President Bush said Saturday that America must take “preemptive action” against the worst terrorist threats “before they emerge” and must confront evil-doers “in any dark corner of the world.”
“If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long,” Bush said in a tough, uncompromising address to the 204th graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy.
The president’s vow to maintain an aggressive posture was particularly pointed, coming on the heels of a weeklong European tour that revealed a continuing undercurrent of concern among the allies about the war on terrorism, especially the administration’s determination to confront Iraq and other countries that seek weapons of mass destruction and have histories of involvement with terrorism.
Bush’s remarks also came at a time when attention is riveted on the growing body of evidence that the nation’s intelligence and law enforcement communities may have missed the significance of clues to an impending terrorist attack before Sept. 11.
The president held his ground Saturday, arguing that the new enemy in the world demands “new thinking.”
“We face a threat with no precedent,” Bush said, describing the Sept. 11 hijackers as “a few dozen evil and deluded men” whose suicidal missions had been financed by only “a few hundred thousand dollars ... much less than the cost of a single tank.”
Against such enemies, he said, the Cold War strategy of deterrence and containment “means nothing.”
“Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies,” Bush said in a unmistakable reference to Iraq and North Korea.
“In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action,” he said. “And this nation will act.”
Since active hostilities have slowed on the ground in Afghanistan, the Bush administration has struggled to take its war on terrorism to the next level. In January, the president sought to expand the battle by labeling Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil” and suggesting that the war could soon spread to such countries, particularly Iraq.
U.S. allies, which have been essential to the international effort to rout out Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization, have increasingly criticized Bush’s unilateralist tendencies. Thousands of antiwar demonstrators flooded the streets of Berlin last week to protest U.S. policies during Bush’s visit. While German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder pledged solidarity in the fight against terrorism, objections to spreading the battle to Iraq extend to the highest political levels there and in other European nations.
In his speech, Bush expressed his determination to act decisively and speak forthrightly--even if that were to offend the sensibilities of America’s allies.
“Some worry that it is somehow undiplomatic or impolite to speak the language of right and wrong. I disagree. Different circumstances require different methods--but not different moralities ....By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem. We reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it.”
In addition to reaffirming his determination to confront terrorists around the world, Bush’s comments also served as a justification for the far-reaching policies his administration announced last week, expanding the abilities of domestic intelligence gathering, especially by the FBI.
Bush told the cadets that they must be “ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world.”
But even as he warned of a long campaign filled with grave dangers and complex choices, Bush displayed his trademark optimism, predicting that one day “we will lift this dark threat from our country and from the world.”
Before addressing the 958 graduating West Point cadets in a football stadium packed with tens of thousands of their friends and family members, Bush took a few minutes to telephone participants in the annual Race for the Cure, a breast cancer fund-raising event in downtown Washington.
Although Bush spoke from a private office, his remarks were piped into a nearby press center so that traveling reporters could hear them--a standard arrangement.
But as Bush was wrapping up his brief remarks, a White House communications technician interrupted, informing him that the telephone connection had proved faulty and his words had not been heard in Washington.
“What are you talking about? They dropped the call? You mean, I haven’t, they haven’t heard a word yet?” Bush demanded.
“God dang-it,” he snapped.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush’s congratulatory remarks were rebroadcast, but the runners in Washington did not hear them then either because of technical problems with the race’s public address system.