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Iraq War Was a ‘Duty,’ Bush Tells Britons

Special to The Times

President Bush forcefully defended the Iraq war to a divided Britain on Wednesday, asserting that “duty sometimes requires the violent restraint of violent men,” particularly when international institutions such as the United Nations fail to resolve security threats.

“In some cases, the measured use of force is all that protects us from a chaotic world ruled by force,” Bush said in a foreign policy address before a handpicked audience in this heavily fortified capital, which today is expected to draw as many as 100,000 antiwar demonstrators.

Far from backing down, the president urged Europeans never to forget that their relative harmony was achieved only by “allied armies of liberation and NATO armies of defense.”

To further justify the Iraq war and his controversial doctrine of preemptive military action, Bush invoked memories of World War II and the Holocaust, saying those events occurred because “free nations failed to recognize, much less confront, aggressive evil in plain sight.”

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The result was a century filled with violence and genocide, he told the audience composed of several hundred members of two British national security think tanks, in his only official address of his three-day state visit.

Today, with the possibility of dictators supplying terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, “the evil is in plain sight” once more, Bush said. “The danger only increases with denial.”

In a day rich with royal pageantry, Bush also met privately with about a dozen family members of some of the 67 British citizens who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Also on Wednesday, new security concerns arose as the president and First Lady Laura Bush began their visit. British Prime Minister Tony Blair ordered an investigation after the Daily Mirror reported, in stunning detail, that a staff writer who had been hired as a footman after giving false references had worked in Buckingham Palace for two months -- then voluntarily departed only after Bush and his entourage arrived at Queen Elizabeth II’s official residence Tuesday night.

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As Bush attended a Wednesday night banquet there in his honor, throngs of antiwar demonstrators converged outside. Police arrested more than two dozen protesters.

For security considerations, the White House had canceled a Bush appearance scheduled for earlier in the day in Grosvenor Square, just across from the U.S. Embassy, where the president was to have placed a wreath at Britain’s Sept. 11 memorial.

For many, Bush’s visit touches an exposed nerve, still inflamed months after an anguished national debate over whether to join Washington in its invasion of Iraq. The failure so far to uncover weapons of mass destruction in that country has further angered opponents of the war, which has resulted in the death of 52 British troops.

The deep division in British society was underscored by the resignation of the leader of the House of Commons on the eve of the war and the later resignation of a Cabinet minister who called Blair “reckless” for supporting it.

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Britain was also rocked by the suicide of government scientist David Kelly, an expert on Iraq’s weapons program who, as an anonymous source, told the BBC that Blair overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. He killed himself after the Blair government exposed his identity, leading to a government inquiry and the resignation of Blair’s director of communications.

Blair has attempted to heal the nation’s division in recent weeks, firmly defending the decision to topple Hussein and trying to refocus his government’s attention on domestic problems.

Bush’s visit has come in the midst of that political make-over, reemphasizing the war’s fault lines.

For Blair, who has stood shoulder to shoulder with a president whose blunt Texas style grates on many British citizens, the visit has threatened to become a public relations nightmare.

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London Mayor Ken Livingstone, one of the louder antiwar voices, told reporters just before Bush arrived that the president was the “greatest threat to life on this planet that we’ve most probably ever seen,” adding, “The policies he is initiating will doom us to extinction.”

At the same time, a poll published Tuesday in the Guardian newspaper found that 43% of those questioned approved of Bush’s visit, with 36% saying they would prefer he stayed away.

And the number of those who believe that the war in Iraq was justified jumped to 47%, an increase of 9 percentage points in the last two months.

Bush, in his midday address, laid out “three pillars” for peace and security. The first pillar, he said, was the use of diplomacy over warfare, when possible, as a way of resolving security threats.

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But the second pillar, he said, was “the willingness of free nations, when last resort arrives, to restrain aggression and evil by force.”

Bush added: “It’s not enough to meet the dangers of the world with resolutions. We must meet those dangers with resolve.”

The president touted as his third pillar the promotion of democracy and democratic values, saying the liberation of people from oppression and violence was “still a moral goal.”

He emphasized the Middle East as “a place where freedom does not flourish” but where significant progress toward greater individual liberties was possible if some “in the West” would abandon “a certain skepticism about the capacity or even the desire of Middle Eastern peoples for self-government.”

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Bush also reiterated his harsh criticism of the leadership of Yasser Arafat, although not by name.

“The long-suffering Palestinian people deserve better,” he said. “They deserve true leaders, capable of creating and governing a Palestinian state.”

The president further called on European leaders to “withdraw all favor and support from any Palestinian ruler who fails his people and betrays their cause,” saying that all leaders should “strongly oppose anti-Semitism.”

As for Iraq and Afghanistan, the president counseled patience as he recited the progress being made in those countries toward civil society.

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“And much of it has proceeded faster than similar efforts in Germany and Japan after World War II,” Bush said, adding that the U.S. would stay the course in Iraq despite the escalating guerrilla attacks that are claiming a growing number of American lives.

“We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq and pay a bitter cost of casualties, and liberate 25 million people, only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins,” the president said.

Bush also made light of his detractors, recalling the recent experience of David Blaine, the American illusionist who drew harsh taunts while spending 44 days in a plexiglass box suspended from the Tower Bridge here.

“A few [Britons] might have been happy to provide similar arrangements for me,” he joked.

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The speech met with polite applause from the think tank audience and favorable reaction from the British press.

“Bush delivered a very good speech,” columnist Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian. “Well constructed, well written and, yes, well delivered -- even without the help of autocue.”

In the Independent, it was called “a bravura performance” from a man “who made his reputation as a tongue-tied buffoon with a fine line in malapropisms.”

Earlier Wednesday, the president and Mrs. Bush, who are staying at Buckingham Palace, attended a public welcoming ceremony in front of the palace that was viewed by a crowd of no more than a few hundred onlookers -- far sparser than the crowds that typically turn out to witness a changing of the palace guards.

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Law enforcement officials speculated that people stayed away either out of indifference or concern about the antiwar demonstrations.

Among the ceremony’s onlookers were a handful of Bush detractors, several of whom unfurled a large sign in Green Park just across from the palace that read, “Bush is a vote thief.”

At one point during the ceremony, as the Bushes made their way down a receiving line, escorted by the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, a heckler, taunting Blair more than Bush, began chanting into a battery-powered megaphone: “If you think Blair is a poodle, shout, ‘Woof, woof!’ ”

Several people responded accordingly. Some critics of the prime minister, who has staunchly supported Bush in the Iraq war, have derided him as the president’s “poodle.”

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But the chants were quickly drowned out by a 41-gun salute and the U.S. national anthem, the first time it has been used at a Buckingham Palace ceremony since Sept. 13, 2001, when the queen ordered that it be played during the changing of the guard as a show of solidarity.

During the state banquet in the ballroom of Buckingham Palace, both the queen and the president emphasized the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain. “The two sides of the ocean have never been closer,” she said during a toast.

Bush echoed the queen’s remarks, but quipped at one point, “Of course, things didn’t start out too well.”

Bush is scheduled to have a working lunch with Blair today, and British officials say the prime minister will use the meeting to push the president to accelerate the political and economic components of the Iraq occupation.

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On Wednesday, Liberal Democratic leader Charles Kennedy met with Bush and said afterward that the president expressed the hope that the dispute between London and Washington over the detention of British citizens as “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could be resolved “in the next week or two.”

If it is, Blair would have something tangible to point to in rebutting criticism from some here that Britain has received little in return for its support of the U.S.-declared war on terrorism.

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Chen is a Times staff writer. Wallace is a special correspondent.

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(Begin Text of Infobox)

‘The duty to defend’

Excerpts from President Bush’s remarks Wednesday at London’s Banqueting House, as provided by the White House:

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On September the 11th, 2001, terrorists left their mark of murder on my country, and took the lives of 67 British citizens.... The hope that danger has passed is comforting, is understanding, and it is false....

The peace and security of free nations now rests on three pillars: First, international organizations must be equal to the challenges facing our world, from lifting up failing states to opposing proliferation.

The United States and Great Britain have labored hard to help make the United Nations ... an effective instrument of our collective security.... The credibility of the U.N. depends on a willingness to keep its word and to act when action is required.

The second pillar of peace and security in our world is the willingness of free nations, when the last resort arrives, to restrain aggression and evil by force.... The people have given us the duty to defend them. And that duty sometimes requires the violent restraint of violent men....

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The third pillar of security is our commitment to the global expansion of democracy, and the hope and progress it brings, as the alternative to instability and to hatred and terror. We cannot rely exclusively on military power to assure our long-term security. Lasting peace is gained as justice and democracy advance.

For the full text of the speech, go to latimes.com/bushtext

Source: Associated Press

Los Angeles Times

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