WASHINGTON– In his last scheduled visit to a service academy while in office, President George W. Bush told Army cadets today that the U.S. military has transformed to face threats it faces now and in the future. Bush charted the progress of his administration in the war on terror and spoke of what remains to be done in a half-hour address at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

The president said that as the Cold War was ending, another war against extremists was beginning.

“In hidden corners of the world, violent religious extremists were plotting ways to advance their radical aims and their grim ideology,” he said.

Terror attacks against the World Trade Center in 1993, against Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the strike on the USS Cole were part of this war. But it wasn’t until Sept. 11, 2001, that Americans woke to the fact that hostilities had started. The attacks in New York and Washington were just one part of the terror campaign, Bush said.

“In the space of a single morning, we realized that we were facing a worldwide movement of fanatics pledged to our destruction,” he said. “We saw that conditions of repression and despair on the other side of the world could bring suffering and death to our own streets.”

All of America’s might had to be concentrated against such an onslaught, and the U.S. government and international partners worked together in ways unthinkable a few years before, the president said.

“Here at home, we hardened our defenses and created the Department of Homeland Security,” Bush said. He pointed to the Patriot Act, reorganization in the intelligence agencies and increased financial pressures as other examples.

“We also made dramatic changes to our military strategy and the military itself,” he said. “We resolved that we would not wait to be attacked again, and so we went on the offense against the terrorists overseas so we would not have to face them here at home.”

U.S. servicemembers and their diplomatic colleagues worked with allies to strengthen their counterterrorism capabilities, Bush said.

“We understood that if we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long,” he said. “So we made clear that hostile regimes sponsoring terror or pursuing weapons of mass destruction would be held to account.” American diplomats also engaged in efforts “to discredit the hateful vision of the extremists and advance the hopeful alternative of freedom,” said he added.

Bush said the first order after Sept. 11 was to take the fight to the enemy, he said.

“From the Horn of Africa to the islands of Southeast Asia to wherever these thugs hide, we and our allies have applied the full range of military and intelligence assets to keep unrelenting pressure on al-Qaida and its affiliates,” he said.

The efforts have weakened the terrorists, but Osama bin Laden remains at large and extremists still can launch attacks such as the one in Mumbai, India, last month, Bush said.

“Yet, [the terrorists] are facing pressures so intense that the only way they can stay alive is to stay underground,” Bush said. “The day will come. The day will come when they receive the justice they deserve.”

Intelligence sharing and counterterrorism training became buzz words around the world, and the United States worked with a range of allies who have made enormous contributions in the war on terror, Bush said.

“One of the most important challenges we will face, and you will face in the years ahead, is helping our partners assert control over ungoverned spaces,” he told the cadets. “The problem is most pronounced in Pakistan, where areas along the Afghanistan border are home to Taliban and to al-Qaida fighters. The Pakistani government and people understand the threat, because they have been victims of terror themselves.”

The United States stands ready to help to train Pakistani security forces, the president said. “And at the same time, we have made it clear to Pakistan and to all our partners that we will do what is necessary to protect American troops and the American people,” he said.

U.S. friends and foes around the world agree that governments that sponsor terror are as guilty as the terrorists and will be held accountable, Bush said. In Afghanistan, it resulted in a U.S.-led coalition ousting the Taliban and shutting down al-Qaida training camps, he said.

“Now, America and our 25 NATO allies and 17 partner nations are standing with the Afghan people as they defend their free society,” he said.

Iraq also posed a danger, Bush said. “After seeing the destruction of Sept. 11, we concluded that America could not afford to allow a regime with such a threatening and violent record to remain in the heart of the Middle East. So we offered Saddam Hussein a final chance to peacefully resolve the issue. And when he refused, we acted with a coalition of nations to protect our people, and liberated 25 million Iraqis.”

The fight in Iraq has been longer and tougher than expected, Bush said. In 2006, in fact, the nation was on the verge of civil war.

“So we adopted a new strategy, and rather than retreating, sent more troops into Baghdad and Iraq,” he said. “And when the surge met its objective, we began to bring our troops home under a policy of return on success.”

American leaders recognize long-term solutions are needed to turn people away from joining the terrorists, Bush said.

“When we overthrew the dictators in Afghanistan and Iraq, we refused to take the easy option and install friendly strongmen in their place,” he said. “Instead, we’re doing the tough work of helping democratic societies emerge as examples for people all across the Middle East.”

A final peg in the new strategy is the transformation of the military, Bush said.

“This transformation was a top priority for the enterprising leader who served as my first secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld,” he said. “Today, because of his leadership and the leadership of Secretary Bob Gates, we have made our military better trained, better equipped and better prepared to meet the threats facing America today and tomorrow and long in the future.”

Troops have real-time battlefield intelligence capabilities that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago, Bush said. In Iraq and Afghanistan, troops use global positioning systems to direct air strikes that take out the enemy while sparing innocent life, he said.

More special operations forces are needed in the global war on terror, and the military is getting them, Bush said.

“Over the past eight years, we have more than doubled funding for special operators,” he said. “We created the first-ever special operations command within the Marines. We have given [U.S.] Special Operations Command the lead role in the global war against the terrorists.”

New ways of mixing civilian and military capabilities, such as the provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, have a long-term affect on the fight, Bush said.

“In both Iraq and Afghanistan, these teams are helping local communities create jobs and deliver basic services and keep the terrorists from coming back,” he said.

Conventional forces also are changing. “We have begun the most sweeping transformation of America’s global force posture since the end of World War II,” Bush said. Troops now can surge more rapidly to trouble spots around the world, he added.

“We’ve established new military commands to meet challenges unique to Africa and to support our homeland,” Bush said. “We’ve invested more than a half trillion dollars in research and development so we can build even more advanced capabilities to protect America from the dangers of a new century.”

The United States put in place limited missile defense and is working with Russia to draw down nuclear weapons, he said.

“These reductions are part of a new approach to strategic deterrence that relies on both nuclear and conventional strike forces as well as strong defenses,” he said. “This approach sends a clear message to the world. We will reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons, while keeping America’s strategic deterrents unchallenged.”

The U.S. military is stronger today than it was eight years ago, Bush said.

“In the years ahead, our nation must continue developing the capabilities to take the fight to our enemies across the world,” he said. “We must stay on the offensive. We must be determined and we must be relentless to do our duty to protect the American people from harm.”

Up Next

Active Shooter & You

WASHINGTON– In his last scheduled visit to a service academy while in office, President…