Bush Begins Five-Day Push to Defend Iraq War
By NEDRA PICKLER, AP
CRAWFORD, Texas (Aug. 20) - With anti-war protesters continuing their vigil outside President Bush's ranch, the commander in chief began a five-day push Saturday to tell Americans why he thinks U.S. troops must continue the fight in Iraq.
In his weekly radio address, Bush argued that the war in Iraq will keep Americans safe for generations to come. He'll try to drive the point home with speeches in upcoming days in Utah and Idaho.
"Our troops know that they're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a savage enemy,'' the president said in the recorded broadcast.
"They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets, and they know that the safety and security of every American is at stake in this war, and they know we will prevail.''
Bush is making a sell to a skeptical public. According to recent polls, a majority of Americans do not approve of his handling of the war.
"We need a strategy to win in Iraq or an exit strategy to leave,'' former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia said in the Democratic radio address. "The present course will lead us to disaster. More of the same just means more precious blood spilled in the desert.''
Cleland, who noted that he lost three limbs serving in Vietnam, ticked off numbers indicating this war's toll - nearly 2,000 service members killed, more than 15,000 wounded and some soldiers returning for their third tour in Iraq. "Iraq is still not secure and we don't have the forces there to make it secure,'' he said.
Dozens of the disillusioned remain outside his ranch as their inspiration, grieved mother Cindy Sheehan, left to tend to her hospitalized mother in her home state of California. Sheehan started the protests by traveling to Crawford to ask Bush why her soldier son, Casey, had to die in what she calls a senseless war.
Although he didn't mention him specifically, Bush spoke of the soldiers who have died. "We offer their families our heartfelt condolences and prayers,'' he said.
"Now we must finish the task that our troops have given their lives for and honor their sacrifice by completing their mission,'' he said. "We can be confident in the ultimate triumph of our cause, because we know that freedom is the future of every nation and that the side of freedom is the side of victory.''
The protesters at "Camp Casey'' can claim some victory for forcing Bush to talk so extensively about the military deaths when he'd rather focus on indictors of progress in Iraq. The campers' call to bring the troops home now dominated news coverage out of Crawford this week while Bush stayed on his ranch with no public events.
Next week, the president will regain some of the spotlight with scheduled speeches to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Monday and a National Guard group on Wednesday.
As he has before when he has been challenged, Bush invoked the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in his radio address.
"On that day, we learned that vast oceans and friendly neighbors no longer protect us from those who wish to harm our people,'' he said. "And since that day, we have taken the fight to the enemy.''
In the Democratic address, Cleland also brought up the Sept. 11 attacks - to remind Americans that al-Qaida terror group leader Osama bin Laden has yet to be captured.
The president has been able to rally Americans behind him before by reminding them of the horror of Sept. 11, most pivotally in last year's close election.
He used the radio address to make the case again that Iraq is a critical part of the war against terrorists.
"We're spreading the hope of freedom across the broader Middle East,'' Bush said. "By advancing the cause of liberty in a troubled region, we are bringing security to our own citizens and laying the foundations of peace for our children and grandchildren.''