America Rising to Tasks of History, Bush Says in State of Union

By Jim Garamone

Jan. 20, 2004 – The United States has not come through tragedy, trial and war to falter. Americans are proving the state of the union is strong, and they are "are rising to the tasks of history," President George W. Bush said in the State of the Union address tonight.

Bush, speaking to both bodies of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, said the government’s greatest responsibility is the active defense of the American people. He said that in the 28 months since the attacks of Sept. 11, there are many who believe the danger is passed.

"That hope is understandable, comforting – and false," he said. "The killing has continued in Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Mombassa, Jerusalem, Istanbul and Baghdad. The terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world. And by our will and courage, this danger will be defeated."

Hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women are deployed across the world in the war on terror, the president noted, and their efforts make America more secure. Law enforcement and intelligence officials are examining threats and "their vigilance is protecting America."

Bush said America faces a choice: "We can go forward with confidence and resolve, or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us."

Bush said the American military is leading the fight on terror. Service members have now captured or killed two-thirds of the known al Qaeda leaders.

"Thousands of very skilled and determined military personnel are on a manhunt, going after the remaining killers who hide in cities and caves," the president said. "And, one by one, we will bring the terrorists to justice."

The United States is also determined to take action against regimes that harbor terrorists or could supply terror groups with weapons of mass destruction, Bush said. "The first to see our determination were the Taliban, who made Afghanistan the primary training base of al Qaeda killers."

Afghanistan has now agreed to a new constitution, guaranteeing free elections and full participation by women, and with help from the new Afghan National Army, the U.S.-led coalition is operating against surviving members of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

"The men and women of Afghanistan are building a nation that is free and proud and fighting terror – and America is honored to be their friend," Bush said.

In Iraq there is a similar litany of success. The regime of Saddam Hussein is overthrown and U.S. soldiers captured him hiding in a hole in the ground.

"Having broken the Baathist regime, we face a remnant of violent Saddam supporters," the president said. "These killers, joined by foreign terrorists, are a serious, continuing danger. Yet we are making progress against them."

Coalition forces have captured or killed 45 of the 55 most-wanted former regime members. "Our forces are on the offensive, leading over 1,600 patrols a day, and conducting an average of 180 raids every week," he said. "We are dealing with these thugs in Iraq, just as surely as we dealt with Saddam Hussein’s evil regime."

Bush said that building a new Iraq will be hard, but it is worth the effort. In June, the coalition will transition to full Iraqi sovereignty. He vowed that the United States will stand by Iraq as it makes the transition to democracy.

There have been other positive consequences of America’s resolve to win the war on terror, Bush pointed out. In December Libyan leader Moammar Qadhafi voluntarily pledged to disclose and dismantle all of his regime’s weapons of mass destruction programs, including a uranium-enrichment project for nuclear weapons.

"Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not," Bush said. "And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible – and no one can now doubt the word of America."

But different threats require different strategies. The United States is working with nations of the region to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program and stop proliferating missile technology. The international community is demanding Iran meet its commitments and not develop nuclear weapons. "America is committed to keeping the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world’s most dangerous regimes," the president said.

He reminded Congress and the American people that the nation is really at war. He said many people view terrorism more as a crime, a problem to be solved mainly with law enforcement and indictments.

"After the World Trade Center was first attacked in 1993, some of the guilty were indicted, tried, convicted and sent to prison," he said. "But the matter was not settled. The terrorists were still training and plotting in other nations and drawing up more ambitious plans.

"After the chaos and carnage of September 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers," he continued. "The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States — and war is what they got."

He said that many in America did not agree with the war to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein. But what has been revealed since coalition forces took Baghdad say it was the right thing to do, he emphasized.

The first report of the Iraqi Survey Group, chaired by David Kay, identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations. "Had we failed to act, the dictator’s weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day," Bush said.

Had the coalition not acted, Saddam would still be flouting the U.N. Security Council. "Iraq’s torture chambers would still be filled with victims – terrified and innocent," Bush said. "The killing fields of Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of men, women and children vanished into the sands, would still be known only to the killers. For all who love freedom and peace, the world without Saddam Hussein’s regime is a better and safer place."

Bush also took on critics who say the coalition in Iraq must be internationalized. "This particular criticism is hard to explain to our partners in Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador, and the 17 other countries that have committed troops to Iraq," he said.

The United States owes a debt of gratitude to those nations and more who have supported the war on terror, Bush noted. "There is a difference, however, between leading a coalition of many nations, and submitting to the objections of a few. America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people."

Bush said the nation has gone through much in the last three years. "By our actions, we have shown what kind of nation we are," he said. "In grief, we found the grace to go on. In challenge, we rediscovered the courage and daring of a free people. In victory, we have shown the noble aims and good heart of America. And having come this far, we sense that we live in a time set apart."