In a primetime address to the nation, President Bush defended the war in Iraq and rejected calls to set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops. In his speech, Bush repeatedly tried to connect the war in Iraq to September 11 even though Iraq had no role in the attacks. We speak with former Pentagon insider, Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski. [includes rush transcript]
In a primetime address to the nation, President Bush defended the war in Iraq and rejected calls to set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops.
Bush repeatedly tried to connect the war in Iraq to September 11 even though Iraq had no role in the attacks. The White House had titled his remarks a discussion on “the War on Terror,” not Iraq. The President used much of his speech to portray the resistance in Iraq and the perpetrators of 9/11 as the same. While there was no mention of the original rationale for the invasion: the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, Bush mentioned September 11th five times in his address and used the word “terror” or “terrorism” 34 times. The President also made a rare reference to Osama bin Laden, quoting him as a reason for staying the course.
Bush acknowledged no flaw in the administration’s Iraq policy. He refused to set a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq despite repeated calls by lawmakers, including an increasing number of Republicans, for the president to do so. He also argued against sending more troops saying it would undermine US strategy. Over 1,700 US troops have been killed so in Iraq and many thousands more wounded.
Bush’s speech came 25 months after the invasion began and at a time that domestic support for the war has reached an all time low. The Washington Post writes, “increasingly restive White House advisers concluded a couple of weeks ago that Bush needed to use his bully pulpit to reclaim control of the political debate over Iraq.”
In the past few weeks, the Bush administration has given mixed messages on Iraq. Vice-President Dick Cheney has said the insurgency is in its “last throes”. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that it could last up to 12 years.
After some initial reluctance, all three major networks broadcast the speech, which the White House scheduled to mark the first anniversary of the so-called handover of sovereignty in Iraq. Since then, 948 U.S. soldiers have died; thousands of Iraqis have been killed; a total of fifty-two senior Iraqi government or religious figures have been assassinated; and the number of Iraqi military and police being killed each month has jumped by fifty percent.
Bush delivered the speech from Fort Bragg before hundred of US troops. They stood at attention without applauding as Bush entered, and refrained from clapping during most of the address. There was one round of applause in the middle of the speech, which was apparently sparked by a White House aide–this according to the Los Angeles Times.
Today, we spend the hour going through President Bush’s speech. We host a roundtable discussion with a former Pentagon official, a veteran Middle East journalist and a mother who lost her son in Iraq. First let’s go to President Bush’s opening remarks last night.
- Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski (Ret.), retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who served in the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia (NESA) unit in the year before the invasion of Iraq. Her articles can be found at LewRockwell.com.
AMY GOODMAN: We host a roundtable discussion with a former Pentagon insider, a veteran Middle East journalist and a mother who lost her son in Iraq. But first we go to President Bush’s opening remarks last night.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror. The war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001. The terrorists who attack us and the terrorists we face murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance and despises all dissent. Their aim is to remake the Middle East in their own grim image of tyranny and oppression by toppling governments, by driving us out of the region and by exporting terror. To achieve these aims, they have continued to kill: in Madrid, Istanbul, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Bali and elsewhere. The terrorists believe that free societies are essentially corrupt and decadent and, with a few hard blows, they can force us to retreat. They are mistaken.
After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy. Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania.
There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of coalition operations in Iraq, who is also senior commander at this base, General John Vines, put it well the other day. He said, “We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us.”
Our mission in Iraq is clear: We’re hunting down the terrorists. We’re helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We’re advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren.
The work in Iraq is difficult, and it is dangerous. Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying, and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it. And it is vital to the future security of our country. And tonight I will explain the reasons why.
Some of the violence you see in Iraq is being carried out by ruthless killers who are converging on Iraq to fight the advance of peace and freedom. Our military reports that we have killed or captured hundreds of foreign fighters in Iraq who have come from Saudi Arabia and Syria, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and others. They are making common cause with criminal elements, Iraqi insurgents and remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime who want to restore the old order. They fight because they know that the survival of their hateful ideology is at stake. They know that as freedom takes root in Iraq, it will inspire millions across the Middle East to claim their liberty, as well.
And when the Middle East grows in democracy and prosperity and hope, the terrorists will lose their sponsors, lose their recruits and lose their hopes for turning that region into a base for attacks on America and our allies around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Bush speaking at Fort Bragg yesterday. We’re joined now on the telephone by Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski. I recently met her in West Virginia, her home state. We talked about her time in the Pentagon, where she served in the Near East and South Asia unit the year before the invasion of Iraq. She served in the parent office of the Office of Special Plans under one of the chief neo-conservatives, Douglas Feith. She joins us on the phone right now from her home in West Virginia. Welcome to Democracy Now! Hi. Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about first your reaction to President Bush’s address last night at Fort Bragg?
LT. COL. KAREN KWIATKOWSKI: Well, a very frightening speech. Very frightening if any of it had been true. So I was actually curious as to who he was addressing this speech to. I mean, there were so many things in there that just don’t match with reality, whether it’s the American strategy, why we’re in Iraq, which was supposedly why he gave this address, to explain to the American people why this is worth it, and yet he didn’t speak about any of those reasons.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk from your own experience in the Pentagon in one of the — and talk about the office you worked in about how 9/11 was connected to the invasion of Iraq, how they linked it?
LT. COL. KAREN KWIATKOWSKI: Well, in real terms, in truthful, honest terms, there was no connection, and that was well known by the intelligence community, and the administration was advised repeatedly that there was no connection between 9/11 and anything that Saddam Hussein was doing and anything the people in Iraq were doing. So when I worked in the Pentagon, of course, and what the American people saw was repeated attempts by the administration and several of the media outlets that the administration favors and uses. Mainstream media, unfortunately, promulgated this idea prior to the invasion that 9/11 was somehow connected to Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people.
Later, after we invaded after we searched for weapons of mass destruction, after we did all these other things and searched for terrorists, we searched for bin Laden’s people, there weren’t any in Iraq until after we got there, after we destroyed the security infrastructure and took down the Baath Party system. Then you do have terrorists in Iraq, but only afterwards. So it was very disingenuous for George Bush to, at this late date after so much is known, to make this connection to suggest this 9/11 connection and to suggest that this is about American homeland security. This thing in Iraq has nothing to do with homeland security, unless it’s to make it worse.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, worked in the Pentagon under Douglas Feith. We’re going to break and when we come back, we’ll continue our discussion. We’ll also be joined by Patrick Cockburn of the Independent, just came out of Iraq and we’ll be speaking with Cindy Sheehan, who is the mother of a U.S. soldier who was killed in Iraq.