TOPICS > Politics

President Outlines U.S. Plans on Winning War on Terrorism

August 31, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT

SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent: President Bush chose a friendly audience in one of America’s most conservative states — the annual American Legion Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah — to launch a series of speeches on the global war on terror and defend his strategy in Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: The war we fight today is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.

On one side are those who believe in the values of freedom and moderation, the right of all people to speak, and worship, and live in liberty. And on the other side are those driven by their values of tyranny and extremism, the right of a self-appointed few to impose their fanatical views on all the rest.

As veterans, you have seen this kind of enemy before. They are successors to fascists, to Nazis, to communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century. And history shows what the outcome will be.

SPENCER MICHELS: Even though Utah is predominantly Republican, the president’s visit sparked protests.

PROTESTORS: Bring back our troops! Bring back our troops!

SPENCER MICHELS: Thousands of demonstrators marched through the capital’s streets yesterday, led by Salt Lake City’s Democratic mayor, Rocky Anderson. He called President Bush a “dishonest, warmongering, human-rights-violating president.”

ROSS ANDERSON, Mayor of Salt Lake City: Let them finally understand: Blind faith in bad leaders is not patriotism.

SPENCER MICHELS: Today, President Bush said his critics need to look at the bigger picture.

GEORGE W. BUSH: There’s some in our country who insist that the best option in Iraq is to pull out, regardless of the situation on the ground. Many of these folks are sincere, and they’re patriotic. But they could be — they could not be more wrong.

If America were to pull out before Iraq can defend itself, the consequences would be absolutely predictable and absolutely disastrous. We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies: Saddam’s former henchmen; armed groups with ties to Iran; and al-Qaida terrorists from all over the world who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban.

If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities.

SPENCER MICHELS: The president’s address followed warnings from other administration officials this week about the war on terror. During a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention Tuesday, Vice President Cheney linked an early withdrawal from Iraq to the possibility of a terror attack.

And Tuesday, while also speaking to veterans, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compared the current terror conflict with the years preceding World War II.

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. Secretary of Defense: It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies. When those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise fascism and Nazism, they were ridiculed or ignored.

Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated. I recount that history, because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism.

SPENCER MICHELS: While campaigning yesterday for Republican candidates, President Bush was asked if his speeches would have an impact on midterm elections. He replied there was nothing political about those addresses.

A question of politics

Rep. Marty Meehan
We need to change the policy in Iraq. This shouldn't be about the politics of the next election. The president has his same tired policy in Iraq. We need to change that policy and go in a new direction.

JIM LEHRER: We pick up the political debate now with Congressman Marty Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee. I spoke with them earlier this evening.

Congressman, Congresswoman, welcome.

Congressman Meehan, President Bush said today his new speeches are not political. Do you agree?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN, D-Mass.: Well, they sound pretty political to me, particularly if you look at what the vice president had to say yesterday, and Secretary Rumsfeld, who tried to say that anybody who opposes the president's policy in Iraq somehow is emboldening the terrorists. And also, Secretary Rumsfeld made a connection to Nazis.

JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Blackburn, first of all, do you agree with the connection? And do you agree with Congressman Meehan that these really are politics?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN. R- Tenn.: I think that what our president is doing is reminding people that we are in a global war on terrorism, and I think it's appropriate that he do that. You know, what we're looking at is seeing that we have a -- the terrorists that have been working at this for 20 years, they have been building their networks. They are associated networks around the globe.

And he is reminding people Iraq is the central front. It is right now where all the terrorists have their focus. That is a part of the global war on terror, and this is much larger than one battle and one place.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with him, and the vice president, and Secretary Rumsfeld to draw parallels between the terrorism of today and Nazism and communism of the past?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN: I think that, yes. You know, you have to look at fascism and look at the fact that we have the terrorist groups that are unified in being in disobedience or in opposition -- would be the better word -- opposition to the free world.

They're opposed to our way of life. They want to annihilate us. This is their goal, and they are unified in that goal. And so I think that, when you talk about the threats to freedom in the world and go through and look at communism, look at Nazism, look at fascism, that it is one of those items that is there serving as a reminder of the typeface.

You know, Jim...

JIM LEHRER: Hold on.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN: ... so many times -- OK.

JIM LEHRER: I'll come back to you in a moment. Let me give Congressman Meehan a chance to respond to this specific thing. You just disagree with that, do you, Congressman?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN: Look, the war in Iraq is not related to the global war on terror; in fact, the war in Iraq has taken away from our battle in the war against terrorism.

Number one, this war has been misguided, really from the beginning. But what really bothers me is this notion that the president and vice president are going to tie in the war against terrorism, tie in the fifth anniversary of 9/11, to somehow justify the incompetence in Iraq. Iraq has been a mistake from the beginning.

Secretary Rumsfeld shouldn't even be in his job. He sent in too few troops. They miscalculated. Secretary Rumsfeld in 2003 said the war was going to last six months. President Bush himself made the mistake of saying to the world, after he declared mission accomplished, we had four Marines who were killed -- he said to the terrorists of the world, "Bring it on. Bring it on."

There's a civil war going on right now in Iraq. We had the bloodiest month, 3,500 Iraqis killed in July. We've lost 2,670 American soldiers. There have been over 20,000 seriously injured. It's a mistake.

We need to change the policy in Iraq. This shouldn't be about the politics of the next election. The president has his same tired policy in Iraq. We need to change that policy and go in a new direction.

Linking Iraq to a war on terrorism

Rep. Marsha Blackburn
Terrorism had its toehold. We have to fight; we have to win on this. We have to be certain that America remains a free and sovereign nation.

JIM LEHRER: What about that, Congresswoman Blackburn, specifically on Iraq?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN: Well, I think that he is misunderstanding many of the things that are there, and maybe he chooses to do so, but I do disagree with that.

When you talk to the legislators that are elected in Iraq, and they talk about their focus, and they talk about how hard they're working to unify that country, when you look at the fact that this -- as I was saying earlier -- this is the central front of where the war is taking place right now, Jim.

You know, it's more like the Cold War. We knew when we started fighting back, when we changed 20 years of the way America responded to terrorism -- which was, you know, was law enforcement, as civil disobedience -- and we started treating it as what it is -- war -- that, yes, indeed, there would be some that were going to disagree with that. That is always going to happen.

But the thing is: We cannot allow the terrorists to win. And I know a lot of people think it's a cliche to say, "We either fight them over there or we fight them over there," but it is one that people do understand. If we are not stamping out terrorism over there, where terrorism breeds, in the Middle East, then, yes, we are going to find ourselves stamping it out, not only in the U.S., but around the world.

Terrorism had its toehold. We have to fight; we have to win on this. We have to be certain that America remains a free and sovereign nation.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Meehan, is it your position that there is no connection at all between what's going on in Iraq and the greater war or the larger war on terrorism?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN: My position is -- and the evidence is overwhelming -- that 5 percent to 7 percent of the combatants in Iraq are terrorists that have come in from outside of Iraq. The fact is, the war against al-Qaida is really in Afghanistan.

And if you look at the way we've let our guard down there -- the Taliban is reconstituting, al-Qaida is reconstituting -- the war in Iraq has helped fuel the recruitment for al-Qaida. It's been five years since 9/11, where President Bush said we were going to track down Osama bin Laden, and he's still on the loose.

The fact is: The United States is more dangerous today than it was on 9/11 because of the fact that we have Hezbollah reconstituting in southern Lebanon, gaining strength. We see Hamas winning an election, a Palestinian election. And we see al-Qaida fueled by the rage of Iraq.

The United States has no business being involved in a civil war in a country like Iraq. What is our policy when there's a civil war going on? We ought to have a policy that says: Let the Iraqis be up front, and we should be in the background redeployed.

The legitimacy of the debate

Rep. Marty Meehan
What we ought to be doing in the war against terror is being smart about it, being sophisticated about it. But 9/11 didn't give the United States an excuse to invade whatever country it wanted to

JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Blackburn, let me ask you this.


JIM LEHRER: The argument that you all are having, the debate that you are having right now on this program, is this a legitimate debate to have at a time of war, as some in the administration have suggested maybe not? How do you feel about that?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN: You know, I think, Jim, that it is a debate that is going to be had, regardless of whether we would call it "legitimate" or not or "appropriate" or not. There are people who are always going to be against fighting for freedom, always is going to happen.

You know, when I talk to my parents and individuals that lived through World War II, you hear some of the same rhetoric that they endured during that time.

But one of the things I think that is very important to look at and to understand, when you have Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants saying the centerpiece of the war on terror is in Iraq, that is the battle that is at the forefront right now, then we know it would be foolish of us to leave and to let them take that battlefront. It would be a foolish move for us to do that.

We have to win in this. Our future, our children's future, our grandchildren's future depends on being certain that we stand strong against terrorism.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Meehan, did she say, suggest something that you find off the wall or inappropriate?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN: It's as if the whole thing is made up. I've been to Iraq. I've been to Afghanistan. The fact of the matter is: The insurgency is coming from within Iraq. There's a civil war going on between the Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds in the north. It's getting more violent every day. It has our brave men and women at risk. We ought to fight the war on terror around the world.

JIM LEHRER: But her point is, as the president's point, she just repeated what the president said today, and he said, quote, "The battle for Iraq is now central to the ideological struggle of the 21st century." That's not...

REP. MARTY MEEHAN: That just isn't true. The battle in Iraq is undermining our efforts.

We ought to be conducting diplomacy with moderate Arab countries. We ought to be retooling ourselves. We need more recruitment, more retention. We just recalled 2,500 Marines involuntarily. It's bad for unit cohesion.

What we ought to be doing in the war against terror is being smart about it, being sophisticated about it. But 9/11 didn't give the United States an excuse to invade whatever country it wanted to, for whatever reason it wanted to.

It's time for a new direction in Iraq. And the Congress had better have this debate, because Congress has rubberstamped this president and let him get away with the same, old, tired policies.

JIM LEHRER: We only have a minute or so left.


Nature of the debate

Rep. Marsha Blackburn
Most Americans that I talk to every day are the ones who are going to say, "We're not going to agree totally. We know we're going to take some steps forward and some steps back, but we understand that it is imperative that we stamp out terrorism."

JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Blackburn, let me ask you just an underlying question here that I tried to get at a moment ago. Is the argument that Congressman Meehan and others are making, along the lines he just made it, is that undermining the U.S. -- is it your position that, with Secretary Rumsfeld and the vice president and others, that this is undermining the U.S. effort in the war against terrorism? That's what I'm trying to get at.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN: Jim, I don't think it is helpful when we have statements like that. I honestly do not. Our men and women need to know that we are there and that we are supportive of them and we are supportive of these efforts.

The Iraqi legislators -- you know, when you talk to Iraqi legislators, they are not trying to divide that country along sectarian lines, with Sunni, with Shia, with Kurds, with the Chaldean Christians. They talk in terms of, what are they going to do to unify? How are they going to stamp out the terrorists? How are they going to build a better future, not only for their country, but for that of the world? And it is imperative.

JIM LEHRER: I want to get back to...

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN: And it is imperative that we hang in there and do our part on this.

JIM LEHRER: I want to get back to this thing I keep bringing up here, the nature of the debate itself.

Congressman Meehan, you heard what the congresswoman said. Now, she said that it's not helpful, that the people that say what you say. What's your own view whether this is hurting or helping the U.S. effort?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN: I think it's extremely important for people in Washington to stand up and speak out, when you have a policy that is clearly a policy that is failing and has been failing; when you hear an administration that simply doesn't tell the truth about the reality of what's going on, on the ground.

They said that we'd be welcomed as liberators. They misrepresent what's happening in Baghdad. Every security plan they have fails. And then they try to make it out like it's all because of terrorism.

It's not all about terrorism; it's about sectarian violence that is escalating, that most experts on the ground will tell you is becoming a civil war.


REP. MARTY MEEHAN: The other point that I would make here, if we care so much about our troops and soldiers, we should have given them the Kevlar vests they needed when we sent them in there, and up-armored the Humvees for them, and given them the equipment that they needed.

JIM LEHRER: Is this a legitimate issue, Congresswoman Blackburn, for the people to vote on this November in the congressional elections? Is this a legitimate division between the Democratic and the Republican Party and people should make a choice?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN: Well, there are some people who will make their choice that way. But I think that most Americans...

JIM LEHRER: But do you think they should? Do you think they should?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN: Do I think they should? You know, I think that most Americans that I talk to every day, Jim, are the ones who are going to say, "We're not going to agree totally. We know we're going to take some steps forward and some steps back, but we understand that it is imperative that we stamp out terrorism."

JIM LEHRER: All right.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN: And more and more of my constituents understand that every single day.

JIM LEHRER: All right, we have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.