at home,” Bush said.
A year of big changes
Much has changed since Bush visited MacDill on March 26, 2003, when the war was just six days old, Saddam Hussein was still in power and the U.S. death toll stood at two dozen. In that speech to troops, Bush said: “We are treating Iraqi prisoners of war according the highest standards of law and decency.”
Now, the world has seen pictures of U.S. troops abusing and humiliating Iraqi detainees. More than 830 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, where an interim government is to take over political control in two weeks. This month, gunmen have killed a top security official for the state-run Northern Oil Co., an education ministry official and a deputy foreign minister.
John Kerry, Bush’s Democratic rival in the upcoming election, has consistently said that in order to succeed in Iraq, the president must do more to reach out to U.S. allies and mend strained relations so that the United States doesn’t have to fight the war on terrorists alone. Kerry claims the Bush administration misled the American public about the need and reason for going to war in Iraq.
In making the case for war in Iraq, Bush administration officials frequently cited what they said were Saddam’s decade-long contacts with al-Qaida operatives. On Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney asserted in a speech in Orlando, Fla., that Saddam had “long-established ties” with the terrorist network.
'No credible evidence'
Administration officials have stopped short of claiming that Iraq was directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, but critics say Bush officials left that impression with the American public. The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, however, reported on Wednesday that it has found “no credible evidence” of a link between Iraq and al-Qaida in attacks against the United States.
“There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida also occurred after (Osama) bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship,” the report said.
Bush is midway through a week of travel to Missouri, Florida, Washington and Nevada — four swing states that together would yield 54, or one-fifth, of the 270 electoral votes he needs to clinch re-election.
The biggest electoral prize of all the battleground states is Florida, which offers the winner 27 electoral votes.
The presidential race is as close in Florida as it was four years ago, when only 537 votes tipped the state and the presidency to Bush.
Of all the states where Bush and Kerry are advertising heavily, the two campaigns have spent the most in Florida since early March. Bush has outspent Kerry on television, spending more than $13 million to the Democrat’s $10 million.