WASHINGTON – Laying out a broad plan to win the War on Terror, President Bush on Thursday outlined an approach that includes public diplomacy, “city-by-city” fighting, military support for Iraqis and ridding that country and the world of terrorists.
"Our goal is to defeat the terrorists and their allies at the heart of their power. And so we will defeat the enemy in Iraq," Bush said to an audience at the National Endowment for Democracy. The speech was originally scheduled for Sept. 11 (search) to mark the fourth anniversary of the terror attacks on the United States, but was delayed because of federal efforts to respond to Hurricane Katrina.
"Our coalition, along with our Iraqi allies, is moving forward with a comprehensive, specific military plan. Area by area, city by city, we're conducting offensive operations to clear out enemy forces and leaving behind Iraqi units to prevent the enemy from returning," Bush said.
On Thursday, the Pentagon announced that a new Iraqi Army division had taken over securing four areas of Baghdad. Iraqi Army Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Mohammad Khalaf al-Shumali presented the 6th Iraqi Army Division during a ceremony on Monday in the Green Zone. The Pentagon has been criticized for its seemingly slow preparation of Iraqi troops to defend their own nation.
During his remarks, billed as a major address in the War on Terror, Bush called top Al Qaeda (search) operatives cowards and sought to dispel ideologies set forth by terrorists. He made the case that modern Islamist terrorists are comparable in their efforts to Nazis and communists of the 20th century.
“In this new century, freedom is once again assaulted by enemies determined to roll back generations of democratic progress. Once again, we’re responding to a global campaign of fear with a global campaign of freedom, and once again, we will see freedom’s victory," Bush said.
“We will not tire or rest until the War on Terror is won,” Bush said.
Bush delivered his address amid tough questions from critics about the course of the war in Iraq and lagging public opinion.
The most recent FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll shows Bush’s overall job approval up four points to 45 percent overall job approval by registered voters. The Sept. 27-28 poll found a 47 percent job disapproval rating. Separately, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll from the same time frame showed only 37 percent of Americans approve of Bush's handling of Iraq, with 62 percent disapproving.
Regardless of the numbers, the White House says the president is going to stick to his strategy of fighting terrorists and promoting democracy abroad while improving security at home.
Citing chapter 5, verse 32 of the Koran that describes the killing of one person as the killing of all humanity, Bush pointed out Thursday that Islamic radicals are abusing the religion to thrive off weak and powerless individuals who know no better than to lash out at other religions and the West.
"The time has come for all responsible Islamic leaders to join in denouncing an ideology that exploits Islam for political ends and defiles a noble faith," he said.
The president also said "global borderless terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda" spread propaganda and provide financing and technical assistance to local extremists to conduct "dramatic and brutal operations like September 11th."
He added that "elements of the Arab news media," "corrupted charities" and other "helpers and enablers" spread a lesson of fear against anyone who doesn't bow to them.
"They have been sheltered by authoritarian regimes: allies of convenience like Syria and Iran that share the goal of hurting America and moderate Muslim governments and use terrorist propaganda to blame their own failures on the West and America and on the Jews," he said, adding that Syria and Iran "deserve no patience from the victims of terror."
Bush singled out Usama Bin Ladin, leader of the Al Qaeda terror network, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of Al Qaeda in Iraq (search), as the purveyors of lies under the guise of Islam. Bin Laden, Bush said, promises freedom through suicide bombing.
"He assures [recruits] that this is the road to paradise, though he never offers to go along for the ride. Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy teaches that innocent individuals can be sacrificed to serve a political vision. And this explains their cold-blooded contempt for human life," Bush said.
"And in spite of this veneer of religious rhetoric, most of the victims claimed by the militants are fellow Muslims," he said.
Throwing back Zarqawi's claims that Americans are "the most cowardly of God's creatures," the president said nothing but cowardice can explain the effort to kill children and the elderly with car bombs, cut the throat of bound captives and target worshipers leaving their mosque.
Bush also sought to remind other nations that they are not safe from attacks, whether or not they are involved in fighting terrorism.
Prior to the speech, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush "is going to be directly taking on some of those who argue that we should withdraw from the Middle East and those who suggest that taking the fight to the enemy only causes these radicals to launch attacks."
But the remarks did not sway some Democrats, who have called for an exit strategy from Iraq and say they are unhappy with the Iraqi constitutional process. Iraqis are scheduled to vote on a draft constitution on Oct. 15.
Shortly after the president's speech, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, issued a statement blasting Bush's plan.
"Once again the president had an opportunity to lay out for the American people the facts on the ground in Iraq and his strategy to achieve the military, political and economic success needed in order to bring our troops home. Once again, he failed to do so. Instead, the president continued to falsely assert there is a link between the war in Iraq and the tragedy of September 11th, a link that did not and does not exist," Reid said.
Reid also said Bush failed to answer questions posed by fellow Democrats about troop withdrawal and the constitutional process, and instead "offered the same failed approach: stay the course. We cannot continue to stay the course, we must change the course. The American people and our brave men and women in Iraq deserve better."
But fellow Democrat Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island argued that it's unsafe to pull out of Iraq now. But, he added, the status quo cannot be maintained indefinitely.
"The president didn't reveal any new approaches to the issue of Iraq. He was right to point out this is a worldwide conspiracy, he was right to point out that this is a long-term threat, but the question he didn't really answer is how does Iraq fit into it now and also what is he going to do to change the dynamic in Iraq, to move us forward to provide more stability there and hopefully at some point to be able to draw down our forces," Reed told FOX News.
On the other hand, Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said the fight is similar to the ones fought against the spread of Nazism and Communism.
"We have to beat this enemy and it's a war not just against America, it's a war against all freedom-loving countries around the world. ... Iraq is the front line in the war but this is a global War on Terror and we must succeed," Thune said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaking with FOX News, said that while progress in Iraq has been frustratingly slow, he believed that Bush's approach was correct, and his speech rightfully sought to broaden the scope of the administration's War on Terror.
"The president tried to put it in a much larger scope to explain why it is so necessary, why are young people sacrificing, what will happen if this enemy — this evil that we are facing — would somehow prevail," McCain said.
"I have no doubt that he's right, that what is left of Iraq would become a base for the export of extremism and terror just as was the case in Afghanistan with the Taliban" regime ousted by American forces after the Sept. 11 attacks, McCain said.
Referring to the endowment's founder, President Ronald Reagan, Bush said freedom has made swift advances since Reagan's vision of a new world order unfolded.
"Our nation stood guard on tense borders. We spoke for the rights of dissidents and the hopes of exiles. We aided the rise of new democracies on the ruins of tyranny. And all the costs and sacrifice of that struggle has been worth it because from Latin America to Europe to Asia we've gained the peace that freedom brings," he said.
Bush spoke during trying times for his administration. He faces problems at home originating from a poorly perceived hurricane response, questions about the strategy in Iraq and a Supreme Court nominee who conservatives are complaining they don't know enough about.
But while the president's public appearances have recently increased, it is a matter of current events, not public opinion polls, said one Republican supporter.
"It's not very often we see this many big events going on so close together," Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus told FOX News on Thursday. "This is what he's said from the beginning. He wants us to be vigilant. He's not letting up on the War on Terror."
But as the president faces real-world dangers he is also burdened with political troubles, said one Democratic pollster.
"The clear danger is that his policy is failing. I mean, we don't have a strategy to turn the war over to Iraqis. ... Terror incidents, regrettably, are increasing, not decreasing, in Iraq and the president has to offer the American people a plan to get us out of Iraq and, indeed, solve the problems facing our country," Democratic pollster Doug Schoen told FOX News.
As of Wednesday, at least 1,941 members of the U.S. military had died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,513 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers, including five military civilians. Nearly 140,000 U.S. troops are still in Iraq.
FOX News' Wendell Goler and Greg Simmons and The Associated Press contributed to this report.