Published Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008 | 7:05 p.m.
Updated Monday, Nov. 24, 2008 | 2:14 p.m.
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As part of his three-day tour devoted to promoting the agenda he outlined in his final State of the Union address Monday, President Bush chose to speak to the Nevada Policy Research Institute today, thinking it the appropriate audience to highlight the global war on terror.
Bush spoke for about 30 minutes, and was interrupted by polite applause at least a dozen times. The first applause line: Bush correctly pronouncing the state’s name.
The president continued to paint Iraq as the central front in the war on terror, invoking the Sept. 11 attacks and arguing that a rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq would have dire consequences for the Middle East and the United States.
The country, he said, must "be bold and stay in the lead” in the global conflict, doing what he referred to as the “hard work” necessary to ensure peace for future generations.
He outlined a three-pronged strategy: Protect the homeland, stay on the offense and provide an alternative vision to troubled nations.
Bush took the opportunity to sign a 15-day extension of an anti-terrorism law that was set to expire Friday. Congress has been at loggerheads over the legislation, which, as approved last year, allowed the government to eavesdrop on terrorism-related suspects without a court order. At issue is whether lawmakers give retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that allowed the government to wiretap their customers without court permission, a provision that Bush favors and Senate Democrats oppose.
Bush said that granting immunity and making the existing legislation permanent would protect civil liberties.
“One such tool in this different kind of war is to fully understand the intentions, the motives, the plans of people who use suicide and bombs to kill the innocent,” Bush said. “If these terrorists and extremists are
making phone calls into our country, we need to know why they're calling, what they're thinking, and what they're planning. In order to protect the American people, our professionals need to have the tools necessary to do their job you expect them to do.”
Still, Bush’s status as a lame duck president, brought into sharp relief by his final State of the Union address Monday, which dwelled on past accomplishments, was clear today. When he made reference to political allies who themselves were no longer in power. Bush told the story of taking former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi to Graceland and made passing reference to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Bush was most animated when he spoke about Iraq, pounding his fist on the podium, and he was defiant in the face of public opinion polls that show a majority of Americans feel waging war in Iraq was a mistake and now favor a timetable for troop withdrawal.
“The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision,” Bush said. “The world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. And so are the Iraqi people.”
The president highlighted the fact that one Army brigade and two Marine battalions have already returned home and will not be replaced. He also noted that four other Army brigades are set to return by July. “More than 20,000 troops will be coming home because we’ve been successful,” he said.
Still, that would leave 15 brigades, or roughly 130,000 to 135,000 troops in Iraq – the same number as before Bush sent the reinforcements.
“You know, a lot of folks say, well, what's next, Mr. President,” Bush said. “And my answer is, we have come too far in this important theater in this war on terror not to make sure that we succeed.”
Further troop reductions, he said, would be based on the judgments of military commanders in the field and the conditions on the ground.
“I will be making decisions based upon success in Iraq,” Bush said. “The temptation, of course, is for people to say, well, make sure you do the politically right thing. That's not my nature. That's not exactly what we're going to do.”
That line brought a standing ovation.
Bush went on to detail what he considers economic and political progress in Iraq.
“I know four years seems like an eternity, particularly in this world of instant news and 24-hour whatever on TV,” he said. “But Saddam is removed, and now a government elected by the people is debating the
proper role between central government and provincial government. … What I'm telling you is you're watching a democracy evolve.”
At times, Bush, while acknowledging turmoil in Iraq and Afghanistan, drew parallels between struggling governments in those two countries and the plight that accompanied the United States’ founding years.
In closing, Bush said, “I told you early, some see the world and tremble. I see the world and see opportunities.”