Last week some Democrats gave President Bush an opportunity to clarify the objective in the War on Terrorism and put John Kerry on the defensive. For example, thinking he was being clever, Al Gore remarked in his convention speech:
We have to be crystal clear about the threat we face from terrorism. It is deadly. It is real. It is imminent. But in order to protect our people, shouldn't we focus on the real source of this threat: the group that attacked us and is trying to attack us again -- al Qaeda, headed by Osama Bin Laden?
Wouldn't we be safer with a President who didn't insist on confusing al Qaeda with Iraq? Doesn't that divert too much of our attention away from the principal danger?
Now that the former vice president (the word "former" gives one a sense of relief, no?) has distilled the War on Terrorism down to the destruction of al Qaeda, President Bush should respond with an explanation of why that is a myopic view. At the Republican Convention, Bush should utter the following words:
"Recently, some members of the opposition part have suggested that this administration has lost focus, that we have turned our attention away for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Such sentiment is as silly as it is arrogant. Over 500 al Qaeda operatives have been captured in the last three years, and much of their financial resources have been disabled. We are as committed today to destroying al Qaeda and capturing Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, as we were on September 12, 2001. I will not rest until that objective is achieved.
"My opponents' argument also represents a shortsighted view on the War on Terrorism. If we limit ourselves to al Qaeda, we will miss an opportunity to rid the world of the greatest source of terrorism, Islamofascism. We must rid the world of this heinous ideology whose adherents are intent on imposing theocratic, tyrannical regimes throughout the world and use violence in the form of terrorism to achieve it.
"Were we to defeat al Qaeda but fail to remove the scourge of Islamofascism from the Middle East, we would win a battle but lose the larger war. Al Qaeda would be gone, but it would not be long before another terrorist group takes its place. As long as Islamofascism plagues that region of the globe, there will always be recruits for terrorism. We will end up fighting one terrorist organization after another.
"Societies that are despotic provide a breeding ground for the extremism that makes Islamofascism so appealing to so many young men and women in the Middle East. They are much more likely to become followers of Islamofascists when they are prevented from living free lives. Islamofascism provides an outlet for their frustrations, and an easy scapegoat for their problems.
"Only in a free society will such extremism dissipate. In a free society, young men and women can participate in the political system and decide who governs them; they can own property and use it to build their own vision of prosperity and success. In short, only in a free society can they have any hope of pursuing their dreams.
"That is why it is so important for us to bring liberty to the Middle East. We have started that process in Afghanistan; within weeks, the inhabitants there will hold a free and fair election for the first time in their lives. Bringing liberty to the Middle East was one of the reasons we invaded Iraq. And we see that freedom is taking hold there. Hundreds of newspapers now compete for Iraqis' attentions. Iraqis are eager to participate in the political process. Thousands of Iraqis have competed for slots on city councils. With a national election coming in January, Iraq, along with Afghanistan, is poised to become a beacon of liberty in the Middle East.
"However, this will only happen if we stay the course. We must support the people of Afghanistan and Iraq in their struggle against the forces of Islamofascism that are trying to strangle those infant democracies in their cribs. But if we stay the course, those countries will become examples to all other Middle Easterners of what liberty can mean.
"Already, we are seeing movements in the direction of liberty all over the Arab world. In Egypt, the government there has allowed more freedom for the opposition. Dissident intellectuals are pushing for more openness, and many newspapers freely criticize the government. In Saudi Arabia, the royal family has agreed to unprecedented municipal elections. In Syria, there are a few brave souls who have demonstrated against the government; in addition some private universities and private banks have opened. And in Iran, brave students demonstrate against the oppressive regime of the mullahs.
"But there are only minor steps toward more liberty in the Middle East. They can falter if we lose our resolve. If we fail to see through the establishment of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, the small flicker of liberty in the Middle East today will be extinguished before it can ever become a glowing flame.
"Yet I know that the American people will not lose their resolve. I know that we will see this struggle through. And that is the challenge I lay out for this great nation tonight. We must achieve in the Middle East, what we once achieved with the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. We must encourage the Saudis and the Egyptians to continue on the road toward democratic reform. We must find ways to support the protesters in Syria and Iran. But most importantly, we must stay the course in Afghanistan and Iraq; we must defeat the remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban, the Baathist insurgents in Iraq and the followers of al Zarqawi. In short, we must defeat the greatest threats to democracy in those countries.
"That is the vision I lay out before you tonight. A free and democratic Middle East, one in which people live lives of hope, not despair. One that is no longer a breeding ground for organizations that use terrorism.
"We can achieve that goal, just like we once brought down 'that wall' of communism. We can create a free Middle East, and world that is safe from terrorism. We must stay the course. Good night, God bless you, and God Bless America."