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Bush: Nation in struggle to preserve civilization

Story Highlights

• Bush spends day at memorials to those killed on 9/11
• He says winning in Iraq is key to winning war on terror
• Compares challenge in Middle East to Cold War, WW II
• Says Americans must "put aside our differences and work together"
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush told the American people Monday night that the country faces "a struggle for civilization" as it fights the war on terrorism sparked by the 9/11 attacks five years ago.

In an address from the Oval Office, the president stressed the necessity of victory, tying together conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq to Lebanon as a "struggle between tyranny and freedom" that rivaled World War II.

"The war against this enemy is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation," he said

"Do we have the confidence to do in the Middle East what our fathers and grandfathers accomplished in Europe and Asia?" Bush asked. (Watch Bush vow to win "a war unlike any we have fought before" -- 16:16)

"If we do not defeat these enemies now, we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons," Bush said. "We are in a war that will set the course for this new century and determine the destiny of millions across the world."

"We are fighting to maintain the way of life enjoyed by free nations, and we are fighting for the possibility that good and decent people across the Middle East can raise up societies based on freedom and tolerance and personal dignity," Bush said. "By standing with democratic leaders and reformers, by giving voice to the hopes of decent men and women, we are offering a path away from radicalism." (Watch how the world might face new terror threats -- 2:07)

Bush said the invasion of Iraq was a necessary part of the war on terror because the regime of Saddam Hussein was a "clear threat" that posed "a risk that the world could not afford to take."

The president pledged not to waver in Iraq so terrorists would not gain psychological and tactical victories.

"If we yield Iraq to men like (Osama) Bin Laden, our enemies will be emboldened," Bush said. "They will gain a new safe haven, and they will use Iraq's resources to fuel their extremist movement."

During the speech, the president acknowledged setbacks in Iraq.

"Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone.

"They will not leave us alone. They will follow us.

"The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad," Bush said.

Bush said doubts about promoting democracy in the Middle East had led to 60 years of failed policy.

"On a bright September morning, it became clear that the calm we saw in the Middle East was only a mirage. Years of pursuing stability to promote peace had left us with neither," he said.

Bush said the war on terror was "unlike any we have fought before," but said the sacrifices Americans made to defeat Japan and Germany in World War II, and to prevail in the Cold War, are akin to what is needed now.

"America has confronted evil before, and we have defeated it," he said.

The president called on the American people to "put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us."

"We will defeat our enemies, we will protect our people, and we will lead the 21st century into a shining age of human liberty," Bush said.

The president also saluted the heroism exhibited by Americans after the terrorist attacks in 2001.

"On 9/11, our nation saw the face of evil," he said. "Yet, on that awful day, we also witnessed something distinctly American -- ordinary citizens rising to the occasion and responding with extraordinary acts of courage." (Watch how Bush reacted five years ago -- 1:27)

He praised those who had volunteered for public service since the 9/11 attacks, saying 1.6 million people had joined the nation's armed services during that time. (Full text of the president's speech)

The speech capped a day of tributes at the sites where terrorists piloting hijacked airliners struck five years ago -- New York City's World Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed as passengers tried to wrest back control of the airplane.

The president and first lady laid a wreath at the site of the Flight 93 crash and Bush exchanged hugs and greetings with people who lost family members onboard. In Monday evening's speech, Bush saluted those who fought the hijackers on Flight 93, saying "they gave America our first victory in the war on terror." (Full story)

After the Shanksville ceremony, the Bushes went to the Pentagon for a wreath-laying ceremony. Bush shared private words, handshakes and hugs with victims' family members among the 100 people gathered at the Pentagon, at one point appearing to wipe away a tear.

The Bushes began their day in New York, having breakfast with first responder personnel at a firehouse before attending the ceremony to commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11. (Watch the memorial at Ground Zero -- 15:16)

The president made no public remarks at Monday's ceremonies.

An estimated 2,973 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks.


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