During the speech which linked the Iraq conflict with the broader “war on terror” George Bush quoted Osama bin Laden and compared him to Lenin and Hitler.
Bush told the Military Officers’ Association of America that Islamic radicals wanted weapons of mass destruction to “blackmail the free world and spread their ideologies of hate and raise a mortal threat to the American people”.
He said: “If we allow them to do this, if we retreat from Iraq, if we don’t uphold our duty to support those who are desirous to live in liberty, 50 years from now, history will look back on our time with unforgiving clarity and demand to know why we did not act.”
White House officials denied the president’s remarks were linked to November’s elections but Republican strategies for the Iraq conflict and counterterrorism have faced increased criticism in recent months.
The national security strategy report on combating terrorism, which was released to coincide with the speech, is the product of months of work, officials said. The 23-page document called Iran and Syria “especially worrisome” threats and downplayed the role of the Iraq war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in fuelling terrorism.
Bush said that
[Islamic radicals] want to “blackmail the free world and spread their ideologies of hate”
al Qaeda intends to create many bases worldwide “from which they can plan new attacks and advance their vision of a unified totalitarian Islamic state that can confront and eventually destroy the free world.” He added that Bin Laden has declared Iraq “the capital of the caliphate”.
Bush has often faced criticism for trying to tie Iraq into the war on terrorism which was started after the September 11 attacks almost five years ago. He said that the danger of terrorist attacks on US soil remains strong.
The US president also accused Iran of being the world’s most active state sponsor of international terrorism and said it must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.
John Kerry, Massachusetts senator and a former Democratic presidential candidate, said in response that if Bush had killed bin Laden in 2001, “he wouldn’t have to quote this barbarian’s words today”.
Kerry said: “Afghanistan is slipping back into chaos, Pakistan is one coup away from becoming a radical Islamic state with nuclear weapons, Iran is closer to a nuclear arsenal, and Iraq has become a recruitment poster for terror … A new document may get the administration through the next news cycle, but it will not win the war on terror. We need to change course, not more of the same.”
The updated White House security strategy followed the release of a video during the week that was purported to be from al Qaeda. The tape featured an American – believed by the FBI to have attended al Qaeda training camps – calling for his countrymen to convert to Islam.
Fran Townsend, a special assistant to Bush for homeland security and counterterrorism, said she did not think the tape suggested another strike.
She said: “We’ve seen tapes before. We’ve seen these sort of releases right near September 11.”