Commentary on Bush's Speech on the War on Terrorism

delivered 7 September 2003

Monday, 8 September 2003

Good evening. I have asked for this time to keep you informed of America's actions in the war on terror.

Nearly two years ago, following deadly attacks on our country, we began a systematic campaign against terrorism. These months have been a time of new responsibilities, and sacrifice, and national resolve, and great progress.

After the events of September 11, 2001, the United States, and indeed the world, united to fight terrorism. Unfortunately, because the U.S. began almost immediately to act rashly, with a unilateral rather than an international spirit, the international sense of unity with the U.S. quickly fell by the wayside. Progress against international terrorism has undoubtedly been made, but missteps, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, have also exacerbated the situation, and we have squandered an opportunity to make even greater progress with the help of the international community.

America and a broad coalition acted first in Afghanistan, by destroying the training camps of terror, and removing the regime that harbored al-Qaida. In a series of raids and actions around the world, nearly two-thirds of al-Qaida's known leaders have been captured or killed, and we continue on al-Qaida's trail. We have exposed terrorist front groups, seized terrorist accounts, taken new measures to protect our homeland, and uncovered sleeper cells inside the United States. And we acted in Iraq, where the former regime sponsored terror, possessed and used weapons of mass destruction, and for 12 years defied the clear demands of the United Nations Security Council. Our coalition enforced these international demands in one of the swiftest and most humane military campaigns in history.

As noted above, some progress has indeed been made in countering terrorism. It is debatable, though, whether some of the extreme measures that the U.S. has taken have been helpful in this regard. The USA Patriot Act, for example, has lessened the civil rights of citizens and non-citizens alike, allowing the government to pry into our reading material and conduct "sneak and peek" searches without informing the targets of the investigations. The increased sharing of material among law enforcement agencies is a plus, but there was no law prohibiting the exchange of information in the past, only cultural and bureaucratic barriers between agencies. The classification of American citizens as enemy combatants, prohibiting them from access to lawyers, is an egregious violation of both the Fifth Amendment right to due process and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, an affront that raises the specter of the illegal detention of Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II. Similarly, the imprisonment of hundreds of foreign nationals in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without charge or access to counsel is a violation of both U.S. and international law. It is perhaps a sign of the times that both the Legislative and the Judicial branches of government lack the courage or the conviction to oppose the Executive's dictatorial actions, thus damaging the Constitution's system of checks and balances. From a theological perspective, the detention of people--citizens or not--without charge or access to counsel is a violation of human rights. Regardless of the fact that the language of war is bandied about, the "war on terrorism" is not an official war, which can only be declared by Congress, so rules concerning the detention of combatants do not apply, especially beyond the end of hostilities. Since the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were captured primarily in Afghanistan, and since large-scale hostilities there have long been over, all prisoners should be immediately released, unless any are suspected of war crimes.

The president in his speech moves smoothly from the U.S. attack on terrorist camps in Afghanistan to the war on Iraq, which had no such camps. Nor did it have biological weapons, or chemical weapons, or nuclear weapons. Nor did it pose an imminent threat to the U.S. or its allies, nor could its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction have been ready for launch within forty-five minutes. Of all the sins of Saddam Hussein, and they were many, one of them was not harboring al Qaeda terrorists. Saddam Hussein, a secularist Muslim, opposed al Qaeda, an organization of religious fanatics. Saddam Hussein did have a history of non-cooperation with U.N. resolutions. However, for several months prior to the U.S. attack, his government was cooperating with weapons inspectors--grudgingly perhaps, but cooperating. Iraq was destroying missiles that were in technical violation of U.N. sanctions (for having ranges that were about 20% too great) just a few days before the U.S. began dropping bombs. One suspects that the true U.S. motivation in allowing weapons inspectors to work for a few months in Iraq prior to the invasion was to further reduce an arsenal that U.S. government officials knew was no threat.

That the conquest of Iraq was swift is accurate. To claim that it was humane is not. While almost 300 U.S. soldiers (plus several British and allied soldiers) have died since the invasion in March, thousands of Iraqis have died. Unlike during the Vietnam War, the U.S. government is not trying to score propaganda points with its citizens by claiming large numbers of enemy deaths. In fact, U.S. officials have made a point of claiming neither to know nor to care how many Iraqis, soldier and civilian, have been killed. Certainly it has been many more than died in the atrocities of September 11, but since Iraq had nothing to do with those attacks, perhaps the comparison is meaningless. Over this past weekend U.S. soldiers killed at least two civilians, including an 18-year-old girl, in a botched raid on an apartment complex near Baghdad. The callous disregard for non-American human life on the part of the administration runs contrary to the religious language that so often permeates the speeches of our leaders.

For a generation leading up to September 11th, 2001, terrorists and their radical allies attacked innocent people in the Middle East and beyond, without facing a sustained and serious response. The terrorists became convinced that free nations were decadent and weak. And they grew bolder, believing that history was on their side. Since America put out the fires of September 11th, and mourned our dead, and went to war, history has taken a different turn. We have carried the fight to the enemy. We are rolling back the terrorist threat to civilization, not on the fringes of its influence, but at the heart of its power.

Terrorists have certainly been active in the Middle East throughout the past generation, and before. Their targets in the past have usually been political enemies, occupying powers (such as the British in Iraq prior to independence), and soldiers seen as allied with their enemies (e.g., the bombing of the U.S. marine barracks in Lebanon). What has caused these terrorists to be so bold as to expand their reach even to the shores of the U.S.? Increased organization and large financial contributions from ideological supporters have fueled the expansion in large measure. So has U.S. foreign policy, which has been increasingly seen as antagonistic to the wishes of many of the common people of the region. Preferential support for Israel over Palestine is one major issue. The presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia is another. Yet another is U.S. attempts to manipulate the situation in the Middle East for the benefit of U.S. and British oil companies. None of these elements of U.S. foreign policy justifies terroristic attacks on civilians--nothing does--but the continued, willful ignorance of the feelings and opinions of the majority of inhabitants of the Middle East over many years, through Democratic and Republican administrations alike, has only made the situation there, and now in the U.S., worse.

President Bush says that the U.S. is rolling back the terrorist threat to civilization. On the contrary, his actions in Iraq are fanning the flames of terrorism, a fact that is illustrated by the attacks on the Jordanian Embassy, the U.N. Headquarters, the Shiite Mosque in Najaf, and the Sunni Mosque in Baghdad. Terrorism is a threat to civilization, and though force might partially contain it, force cannot defeat it. Only by changing the conditions that give rise to terrorism--poverty, unemployment, oppression, injustice--can terrorism be brought under control. Disgruntled loners and greedy extortionists will always be sources of potential terror, but widespread discontent caused by socio-economic or political factors can be dealt with in a positive manner, reducing the social pressure that leads to terrorism.

This work continues. In Iraq, we are helping the longsuffering people of that country to build a decent and democratic society at the center of the Middle East. Together we are transforming a place of torture chambers and mass graves into a nation of laws and free institutions. This undertaking is difficult and costly - yet worthy of our country, and critical to our security.

Many Iraqis doubt the veracity of the statement that the U.S. is building a decent and democratic society. Five months after the purported cessation of major hostilities, Iraqis are no closer to holding free elections. Saddam Hussein was an oppressive ruler, and it is no compliment to the U.S. that many who opposed him before now wistfully long for the good old days of Saddam's rule. Few Iraqis seriously want Saddam to return, of course, but life under American occupation has been as bad or worse for many Iraqis. To undertake to rebuild Iraq, particularly since we destroyed it with bombs and twelve years of sanctions, is something to which our nation should commit. However, there is no reason that the U.S. should do it alone, and in fact, there are many good reasons for the U.S. to pull out as soon as possible and let the U.N. take over. Morally and legally, of course, the U.S. is obligated to pay reparations for damage caused by the war.

The Middle East will either become a place of progress and peace, or it will be an exporter of violence and terror that takes more lives in America and in other free nations. The triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and beyond would be a grave setback for international terrorism. The terrorists thrive on the support of tyrants and on the resentments of oppressed peoples. When tyrants fall, and resentment gives way to hope, men and women in every culture reject the ideologies of terror, and turn to the pursuits of peace. Everywhere that freedom takes hold, terror will retreat.

This paragraph is perhaps the most accurate in the whole speech. Democracy and tolerance will drive out support for terrorism. Unfortunately, it is unclear that the U.S. is making much progress toward establishing either democracy or tolerance in Afghanistan or Iraq. Almost two years after the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains far from stable. Outside Kabul, dictatorial warlords have regained power, and the Taliban are on the rise again. If this is the future of Iraq as well, the people may well wish that the U.S. had never set foot in their land in an effort to "liberate" them.

Our enemies understand this. They know that a free Iraq will be free of them - free of assassins, and torturers, and secret police. They know that as democracy rises in Iraq, all of their hateful ambitions will fall like the statues of the former dictator. And that is why, five months after we liberated Iraq, a collection of killers is desperately trying to undermine Iraq's progress and throw the country into chaos.

Again the president is subtly linking Saddam Hussein with terrorists, a connection that is both unproven and highly suspect, especially in the case of groups allied with al Qaeda. To suggest that various groups of people are trying to undermine progress in Iraq and throw the country into chaos is laughable. There has been little progress on a number of fronts--including reliable electricity, employment, and security--and the country has been in chaos ever since March. Chaos is hardly a recent phenomenon.

Some of the attackers are former members of the old Saddam regime, who fled the battlefield and now fight in the shadows. Some of the attackers are foreign terrorists, who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America and other free nations. We cannot be certain to what extent these groups work together. We do know they have a common goal - reclaiming Iraq for tyranny.

"Reclaiming Iraq for tyranny" is a nice rhetorical flourish, but is has no basis in fact. If there are Baathist party loyalists involved in the resistance to the American occupation, some of them may indeed want to see Saddam Hussein return to power, since his return would restore their positions of privilege as well. In contrast, the foreigners who have crossed the border in order to fight Americans are much more ideologically driven. They hate Saddam Hussein as much as the Bush administration does, but they also hate the Bush administration itself. Under the previous regime, the Baathists were the only group in the country that oppressed people; Saddam kept the others at bay. Now there are several different groups each vying for power, few if any planning to establish a liberal democracy in the country.

Most, but not all, of these killers operate in one area of the country. The attacks you have heard and read about in the last few weeks have occurred predominantly in the central region of Iraq, between Baghdad and Tikrit - Saddam Hussein's former stronghold. The North of Iraq is generally stable and is moving forward with reconstruction and self-government. The same trends are evident in the South, despite recent attacks by terrorist groups.

Though their attacks are localized, the terrorists and Saddam loyalists have done great harm. They have ambushed American and British service members - who stand for freedom and order. They have killed civilian aid workers of the United Nations - who represent the compassion and generosity of the world. They have bombed the Jordanian embassy - the symbol of a peaceful Arab country. And last week they murdered a respected cleric and over a hundred Muslims at prayer - bombing a holy shrine and a symbol of Islam's peaceful teachings.

This violence is directed, not only against our coalition, but against anyone in Iraq who stands for decency, and freedom, and progress.

There is something disingenuous about labeling people who attack an occupying army as terrorists. A distinction needs to be made between attacks on troops, which are acts of war, and attacks on civilians, which are indeed terrorist attacks. The president makes no such distinctions. For him, any attack on Americans, whether soldiers or civilians, is a terrorist act. Such a definition of terrorism is ridiculous, but it is in keeping with the Bush's Manichaean worldview that sees only good (the U.S. and its allies) and evil (everyone opposed to the U.S. or its allies).

There is more at work in these attacks than blind rage. The terrorists have a strategic goal. They want us to leave Iraq before our work is done. They want to shake the will of the civilized world. In the past, the terrorists have cited the examples of Beirut and Somalia, claiming that if you inflict harm on Americans, we will run from a challenge. In this, they are mistaken.

The will of the civilized world was for the U.N. to continue weapons inspections, which were working, and for the international community to work together to contain and eventually remove Saddam Hussein from power. The casualties that the U.S. and Britain are suffering now are being inflicted by opposition forces in Iraq (supplemented by foreign nationals), but they are also the result of U.S. foreign policy decisions by the Bush administration. When American soldiers are killed, the nation is right to evaluate the situation to see if the gains brought about by having an American presence in the country are sufficient to justify the loss of American lives. In Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton decided that further loss of American soldiers was not justified. It is not a matter of running from a challenge, as Bush's cowboy rhetoric suggests. Those who make the decision to send men and women into combat situations must do so only after cool reflection and deliberation, attitudes that do not characterize the current administration.

Two years ago, I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war, fought on many fronts in many places. Iraq is now the central front. Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there - and there they must be defeated. This will take time, and require sacrifice. Yet we will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom, and to make our own Nation more secure.

Again Bush conflates the "war on terror" with the unrelated attack on Iraq, which he and his cronies had planned long before September 11. Bush paints a picture of Iraq in which terrorists have gathered in a last-ditch effort to combat the U.S. In fact, the war in Iraq produced many of the very terrorists that U.S. forces are having to deal with in Iraq, but there is no indication that terrorists elsewhere in the world are diminished in any way. As recent attacks in Bali, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and elsewhere show, terrorism is still alive and well in many places throughout the world. If we seriously want to rid the world of terrorism, we must find a strategy that is different from simply dropping bombs and firing rifles. At present, it appears as though every terrorist (or civilian) killed by American weapons is replaced by two new recruits. The Bush "war on terror" isn't working.

America has done this kind of work before. Following World War II, we lifted up the defeated nations of Japan and Germany, and stood with them as they built representative governments. We committed years and resources to this cause. And that effort has been repaid many times over in three generations of friendship and peace. America today accepts the challenge of helping the Iraqi people in the same spirit - for their sake, and our own.

The Marshall Plan was indeed effective in rebuilding Europe and Japan after World War II, and something like it is needed today. However, at least two differences between the situation in 1945 and the situation today are evident. First, fighting had completely stopped in Germany and Japan before the Marshall Plan was implemented. Second, money was not given solely to those countries we had defeated; rather, it was apportioned as needed throughout the region. A modern Marshall Plan should direct funds to all those places where terrorism is breeding in the squalor of poverty and repression. Because some of our closest allies in the region are dictatorships--Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan--it is unclear that a new Marshall Plan will be effective in the region without serious political reform in those countries as well. Nevertheless, it is worth trying to get the international community to help the U.S. develop a comprehensive plan to combat not just terrorism, but the roots of terrorism throughout the region.

Our strategy in Iraq has three objectives - destroying the terrorists - enlisting the support of other nations for a free Iraq - and helping Iraqis assume responsibility for their own defense and their own future.

First, we are taking direct action against the terrorists in the Iraqi theater, which is the surest way to prevent future attacks on coalition forces and the Iraqi people. We are staying on the offensive, with a series of precise strikes against enemy targets increasingly guided by intelligence given to us by Iraqi citizens. Since the end of major combat operations, we have conducted raids seizing many caches of enemy weapons and massive amounts of ammunition, and we have captured or killed hundreds of Saddam loyalists and terrorists. So far, of the 55 most wanted former Iraqi leaders, 42 are dead or in custody. We are sending a clear message: Anyone who seeks to harm our soldiers can know that our soldiers are hunting for them.

The success of taking "direct action" against the terrorists in Iraq can be judged by the recent spate of bombings in the area. Certainly disarming actual fighters--by force, if necessary--is likely to lessen future casualties. However, attacking unarmed civilians--even if "by mistake"--only provides America's enemies with more potential recruits.

Second, we are committed to expanding international cooperation in the reconstruction and security of Iraq, just as we are in Afghanistan. Our military commanders in Iraq advise me that the current number of American troops - nearly 130,000 - is appropriate to their mission. They are joined by over 20,000 service members from 29 other countries. Two multinational divisions, led by the British and the Poles, are serving alongside our forces - and in order to share the burden more broadly, our commanders have requested a third multinational division to serve in Iraq.

It will provide little comfort to Iraqis to know that the U.S. plans to do with them what it has already done in Afghanistan. Democracy and reconstruction in Afghanistan has not yet been a great success outside of Kabul. Are we planning something better for Iraq?

It is interesting that, despite the near-chaos that has enveloped parts of Iraq recently, the president is confident that the number of troops in the region is appropriate. Is this administration capable of admitting a mistake, or even a miscalculation, on even the smallest matter? In their more than two years in office, have they ever, by their own admission, done anything wrong? When Bush promised to bring a new sense of humility to the running of the country, did he know what the word meant?

Some countries have requested an explicit authorization of the United Nations Security Council before committing troops to Iraq. I have directed Secretary of State Colin Powell to introduce a new Security Council resolution, which would authorize the creation of a multinational force in Iraq, led by America.

After recent setbacks in Iraq, the U.S. has been forced to crawl back to the U.N. and request help from our erstwhile allies, many of whom we have verbally abused over the past several months. How willing they will be to clean up our mess remains to be seen. However, it should be noted that our opponents in the Security Council have been calling for explicit authorization for actions in Iraq since before the U.S. and Britain invaded. Their position hasn't changed.

I recognize that not all of our friends agreed with our decision to enforce the Security Council resolutions and remove Saddam Hussein from power. Yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties. Terrorists in Iraq have attacked representatives of the civilized world, and opposing them must be the cause of the civilized world. Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity, and the responsibility, to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation.

Here Bush is reversing history to argue for international involvement in Iraq. Iraq did not attack "representatives of the civilized world" before the U.S.-led invasion and occupation, so the bombing of the U.N. building cannot be used as justification after the fact for why the international community should have supported U.S. plans. Perhaps again the president is hoping that slumbering, ignorant Americans will continue to blame the attacks of September 11 on Saddam Hussein.

Third, we are encouraging the orderly transfer of sovereignty and authority to the Iraqi people. Our coalition came to Iraq as liberators and we will depart as liberators. Right now Iraq has its own Governing Council, comprised of 25 leaders representing Iraq's diverse people. The Governing Council recently appointed cabinet ministers to run government departments. Already more than 90 percent of towns and cities have functioning local governments, which are restoring basic services. We are helping to train civil defense forces to keep order - and an Iraqi police service to enforce the law - and a facilities protection service - and Iraqi border guards to help secure the borders - and a new Iraqi army. In all these roles, there are now some 60,000 Iraqi citizens under arms, defending the security of their own country - and we are accelerating the training of more.

Iraq is ready to take the next steps toward self-government. The Security Council resolution we introduce will encourage Iraq's Governing Council to submit a plan and a timetable for the drafting of a constitution, and for free elections. From the outset, I have expressed confidence in the ability of the Iraqi people to govern themselves. Now they must rise to the responsibilities of a free people and secure the blessings of their own liberty.

Almost all conquerors throughout history have claimed to come as liberators of the people. The U.S. has indeed liberated Iraqis in many ways. We've liberated them from a cruel dictator, we've liberated them from their mortal lives, we've liberated them from working electrical grids, we've liberated them from their jobs, and we've liberated them from the treasures of their history. Liberation apparently has its good and its bad aspects.

Many citizens in Iraq do not view Americans as liberators, particularly when they've overstayed their welcome. Even members of the American-appointed Governing Council (hardly an exercise in democracy) have opposed U.S. actions. If U.S.-appointed Iraqi leaders won't support U.S. policies, what are the chances that the country as a whole will?

Our strategy in Iraq will require new resources. We have conducted a thorough assessment of our military and reconstruction needs in Iraq, and also in Afghanistan. I will soon submit to Congress a request for 87 billion dollars. The request will cover ongoing military and intelligence operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, which we expect will cost 66 billion dollars over the next year. This budget request will support our commitment to helping the Iraqi and Afghan people rebuild their own nations, after decades of oppression and mismanagement. We will provide funds to help them improve security. And we will help them to restore basic services, such as electricity and water, and to build new schools, roads, and medical clinics. This effort is essential to the stability of those nations, and therefore to our own security. Now and in the future, we will support our troops and we will keep our word to the more than 50 million people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Finally we get to the bottom line. The war in Iraq (and elsewhere) will cost $87 billion to the U.S. taxpayer. This is a far cry from claims that the war would pay for itself through the sales of oil, a claim administration pundits were making before the invasion. Suddenly the budget deficit balloons over half a trillion dollars for a single year. If the money will really reduce the likelihood of terrorism in the U.S. and elsewhere, it might be money well spent. However, as noted above, direct attacks on supposed terrorist cells, while occasionally necessary, are not the most effective way to combat terrorism. Rebuilding infrastructure, relieving debt, and supporting democracy, human rights, and education are much more effective ways of reducing terrorism than bombs and guns. What will it take to learn this message?

The great irony of the president's commitment of $87 billion to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure is that he has opposed doing the same in the U.S. itself. Electrical grids in the Northeast are overwhelmed by demand, leaving people throughout the region without power for days. Bridges and schools crumble. Millions of Americans don't have access to medical clinics, because they can't afford to pay for treatment, at the same time that Bush is promising to rebuild Iraqi clinics. If Iraqis have paid any attention at all to this administration's spending priorities here at home, they won't hold their breaths waiting for all the improvements to their own country's infrastructure.

Later this month, Secretary Powell will meet with representatives of many nations to discuss their financial contributions to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Next month, he will hold a similar funding conference for the reconstruction of Iraq. Europe, Japan, and states in the Middle East all will benefit from the success of freedom in these two countries, and they should contribute to that success.

Jordan and the U.N. have already experienced the benefits of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, so it will be interesting to see how much money countries will commit. In particular, it will be interesting to see whether the U.S. has to bribe or threaten other countries to contribute, as we did before the war started (e.g., Turkey). The situation in Iraq is truly an international crisis, and it is right that other nations should be involved, even if it is to clean up the mess that the U.S. and Britain have created. However, the international community should not succumb to the pressure that will undoubtedly be applied by the U.S. to support continued U.S. dominance in the Middle East. It is right for the U.S. to play a leading role; it is not right for the U.S. to call all the shots.

The people of Iraq are emerging from a long trial. For them, there will be no going back to the days of the dictator - to the miseries and humiliation he inflicted on that good country. For the Middle East and the world, there will be no going back to the days of fear - when a brutal and aggressive tyrant possessed terrible weapons. And for America, there will be no going back to the era before September 11th, 2001 - to false comfort in a dangerous world. We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength - they are invited by the perception of weakness. And the surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans. We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today, so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.

Saddam Hussein is gone, hopefully for good, and that is a good thing for Iraq. Whether or not the situation for the ordinary Iraqi improves in the near future remains to be seen. For some, things are already better; for many, things are worse. Many Iraqis view George W. Bush as the brutal and aggressive tyrant who possesses terrible weapons, because they've seen those weapons unleashed on their cities and villages. The U.S. must work hard to change that image. It must treat all Iraqis with respect. Comments like, "We're not really interested in how many Iraqis have been killed or wounded" must stop. Raids that kill innocent civilians must stop. The electricity must be turned on and stay on. Iraqi media must be allowed to operate without U.S. censorship. Democracy and human rights must be put in the hands of the Iraqi people as soon as possible. Finally, the U.S. must pull its troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, and a true international security force--working with a reconstituted Iraqi military--must replace them. Justified or not, many Iraqis view the U.S. as the problem rather than the solution. The Bush administration must be humble enough to admit that the U.S. is not the best nation for the current job of restoration and rebuilding trust with the Iraqi people.

The president speaks of the dangers of false comfort, but it is he who is offering the American people false comfort. Invading other countries and occupying them for years at a time will not bring America security. Spending tens of billions of dollars a year chasing and capturing a few terrorists will not bring America security. Taking away the civil rights of American citizens and non-citizens will not bring America security. Flaunting our military might in the eyes of the world will not bring America security. If we are actually more secure now, why is our country constantly at Orange Alert?

The heaviest burdens in our war on terror fall, as always, on the men and women of our Armed Forces and our intelligence services. They have removed gathering threats to America and our friends, and this Nation takes great pride in their incredible achievements. We are grateful for their skill and courage, and for their acts of decency, which have shown America's character to the world. We honor the sacrifice of their families. And we mourn every American who has died so bravely, and so far from home.

A heavy burden has fallen on U.S. troops, perhaps too heavy of a burden. It is time to reassess whether the situation in Iraq, and the prospects of success, justify keeping our soldiers there for an extended period. Also, we must never forget that the burden on the average Iraqi caused by this war has been great as well.

The Americans who assume great risks overseas understand the great cause they are in. Not long ago I received a letter from a Captain in the Third Infantry Division in Baghdad. He wrote about his pride in serving a just cause, and about the deep desire of Iraqis for liberty. "I see it," he said, "in the eyes of a hungry people every day here. They are starved for freedom and opportunity." And he concluded, "I just thought you'd like a note from the 'front lines of freedom.'" That Army captain, and all of our men and women serving in the war on terror, are on the front lines of freedom. And I want each of them to know: Your country thanks you, and your country supports you.

Undoubtedly many soldiers would express similar feelings about their accomplishments in Iraq. Others would disagree. Like the American people as a whole, opinion is divided among soldiers on the wisdom of U.S. intervention and U.S. post-war strategy. Difference of opinion is good, for it makes a democracy stronger. The administration needs to learn to listen to voices that don't agree with its strategy, and it needs to learn to admit mistakes and change direction when necessary. So far, those in power have given no indication that they are willing or able to do so.

Fellow citizens: We have been tested these past 24 months, and the dangers have not passed. Yet Americans are responding with courage and confidence. We accept the duties of our generation. We are active and resolute in our own defense. We are serving in freedom's cause - and that is the cause of all mankind.

And the speech ends with the Big Lie: "We are active and resolute in our own defense." The attack on Iraq may have been about removing a brutal dictator from power, or punishing Saddam Hussein for his desire to assassinate the current president's father, or getting hold of Iraq's oil, or establishing American military might in the Middle East. It was not about weapons of mass destruction (conveniently omitted from mention in Bush's speech) or national defense. As the rest of the world was able to see months ago, a preemptive attack on Iraq was unjustified by international law. As theologians pointed out, it was a violation of the Christian Just War doctrine. Waging war is a serious undertaking. Though it might be "justified" in special cases, it is always unjust. This war did nothing to promote peace or freedom in the region, and it is likely that we will continue to feel its repercussions for years and decades to come.

Thank you, and good night.

© Copyright 2003, Progressive Theology

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