10-6-05 - President Bush sought Thursday to revive waning public support for the war in Iraq, accusing militants of seeking to establish a "radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia" with Iraq serving as the main front.
Islamic radicals are being sheltered by "allies of convenience like Syria and Iran," Bush declared in a speech before the National Endowment for Democracy.
He said the United States and its allies had foiled at least 10 plots by the al-Qaida terror network in the four years since the Sept. 11 terror attacks _ three of them in the United States _ and he warned other nations not to support or harbor groups with al-Qaida ties.
Polls show declining American support for the war that has thus far claimed more than 1,940 members of the U.S. military. Bush's policy faces a crucial test in Iraq's Oct. 15 referendum on a new constitution, a vote that Bush has said terrorists will try to derail.
In remarks clearly aimed at those seeking a withdrawal of U.S. troops, Bush said: "There's always a temptation in the middle of a long struggle to seek the quiet life, to escape the duties and problems of the world and to hope the enemy grows weary of fanaticism and tired of murder."
"We will keep our nerve and we will win that victory," he said.
Asked about the president's singling out of Iran and Syria as "allies of convenience," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "They continue to move in the wrong direction."
Likewise, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London that explosive devices that have killed U.S.-led troops were similar to those used by the Iranian-linked militant group Hezbollah.
"There is no justification for Iran or any other country interfering in Iraq," Blair said at a news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
Iran's ambassador in London, Seyed Mohammad Hossein Adeli, said the charges were not supported by evidence and "we are against any kind of action which might jeopardize or destroy the stabilization process of Iraq."
At the White House, McClellan was asked about Bush's reference to 10 foiled terror attacks. He said some of the information the president based his remarks on remains classified.
McClellan mentioned the conviction of Iyman Faris, a Columbus, Ohio, truck driver who authorities said plotted attacks on the Brooklyn Bridge and a central Ohio shopping mall. Administration officials have previously claimed success in breaking up terror cells in New York, Oregon, Virginia and Florida.
"We have been successful in disrupting certain plots. Some have been made public or are in the public domain, like Richard Reid," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters. "Others are classified." Shoe-bomber Richard Reid is serving a life sentence after a failed attempt to blow up an American Airlines flight in 2001.
Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., challenged Bush's remarks at a Capitol Hill news conference.
"I believe the president has offered America a false choice, between resolve and retreat," Durbin said. "The real choice is between a strategy of accountability and more vague generalities. We must move beyond policies of fear to a forceful commitment to protect the United States and its values."
Bush said Islamic extremists hope to use "the vacuum created by an American retreat" to gain control of Iraq and use it as a base for launching attacks against other countries.
"The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals is the great challenge of our new century," he said. "Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy teaches that innocent individuals can be sacrificed to serve a political vision."
"The militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia," Bush asserted.
"Against such an enemy, there's only one effective response: We never back down, never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory," Bush declared.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said the speech was "one he should've made a few years ago. I'm glad he made it now."
"I've been saying for a long time the president needs to better define this war," Santorum said.
Countering claims that the U.S. military presence in Iraq is fueling radicalism, Bush noted that American troops were not there on Sept. 11, 2001. He said Russia did not support the military action in Iraq, yet a terrorist attack in Beslan, Russia, left more than 300 schoolchildren dead in 2004.
"The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in the war against humanity. And we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror," he said.