Bush gives new reason for Iraq war
Says US must prevent oil fields from falling into hands of terrorists
CORONADO, Calif. -- President Bush answered growing antiwar protests yesterday with a fresh reason for US troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country's vast oil fields, which he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists.
The president, standing against a backdrop of the USS Ronald Reagan, the newest aircraft carrier in the Navy's fleet, said terrorists would be denied their goal of making Iraq a base from which to recruit followers, train them, and finance attacks.
''We will defeat the terrorists," Bush said. ''We will build a free Iraq that will fight terrorists instead of giving them aid and sanctuary."
Appearing at Naval Air Station North Island to commemorate the anniversary of the Allies' World War II victory over Japan, Bush compared his resolve to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's in the 1940s and said America's mission in Iraq is to turn it into a democratic ally just as the United States did with Japan after its 1945 surrender. Bush's V-J Day ceremony did not fall on the actual anniversary. Japan announced its surrender on Aug. 15, 1945 -- Aug. 14 in the United States because of the time difference.
Democrats said Bush's leadership falls far short of Roosevelt's.
''Democratic Presidents Roosevelt and Truman led America to victory in World War II because they laid out a clear plan for success to the American people, America's allies, and America's troops," said Howard Dean, Democratic Party chairman. ''President Bush has failed to put together a plan, so despite the bravery and sacrifice of our troops, we are not making the progress that we should be in Iraq. The troops, our allies, and the American people deserve better leadership from our commander in chief."
The speech was Bush's third in just over a week defending his Iraq policies, as the White House scrambles to counter growing public concern about the war. But the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast drew attention away; the White House announced during the president's remarks that he was cutting his August vacation short to return to Washington, D.C., to oversee the federal response effort.
After the speech, Bush hurried back to Texas ahead of schedule to prepare to fly back to the nation's capital today. He was to return to the White House on Friday, after spending more than four weeks operating from his ranch in Crawford.
Bush's August break has been marked by problems in Iraq.
It has been an especially deadly month there for US troops, with the number of those who have died since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 now nearing 1,900.
The growing death toll has become a regular feature of the slightly larger protests that Bush now encounters everywhere he goes -- a movement boosted by a vigil set up in a field down the road from the president's ranch by a mother grieving the loss of her soldier son in Iraq.
Cindy Sheehan arrived in Crawford only days after Bush did, asking for a meeting so he could explain why her son and others are dying in Iraq. The White House refused, and Sheehan's camp turned into a hub of activity for hundreds of activists around the country demanding that troops be brought home.
This week, the administration also had to defend the proposed constitution produced in Iraq at US urging. Critics fear the impact of its rejection by many Sunnis, and say it fails to protect religious freedom and women's rights.
At the naval base, Bush declared, ''We will not rest until victory is America's and our freedom is secure" from Al Qaeda and its forces in Iraq led by Abu Musab alZarqawi.
''If Zarqawi and [Osama] bin Laden gain control of Iraq, they would create a new training ground for future terrorist attacks," Bush said. ''They'd seize oil fields to fund their ambitions. They could recruit more terrorists by claiming a historic victory over the United States and our coalition."