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President Bush Speaks on Anniversary of Iraq War

Aired March 19, 2004 - 10:58   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're looking at a live picture of the White House, where exactly a year after he led the United States into war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, President Bush is about to deliver a major speech, promoting what he sees as the accomplishments in Iraq, and in the global war against terrorism.
Hello from Washington. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting. The president will be speaking from the East Room of the White House in just a few minutes before an audience of ambassadors representing the coalition he led in Iraq. The speech comes a year after the opening salvo of the Iraq war, a decapitation strike targeting Saddam Hussein.

We all, of course, remember these pictures, these images from a year ago, as anti-aircraft fire lit the skies over Baghdad. The initial strikes failed to take out Saddam Hussein, but they marked the beginning of the campaign. The president called it a campaign against the threat posed by an outlaw regime.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger. On my order...


BLITZER: But there has been a serious downside to all of this as well. Here's a look at the casualties and the costs of the Iraq war one year later: 139 U.S. troops died during the initial campaign. Another 433 troops have been killed since the president declared the end of major combat last May 1st. Around 200,000 troops were deployed during the war. That number is now around 130,000. In terms of financial costs, the administration has sought more than $150 billion for the overall war and reconstruction effort.

Let's get a little preview of the president's speech. For that, we go live to our White House correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, what can we expect to hear from the president?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can expect to hear from the president a discussion of what he sees as successes, not only on the war in Iraq, but also the war on terrorism, as he calls it. And it's interesting to note who will be in the audience of the speech, 83 representatives from coalition not only of the willing, as he calls it, in Iraq, but also in the war on terrorism. Also in terms of the ambassadors, three ambassadors of countries that really opposed the war in Iraq vehemently. France, Russia, and Germany will be in the room.

But, Wolf, this comes at a time that's very, very important to the president, even more so than when they planned the speech because of the bombing in Madrid. They really want to make sure to keep the coalition intact, and they've been working the phones to do that over the past week.

BLITZER: And, Dana, the president was busy on the phones earlier today, making phone calls to some world leaders. What do you know?

BASH: Well, President Bush talked to the president of Poland, Kwasniewski. This is something that was preplanned, but it was a very important phone call, but because of comments that he supposedly made yesterday, saying that he was misled the reasons for war in Iraq. The White House and Polish officials today are saying that the Polish government is going to stand firm, that that is not what he said, that Saddam Hussein misled the country and the world, not the United States. So Poland and the United States today are saying that they are standing firm in the war in Iraq and the broader war on terrorism.

BLITZER: All right, Dana Bash at the White House, we'll get back to you.

We're standing by, the president about to be introduced in the White House East Room. He'll be walking in.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning, and thanks for coming. Laura and I are pleased to welcome you all to the White House.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here.

Members of my National Security Council are here, members of the administration, members of our armed forces, members of the United States Congress.

Thank you for being here.

Ladies and gentlemen.

I particularly want to thank the members of the diplomatic corps who are here, thank the ambassadors for coming today. We are representing 84 countries, united against a common danger, and joined in a common purpose.

BUSH: We are the nations that have recognized the threat of terrorism, and we are the nations that will defeat that threat.

Each of us has pledged before the world, we will never bow to the violence of a few. We will face this mortal danger and we will overcome it together.

As we meet, violence and death at the hands of terrorists are still fresh in our memory. The people of Spain are burying their innocent dead. These men and women and children began their day in a great and peaceful city, yet lost their lives on a battlefield, murdered at random and without remorse.

Americans saw the chaos and the grief and the vigils and the funerals, and we have shared in the sorrow of the Spanish people.

Ambassador Ruperez, please accept our deepest sympathy for the great loss that your country has suffered.

The murders in Madrid are a reminder that the civilized world is at war. And in this new kind of war, civilians find themselves suddenly on the front lines.

BUSH: In recent years, terrorists have struck from Spain to Russia, to Israel, to East Africa, to Morocco, to the Philippines and to America. They've targeted Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen. They've attacked Muslims in Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. No nation or region is exempt from the terrorist campaign of violence.

Each of these attacks on the innocent is a shock and a tragedy, and a test of our will. Each attack is designed to demoralize our people and divide us from one another.

And each attack much be answered, not only with sorrow, but with greater determination, deeper resolve, and bolder action against the killers. It is the interest of every country and the duty of every government to fight and destroy this threat to our people.

BUSH: There is a dividing line in our world, not between nations and not between religions or cultures, but a dividing line separating two visions of justice and the value of life.

On a tape claiming responsibility for the atrocities in Madrid, a man is heard to say, "We choose death while you choose life." We don't know if this is the voice of the actual killers, but we do know it expresses the creed of the enemy. It is a mindset that rejoices in suicide, incites murder and celebrates every death we mourn.

And we who stand on the other side of the line must be equally clear and certain of our convictions. We do love life, the life given to us and to all. We believe in the values that uphold the dignity of life: tolerance and freedom and the right of conscience. And we know that this way of life is worth defending.

There is no neutral ground -- no neutral ground -- in the fight between civilization and terror, because there is no neutral ground between good and evil, freedom and slavery, and life and death.

The war on terror is not a figure of speech. It is an inescapable calling of our generation.

The terrorists are offended not merely by our policies, they're offended by our existence as free nations.

No concession will appease their hatred. No accommodation will satisfy their endless demands. Their ultimate ambitions are to control the peoples of the Middle East and to blackmail the rest of the world with weapons of mass terror.

BUSH: There can be no separate peace with the terrorist enemy. Any sign of weakness or retreat simply validates terrorist violence and invites more violence for all nations.

The only certain way to protect our people is by united and decisive action.

In this contest of will and purpose, not every nation joins every mission or participates in the same way. Yet every nation makes a vital contribution, and America is proud to stand with all of you as we pursue a broad strategy in the war against terror.

We're using every tool of finance, intelligence, law enforcement and military power to break terror networks, to deny them refuge and to find their leaders.

Over the past 30 months, we have frozen or seized nearly $200 million in assets of terror networks. We've captured or killed some two-thirds of Al Qaeda's known leaders, as well as many of Al Qaeda's associates in countries like the United States or Germany or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Thailand.

We're taking the fight to Al Qaeda allies, such as Ansar al-Islam in Iraq, Jemaah Islamiah in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Our coalition is sending an unmistakable message to the terrorists, including those who struck in Madrid: These killers will be tracked down and found. They will face their day of justice.

BUSH: Our coalition is taking urgent action to stop the transfer of deadly weapons and materials. America and the nations of Australia and France and Germany and Italy and Japan and the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore and Norway have joined in the Proliferation Security Initiative, all aimed to bind together to interdict lethal materials transported by air or sea or land.

Many governments have cooperated to expose and dismantle the network of A.Q. Khan, which sold nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

By all of these efforts, we are determined to prevent catastrophic technologies from falling into the hands of an embittered few.

Our coalition is also confronting the dangerous combination of outlaw states, terrorist groups and weapons of mass destruction.

For years, the Taliban made Afghanistan the home base of Al Qaeda. And so we gave the Taliban a choice: to abandon forever their support for terror or face the destruction of their regime.

BUSH: Because the Taliban chose defiance, our coalition acted to remove this threat, and now the terror camps are closed and the government of a free Afghanistan is represented here today as an active partner in the war on terror.

The people of Afghanistan are a world away from the nightmare of the Taliban. Citizens of Afghanistan have adopted a new constitution guaranteeing free elections and full participation by women. The new Afghan army is becoming a vital force of stability in that country. Businesses are opening. Health care centers are being established. And the children of Afghanistan are back in schools -- boys and girls.

This progress is a tribute to the brave Afghan people and to the efforts of many nations.

NATO, including forces from Canada, France, Germany and other nations, is leading the effort to provide security. Japan and Saudi Arabia have helped to complete the highway from Kabul to Kandahar, which is furthering commerce and unifying the country.

Italy is working with Afghans to reform their legal system and strengthening an independent judiciary.

Three years ago, the people of Afghanistan were oppressed and isolated from the world by a terrorist regime. Today, that nation has a democratic government and many allies, and all of us are proud to be friends of the Afghan people.

Many countries represented here today also acted to liberate the people of Iraq. One year ago, military forces of a strong coalition entered Iraq to enforce United Nations demands, to defend our security, and to liberate that country from the rule of a tyrant.

BUSH: For Iraq, it was a day of deliverance. For the nations of our coalition, it was the moment when years of demands and pledges turned to decisive action.

Today, as Iraqis join the free peoples of the world, we mark a turning point for the Middle East and a crucial advance for human liberty.

There have been disagreements in this matter among old and valued friends. Those differences belong to the past. All of us can now agree that the fall of the Iraqi dictator has removed a source of violence, aggression and instability in the Middle East.

It's a good thing that the demands of the United Nations were enforced, not ignored with impunity. It is a good thing that years of illicit weapons developed by the dictator have come to the end. It is a good thing that the Iraqi people are now receiving aid instead of suffering under sanctions. And it's a good thing that the men and women across the Middle East looking to Iraq are getting a glimpse of what life in a free country can be like.

There are still violent thugs and murderers in Iraq, and we're dealing with them. But no one can argue that the Iraqi people would be better off with the thugs and murderers back in the palaces.

Who would prefer that Saddam's torture chambers still be open? Who would wish that more mass graves were still being filled? Who would begrudge the Iraqi people their long-awaited liberation?

One year after the armies of liberation arrived, every soldier who has fought, every aid worker who has served, every Iraqi who has joined in their country's defense can look with pride on a brave and historic achievement.

BUSH: They've served in freedom's cause. And that is a privilege.

Today in Iraq, a British-led division is securing the southern city of Basra. Poland continues to lead the multi-national division in south-central Iraq. Japan and the Republic of Korea -- of South Korea have made historic commitments of troops to help bring peace to Iraq.

Special forces from El Salvador and Macedonia and other nations are helping to find and defeat Baathist and terrorist killers. Military engineers from Kazakhstan have cleared more than a half a million explosive devices from Iraq. Turkey is helping to resupply coalition forces.

All of these nations and many others are meeting their responsibilities to the people of Iraq. Whatever their past views, every nation now has an interest in a free, successful, stable Iraq.

And the terrorists understand their own interest in the fate of that country. For them, the connection between Iraq's future and the course of the war on terror is very clear. They understand that a free Iraq will be a devastating setback to their ambitions of tyranny over the Middle East. And they've made the failure of democracy in Iraq one of their primary objectives.

By attacking coalition forces, by targeting innocent Iraqis and foreign civilians for murder, the terrorists are trying to weaken our will. Instead of weakness, they're finding resolve.

BUSH: Not long ago, we intercepted the planning document being sent to leaders of Al Qaeda by one of their associates, a man named Zarqawi. Along with the usual threats, he had a complaint. "Our enemy," said Zarqawi, "is growing stronger, and his intelligence data are increasing day by day. This is suffocation."

Zarqawi's getting the idea. We will never turn over Iraq to terrorists who intend our own destruction. We will not fail the Iraqi people, who have placed their trust in us. Whatever it takes, we will fight and work to assure the success of freedom in Iraq.

Many coalition countries have sacrificed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the fallen soldiers and civilians are sons and daughters of Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

We honor their courage. We pray for the comfort of their families. We will uphold the cause they served. The rise of democratic institutions in Afghanistan and Iraq is a great step toward a goal of lasting importance to the world. We've set out to encourage reform and democracy in the greater Middle East as the alternatives to fanaticism, resentment and terror.

We've set out to break the cycle of bitterness and radicalism that has brought stagnation to a vital region and destruction to cities in America and Europe, and around the world.

BUSH: This task is historic and difficult. This task is necessary and worthy of our efforts.

In the 1970s, the advance of democracy in Lisbon and Madrid inspired democratic change in Latin America.

In the 1980s, the example of Poland ignited a fire of freedom in all of Eastern Europe.

With Afghanistan and Iraq showing the way, we are confident that freedom will lift the sights and hopes of millions in the greater Middle East.

One man who believed in our cause was a Japanese diplomat named Katsuhiko Oku. He worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Mr. Oku was killed when his car was ambushed.

In his diary he described his pride in the cause he had joined. "The free people of Iraq," he wrote, "are now making steady progress in reconstructing their country, while also fighting against the threat of terrorism. We must join hands with the Iraqi people in their effort to prevent Iraq from falling into the hands of terrorists."

This good, decent man concluded, "This is also our fight to defend freedom."

Ladies and gentlemen, this good man from Japan was right. The establishment of a free Iraq is our fight. The success of a free Afghanistan is our fight. The war on terror is our fight. All of us are called to share the blessings of liberty and to be strong and steady in freedom's defense.

It will surely be said of our times that we lived with great challenges. Let it also be said of our times that we understood our great duties and met them in full.

May God bless our efforts.


BLITZER: The president of the United States receiving a standing ovation from the audience. Diplomats, government works, White House officials representing, he said 84 countries the diplomats, part of the coalition fighting terrorism. He's stopping by to shake hands with those who have been brought to the east room of the White House, including several members of Congress, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The president speaking for about 22 minutes, joined with Mrs. Bush as they leave the East Room of the White House. Was not interrupted by applause during the course of his actual speech.

Let's get some reaction now. Democrats have been accusing the president of misleading the nation into war with Iraq. Joining us with some response to the president's speech, the former NATO supreme allied commander, the Democratic presidential candidate, General Wesley Clark, a strong supporter of Senator Kerry.

Was there anything in that speech, General Clark, that you could quibble with?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FRM. NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, wolf, it's a different outlook on what the crisis is that's affecting our country.

What President Bush has tried to do in his administration consistently is make it appear that the fighting in Iraq and the decision to go there was necessary as part of the war on terror. That's where the major difference is.

We would not -- I certainly did not believe that was part of the war on terror. In fact, I, along with many others, warned this administration and the Congress that what would happen when we went in there was the difficulty of maintaining order and preventing al Qaeda from getting a grip. A year later, that's where we are. Al Qaeda has a grip, and we're in danger and difficulty there.

We honor the men and women of the armed forces, but our belief in their integrity and their courage is what's required us to speak out, John Kerry, myself, and so many others in the Democratic Party, about the mistake, the strategic blunder that the administration made in taking us into Iraq.

Well, now we're there. We want to succeed, but let's recognize that we're not going to succeed in the war on terror or the war in Iraq unless we bring our allies in in a different way. We've got to listen to our allies, not just tell them what to do.

BLITZER: General Clark, on the fundamental point the president made that the people of Iraq, a year after this war started are much better off than they were under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. On that point, you don't disagree with him?

CLARK: The point, Wolf, is the safety of the American people, and the other people in the free world whom we were fighting to protect and striving to protect from the threat of terrorism. We distracted ourselves from the focus on terrorism to go into Iraq, to a mission that I believe the Bush administration believed was sort of a low hanging fruit, an easy win.

Now, we're stuck in there with our armed forces very, very extended. I'm glad that the people of Iraq feel better, and are better off, and that's good. It's important. Thank goodness they are. But was that the best use of American lives and resources? Is that the best way to keep us safe?

This is a political issue. It's a rightful political issue in this campaign. We're talking about the safety of the United States of America. We're talking about the judgment of a man who led us into a war that we didn't have to fight.

BLITZER: The bottom line that the president is making, though, most of his speech dealing with the war on terror, fully first half of it dealing with the war on terror.

Right now, he appears to be reaching out to try to create that kind of international coalition that you and Senator Kerry clearly want to emerge right now to take charge of what's happening in Iraq.

Is he moving in the right direction, irrespective of you believe he made a mistake going into Iraq to begin with?

CLARK: Well, I can't tell you whether he's moving in the right direction or not, Wolf. What we've said all along is you need a mechanism that brings in the opinions and the judgments of other countries so they have a seat at the decision-making table.

Calling a group of people together in the White House and thanking them is nice, it's important, but it's peripheral. What's central to this is the mechanism that gets the commitment of the leaders of countries around the world.

I was in the Pentagon a year ago and the sign in the Pentagon in the briefing room said "Countries we have difficulties with in the war on terror: Germany and Spain," because we didn't put the groundwork in underneath to get their full commitment to harness the intelligence systems, the legal systems, the law enforcement systems.

So you know, I think it's a great thing to call people together in the east room and given them a talk and thank them. But that's not the mechanism that's going to win the war on terror. That's going to require trust and consultation and work between nations in which we listen to them as well as they're listening to us.

BLITZER: General Wesley Clark, thanks very much for offering your thoughts on this day, the first anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. General Wesley Clark here in Washington.

Two-car bombs in the last two days alone. The Iraqi people clearly on edge. We'll have a live report from Baghdad to see how the president's message went over there.

We'll be right back. Our special coverage will continue.



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