“So, we launched the largest reorganization of the federal government since the beginning of the Cold War, with one overriding purpose, and that was to prevent new attacks,” Bush said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was established as part of the reorganization, Bush said, as well as the National Counterterrorism Center, which works with 16 different federal agencies to track any new terrorist threat.
However, that still wasn’t enough, Bush said.
“Secondly, we recognized that even with the best defenses, we could not afford to wait for the terrorists to attack again,” Bush said. “So, we launched a global campaign to take the fight to the terrorists abroad, to dismantle their networks, to dry up their financing and find their leaders and bring them to justice.”
The message, Bush said, is “America will make no distinction between terrorists and those who harbor them.” Soon after 9/11, he said, the militant Islamic fundamentalists known as the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan at the time and were allowing terrorists to operate on their soil, were told to turn over the al-Qaida leaders who had plotted the attack.
Bush said the Taliban’s leaders refused to cooperate.
So, when the Taliban “made their choice, we made ours,” Bush said. “We removed the Taliban from power, we shut down the terrorist training camps, and we liberated more than 25 million Afghans.”
The terrorist attacks on America also caused U.S. leaders to re-examine the situation in Iraq, then under the iron rule of dictator Saddam Hussein, Bush said. Under Saddam, he said, Iraq had supported terrorists, developed and used weapons of mass destruction, threatened its neighbors, committed routine attacks on American forces and violated U.N. resolutions.
“I concluded that the world could not tolerate such a destabilizing and dangerous force in the heart of the Middle East,” Bush said. “I offered Saddam Hussein a final chance to resolve the issue peacefully.”
Saddam, just as the Taliban had, refused to cooperate, Bush said, and so, “we acted with a coalition of nations to protect our people and liberate 25 million Iraqis.”
Bush said he also realized that America needed “to counter the terrorists’ hateful ideology with a more hopeful alternative based on liberty and justice” to win the war on terrorism.
“So, after removing the threatening regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, we refused to take the easy course of trading one strongman for another,” Bush said. “Instead, we stayed to help young democracies emerge as beacons for hope for people across the Middle East, and increased our support for democratic reformers and dissidents around the world.”
Bush said people can debate the decisions he has made as president. Yet, there’s no question, he said, that America has been kept safe following 9/11.
“Here at home, we’ve prevented numerous terrorist attacks, including a plot to blow up fuel tanks at JFK [International] airport [in New York], a plot to blow up airliners bound for the East Coast, a scheme to attack a shopping mall in the Chicago area, and a plan to destroy the tallest skyscraper in Los Angeles,” Bush said.
No one knows how many lives have been saved by the thwarting of those terrorist plots, Bush said. What’s certain, he said, is there has not been another terrorist attack on the American homeland since Sept. 11, 2001.
Meanwhile, America and its allies are driving terrorists from their safe havens and severely disrupting their operations and financial networks, Bush said.
Hundreds of al-Qaida’s leaders have been killed or captured during worldwide anti-terror operations, Bush said, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks.
Thanks to the surge of forces in Iraq, Bush said, U.S., coalition and Iraq forces have “delivered a devastating blow to al-Qaida, in the land Osama bin Laden once called the central battleground in the war on terror.”
Millions of Afghan and Iraqi citizens today now vote for their political leaders during free, democratic elections, Bush said.
Citizens worldwide in countries like Liberia, Lebanon, Georgia and Ukraine “have taken to the streets to cast off the chains of tyranny and demand their God-given right for freedom,” Bush said. Today, he noted, more people live in freedom than at any other time in human history.
Yet, the global war against terrorism “will be a generational conflict” that will continue long after his presidency ends, Bush said. However, he added, his administration leaves behind the institutions and tools the United States needs to prevail.
FBI agents are focused now on thwarting any terrorist threats against the homeland, Bush said. In addition, he said, the Treasury Department is involved in shutting down terrorist financial conduits, human intelligence gathering capabilities have improved at the CIA, and the National Security Agency has expanded operations to monitor terrorist communications.
Additionally, new military technologies and resources are being employed to keep the pressure on the enemy, Bush said.
“With weapons like the Predator drone in our arsenal, our troops can conduct precision strikes on terrorists in hard-to-reach areas while sparing innocent life,” Bush pointed out. The Predator is an unmanned aircraft system.
Meanwhile, senior military and civilian students at places like the War College “are studying new counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategies,” Bush said. Future presidents, he said, will benefit from what these students have learned.
Today, a coalition of more than 90 nations is committed to combating terror and sharing intelligence, Bush said. This coalition, he said, includes Saudi Arabia, a country that produced many of the 9/11 hijackers and now serves as a staunch U.S. ally in the war on terror.
Other U.S.-sponsored initiatives, Bush said, seek to reduce the number of nuclear arms in the world as well as preventing terrorists from obtaining and using weapons of mass destruction.
Ongoing programs such as the provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan and Iraq help to change the conditions of suffering and hopelessness that give rise to extremism and terror, Bush said, and millions of Africans are receiving medical aid through the U.S. Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program.
The 9/11 attacks on America, Bush said, determined the course of his presidency.
“That day defined my presidency,” Bush said, adding it also “changed the course of history.”
While the path ahead cannot be known for sure, Bush said, America and its allies “can be confident in the destination: a world where the American people are safe and children around the world grow up with hope and peace.”
Freedom is a universal human desire, Bush said, as well as a gift bestowed by God.
Americans can feel confident about their future, he said, because “we’re blessed with men and women who willingly put the welfare of their nation before themselves.”
“As long as we have defenders of such character and courage, our nation will always be in good hands,” Bush continued, “and the future will always be bright.”