W. Bush yesterday gave one of his most comprehensive speeches to
date on U.S. strategy in the global war against terrorism and how
Iraq fits into that strategy.
Speaking before an audience at the National Endowment for
Democracy, Bush stressed the importance of the long-term
ideological struggle against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and
other terrorist groups. While underscoring the urgency of the
threat, Bush cautioned against pessimism, stressing that the
universal appeal of freedom and democracy would ultimately triumph
over the totalitarian ideology of radical Islam, just as it
defeated communism during the Cold War.
By identifying the
enemy specifically as Islamic radicalism, rather than the more
generic "terrorism," Bush's latest speech is a step forward in the
evolving U.S. approach to defeating al Qaeda. The change signifies
a recognition that terrorism is only a part of bin Laden's
revolutionary strategy for imposing his harsh Islamic ideology on
the Muslim world and that "bin Ladenism" will continue to pose a
threat long after the terrorist leader has been captured or killed.
To defeat al Qaeda, the U.S. and its allies must not only destroy
its leadership, but also destroy its ability to recruit
replacements by discrediting its violent ideology.
described in detail the nature, goals, and strategy of the Islamic
extremists: "This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a
violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and
subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all
political and religious freedom." Unlike in previous speeches, he
repeatedly mentioned bin Laden and quoted bin Laden's own
statements to describe the strategy of the al-Qaeda movement.
pointed out that "We're not facing a set of grievances that can be
soothed and addressed. We're facing a radical ideology with
inalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the
world." He ruled out any attempt at appeasement and prepared the
nation for a long ideological struggle against the militant network
and its enablers, including Iran and Syria. However, the outcome of
this struggle is not in doubt because "Islamic radicalism, like the
ideology of communism, contains inherent contradictions that doom
it to failure." He noted, "Those who despise freedom and progress
have condemned themselves to isolation, decline, and collapse.
Because free peoples believe in the future, free peoples will own
Bush also restated
his five-point strategy for defeating Islamic terrorists: prevent
attacks before they occur; deny terrorists weapons of mass
destruction; deny terrorists sanctuary; prevent terrorists from
gaining control of any nation; and promote democratic reform,
respect for human rights, and enforcement of the rule of law in the
Middle East to undermine the ability of terrorists to recruit new
discussed Iraq in the context of the broader war on terrorism,
drawing on bin Laden's own words to conclude, "The terrorists
regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. And
we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror."
He rejected the claims of critics who argue that the war in Iraq
has increased the threat of Islamic terrorism: "I would remind them
that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001-and al Qaeda
attacked us anyway. The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq
was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an
He warned, "Some
observers also claim that America would be better off by cutting
our losses and leaving Iraq now. It's a dangerous illusion refuted
with a simple question: Would the United States and other free
nations be more safe or less safe with Zarqawi and bin Laden in
control of Iraq, its people, and its resources?" A victory for
Islamic radicalism in Iraq, like the rule of the Taliban in
Afghanistan, would embolden terrorists and enable them to build a
base for future attacks. A premature American withdrawal from Iraq
would not lead to peace, but to greater violence there and
elsewhere: "In Iraq, there is no peace without victory." This
conclusion is supported by revelations contained in a letter from
Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second ranking leader, to Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda's franchise in Iraq, that was
seized in a counterterrorism operation in Iraq. The Zawahiri letter
makes clear that al Qaeda intends to transform Iraq into a base for
exporting terrorism and revolution if it can drive out U.S.
originally scheduled for the anniversary of the September 11
attacks before it was postponed due to Hurricane Katrina, also
contained hard news about the continuing threat of al Qaeda. Bush
revealed that the U.S. and its allies had "disrupted at least ten
serious al Qaeda terrorist plots since September the 11th,
including three al Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States."
He warned that "the enemy is wounded-but the enemy is still capable
of global operations."
To defeat such a
far-flung global network, Bush stressed the importance of
international cooperation, particularly with allies in the Muslim
world. He stressed, "These militants are not just the enemies of
America, or the enemies of Iraq; they are the enemies of Islam and
the enemies of humanity." He noted, "Many Muslim scholars have
already publicly condemned terrorism" but called on other Muslim
leaders to follow suit, saying, "The time has come for all
responsible Islamic leaders to join in denouncing an ideology that
exploits Islam for political ends and defiles a noble faith."
speech was important proof that his Administration recognizes the
importance of the global war of ideas as well as the war against
terrorists in Iraq and other battlefields. The President set
crucial long-term goals and outlined a broad strategy for defeating
Islamic radicalism. Now it us up to his Administration to follow
through with effective operational plans to build a stable
democracy in Iraq, encourage democratic, economic, and educational
reforms in the Middle East, and work with a broad coalition of
allies in the Muslim world and elsewhere to discredit and defeat
the lethal ideology of radical Islam.
Ph.D. is Research Fellow in Middle Eastern Studies in
the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a
division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.