Bush Speeches Omit Soldiers Killed in Helicopter
President Bush said Monday that he mourned the life of every fallen American service member and vowed that the United States would “never run” from Iraq despite the continuing attacks on Americans and Iraqi civilians.
But in two appearances here, he made no specific reference to the 16 U.S. soldiers who were killed when their Chinook helicopter was shot down Sunday by a surface-to-air missile near Fallouja -- the deadliest attack on American forces since the United States invaded Iraq in March.
Instead, Bush delivered versions of his standard stump speeches, proclaiming the start of an economic recovery and reaffirming U.S. resolve in the war on terror.
What he did not say was, perhaps, as noteworthy as what he did say. He not only did not mention Sunday’s casualties, but also largely omitted his usual detailed recitation of the progress being made in the reconstruction of Iraq -- from the opening of schools to the political freedoms that Iraqis now enjoy.
After his speeches -- one billed as an address on the economy and the other a pep-rally-style campaign stemwinder at a $1.85-million fund-raiser -- Bush returned to his ranch near Crawford, Texas.
He is scheduled to tour wildfire damage in San Diego County today before returning to the White House.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan disputed the notion that Bush was pursuing a strategy of avoiding comment on the ups and downs in Iraq on a daily basis, particularly when it comes to U.S. casualties.
“He talks on a regular basis about the fact that we mourn the loss of every one of our fallen soldiers,” McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One.
The president also kept quiet on the extent of U.S. military deployment in Iraq when, upon his arrival at the Birmingham airport, a reporter twice shouted at him: “How long will U.S. troops be in Iraq?” Bush shot an unappreciative look at his questioner both times and then got into his limousine to head into town.
That encounter, and Bush’s two appearances here, left the impression of a president who, while besieged by questions about Iraq, is determined to follow through on his policy and refuses to acknowledge any possible need for a mid-course correction.
“The best way to secure the homeland is to hunt the enemy down one at a time and bring them to justice, which is what America is going to do,” the president told several hundred owners and employees of small businesses. “America cannot retreat from our responsibilities.”
He praised the American soldiers serving in Iraq as “incredibly brave people” and declared: “We will win the war on terror. There is no doubt in my mind.”
Of the 376 U.S. service members who have died in Iraq since the invasion began in March, he noted: “We mourn every loss. We honor every name. We grieve with every family. And we will always be grateful that liberty has found such brave defenders....
“The enemy in Iraq believes America will run. That’s why they’re willing to kill innocent civilians, relief workers, coalition troops. America will never run. America will do what is necessary to make our country more secure.”
In his remarks at the fund-raiser, Bush did single out Johnny “Mike” Spann, a CIA operative who died in Afghanistan during an uprising of Taliban prisoners in November 2001. Spann’s father, Johnny, led the Pledge of Allegiance at the event.
“I want to thank Mike for giving his life for a cause greater than himself,” Bush said.
In the president’s first speech, at CraneWorks, a small business that rents cranes to construction projects, he credited his two across-the-board tax cuts for reviving the economy, but he also pledged to continue working to stem the steady loss of jobs during his presidency.
CraneWorks, with annual revenue of $6.5 million, touts itself as a prime beneficiary of the Bush tax cuts. Its owners, brothers David and Steve Upton, have hired 15 new employees this year, bringing the payroll to 48. This year alone, they purchased nine cranes and are experiencing a 70% growth in revenue.
When such businesses invest, Bush said, “it means somebody is more likely to find a job.”
Democrats, too, focused on the question of jobs because -- despite a red-hot third-quarter economic growth rate of 7.2%, the largest since 1984 -- unemployment hovers around 6%. During Bush’s tenure, about 2.7 million jobs have been lost.
“While we always appreciate a visit from President Bush to the state of Alabama, we hope that the rosy economic numbers announced last week do not cloud his vision of what is happening to regular hard-working Americans throughout this state,” said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.).
“The next time the president visits, I would like to take him to the Black Belt of West Alabama and show him the impact of his economic policies on real people -- those who can least afford to support this economy, pay for a war and not receive a child tax credit.”
Davis said that since Bush took office, 51,000 Alabama residents had lost their jobs.