RAY SUAREZ: The president went to the National Endowment for Democracy, a bipartisan organization promoting democracy, to talk about terrorism and the people behind it. And once again, he linked the war against terrorism to the war in Iraq. Here are some excerpts.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: First, these extremists want to end American and western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace and stand in the way of their ambitions. Al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden, has called on Muslims to dedicate "their resources, sons and money" to driving the infidels out of their lands. Their tactic to meet this goal has been consistent for a quarter century. They hit us and expect us to run. They want us to repeat the sad history of Beirut in 1983, and Mogadishu in 1993, only this time on a larger scale with greater consequences.
Second, the militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments. Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals. I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on Sept. 11, 2001, and al-Qaida attacked us anyway.
No act of ours invited the rage of the killers, and no concession, bribe or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder. On the contrary -- they target nations whose behavior they believe they can change through violence. Against such an enemy there is only one effective response. We will never back down, never give in, and never accept anything less than complete victory. (Applause)
Islamic radicalism, like the ideology of communism, contains inherent contradictions that doom it to failure by fearing freedom, by distrusting human creativity and punishing change and limiting the contributions of half the population.
This ideology undermines the very qualities that make human progress possible and human society successful. Some observers also claim that America would be better off by cutting our losses and leaving Iraq now. This is 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?
Having removed a dictator who hated free peoples, we will not stand by as a new set of killers dedicated to the destruction of our own country, seizes control of Iraq by violence.
RAY SUAREZ: So what does today's speech mean for the president's strategy in the war on terrorism? To explore that issue we're joined by Daniel Benjamin, a former director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff under President Clinton. He's co-author of the forthcoming book "The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right;" and Richard Falkenrath, a former deputy Homeland Security adviser and special assistant to President Bush.
Well, Richard Falkenrath, did we just hear the president recast the rationale for the war in Iraq?
RICHARD FALKENRATH: We did a little bit. I mean, he made a new argument today, one which I hadn't heard him make before, which was we need to stay the course in Iraq to make sure the terrorists don't get control of that country. The theme before had been it's better to fight them there than here.
This is a slight recasting of the rationale for Iraq, but the bigger message is really for him to reaffirm his belief that we need to stay the course in Iraq, see the constitutional process through, and continue to support the Iraqi people and their democratic leadership there. That is the most important thing I think he was saying.
There's a nuance about the possibility that bin Laden or Zarqawi or some other Sunni radical extremist could get control of Iraq as a new nuance. The main thrust was his argument to stay the course.
RAY SUAREZ: Daniel Benjamin, a major shift, or as Richard Falkenrath says, a new one?
DANIEL BENJAMIN: Not a major shift -- actually kind of a curious one. In the old days we went into Iraq because Saddam Hussein had these proxies who he could use abroad, al-Qaida and its affiliates. Now we're going to stay in Iraq because al-Qaida and its affiliates have turned out to be a lot more powerful than was reckoned early on.
I think actually one of the interesting shifts in this speech is that the president for the first time really went into some depth into who our enemies are, radical Islamists, and what their ideology is. And this also signals a real shift, because historically the president has really just talked about terrorists with a hateful ideology. And now he seems to be focusing in more on the nature of Islamic extremism. This is something the 9/11 Commission called for, and it's interesting that at this point the president has turned in that direction.
RAY SUAREZ: Is that right, that the president resisted using Islam specifically as a label for this kind of radical national movement?
RICHARD FALKENRATH: I think Dan's right that this is a slight restatement of the case for the president. He is talking about radical Islam in a way that he has not before. It is a more sophisticated, a more subtle, I think, description of the problem and one that is -- really comes closer to the truth.
Some of his aides, some of the other senior officials in the administration have been talking in this way from time to time; this is the first time the president went into the depth of the nature of this network and really explained to the American people that it is more complicated than just al-Qaida as we knew it in the old days; it is much more fluid, much more complex, often more localized than the previous threat that we faced.
RAY SUAREZ: But is there a risk in using that kind of rhetoric, in talking specifically about an empire that stretches from Spain to Indonesia, an attempt to enslave the world, using the term "Islamofascism," you know, as a quote but still using it in his speech, does he risk alienating people he's also trying to attract?
RICHARD FALKENRATH: He may, and he's alienated lots of people so far in the Muslim world, that's a problem he faces. He's not going to win many converts in the Muslim world because of this speech. He didn't really use the word "Islamofascism," I mean, he mentioned that others used it. It's not a label he applies.
And this notion of restoring the caliphate, which does appear in some of the Jihadist literature he just mentioned as one of their long-term objectives, and it does appear in their literature.
RAY SUAREZ: Does it also help clarify things by naming it that way?
DANIEL BENJAMIN: Well, I do think it helps clarify things, and I and lots of other people have been saying for a long time let's talk about what kind of threat is we face. What's the nature of their ideology and what do we do to defeat it. I think that the president took one step towards explaining what the nature of the ideology is. I'm not so sure he really explained what we need to do to defeat the ideology per se.
I would also just add on this issue of the caliphate and the scope of the terrorists' ambitions, the president is clearly building up the enemy to try to stiffen the back of the American people, who are showing less interest in staying in Iraq.
But I think that the problem with that is that you can also exaggerate the threat. I think it's, for example, not realistic to believe that Zarqawi is going to rule Iraq if we pull out. On the contrary, I think what we would likely see is where we're sliding already, a Shiite-Sunni civil war, in which, quite frankly, the majority Shiites and Kurds would defeat the Sunnis, but it would be very ugly and is very much not in our interest to have that happen.
RAY SUAREZ: Today the president, Richard Falkenrath, used the parallel of the Cold War, which took 40 years, was transcontinental in scope, and it wasn't always clear who the enemy was. Was that an apt metaphor in your view?
RICHARD FALKENRATH: There's a lot of different metaphors in this speech, and they do look back on the Cold War as one of them, as a long-term struggle against an ideological foe. And he does see this threat of radical Islam as an ideology and a very broad based movement.
The other thing which he did not say but some of his aides have said is that what we're seeing Iraq is sort of like what we saw in the post war period after World War II when there was a very long process of rebuilding in Germany and Japan that was very difficult and had many obstacles in the road but ultimately got us to a good place.
And I think that is another one of the historical illusions that the president and his aides are trying to draw out here. Yes, it's extremely difficult in Iraq right now, but the country is slowly inching forward and it has a constitutional process and a terrible tyranny has been replaced by leaders, who though imperfect and with an imperfect constitution, do present a better hope for the Iraqi people.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you agree, Daniel Benjamin, that we've seen that kind of progress that Richard Falkenrath just described?
DANIEL BENJAMIN: No, I have to say I'm rather skeptical about our prospects in Iraq right now. And I'm also skeptical that we are going to see the kind of diminution or the destruction of the terrorist threat anytime soon. Even if the process goes as well as it possibly could, and there's a strong ratification of the constitution, for example, and there are successful elections, Iraq is going to remain a source of terrorists and terrorism for a long time to come.
The Iraqis are not going to have the intelligence service they need to root out Jihadists in the large western part of the country called Anbar Province and we are simply not going to be able to provide the manpower or the capabilities to do that either. I think we should really lower our expectations about what the future is going to look like in Iraq even under the best circumstances, and the best circumstances may not be what we get.
RAY SUAREZ: A source of terrorism for a long time to come. The president today made a point of strongly rebutting the idea that the United States is the one that made Iraq this dangerous place. Why did he do that?
RICHARD FALKENRATH: Well, because there's a claim made by many, and which may turn out to be true, we don't know yet, that Iraq will be a breeding ground for terrorists to come, that people will go there, receive training, they will be further radicalized and they will be re-exported into the West where they will attack us at some future date.
That hasn't really happened yet, we don't have any evidence of it happening yet. It's a hypothesis, it's a plausible one - you know, we're going to have to see.
But going forward, as a matter of policy, what is the alternative? We have a process in Iraq and though it can be questioned and criticized and the history can be reviewed, from the president's point of view he needs to see this through; he needs to support the constitutional process; there needs to be a ratification of the constitution in October, and then an election of new national officers in Iraq in December.
And, yes, there are problems; no question - there's going to be imperfection and extreme limitations for the Iraqi security services and they will need our help for a long time to come. But this process is marching forward and really what is the alternative: What do we do, pull out at this stage; announce some radical shift in policy several weeks before the ratification of the constitution? No way. The president had to reaffirm this course at this time.
RAY SUAREZ: What is the alternative, Richard Falkenrath asked my question for me.
DANIEL BENJAMIN: I'm not quite sure what the alternative is in Iraq for the near term. I think that it is clear that as long as we are there we are going to continue to draw the interest of Jihadists in Iraq, and one of the things that we've noticed in Iraq that we've seen in the last two years is the emergence of a large Iraqi -- specifically Iraqi Jihadist milieu, who are in a movement, and we're going to draw the attention of Jihadists from around the Muslim world and from Europe.
And we know that there are several hundred European Muslims who have moved to Iraq to fight; we know that there are possibly several thousand Saudis. This is going to continue to be the case; for the Jihadists, this is a very attractive situation; they don't have to go to America to kill Americans, they can just go to Iraq, and in a sense we brought the targets to the killers. And so for them this is a very, very, you know, attractive situation.
I don't know what the situation -- what we can do really to improve it in Iraq, other than trying to get the Iraqis trained up as fast as possible. But I do know, and I think that one of the things that the president has missed in this speech is that there is -- there needs to be some recognition of what our presence as a target means in Iraq and what it means to the movement which is ideological.
People are converted to an ideology. And that's something that I think is still missing here. People come to believe that we are the enemy who has to be opposed because we're there. And this is having an impact in the broader Muslim world that really has not yet been acknowledged by the president.
RAY SUAREZ: Daniel Benjamin, Richard Falkenrath, gentlemen, thank you both.