WASHINGTON – President Bush's recent series of speeches on the War on Terror and America's military campaign in Iraq have reignited the debate over whether they are separate wars or one and the same.
Bush, who wrapped up his speaking campaign with an address to the nation on the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, strongly reinforced his position that helping build a democracy in Iraq is a critical component of America's war against international terrorists.
"If we do not defeat these enemies now, we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons," Bush said from the Oval Office. "We are in a war that will set the course for this new century and determine the destiny of millions across the world."
The speech was criticized by Democrats who said the president, instead of focusing on the somber tone of Sept. 11, had seized the opportunity to make a political speech in favor of his administration's Iraq policy.
"The American people deserved an opportunity to grieve and come together as a nation last night," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "Instead, President Bush gave them partisan and inaccurate rhetoric."
While Bush vows to keep American troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future, some say the decision to invade the country was never part of the War on Terror to begin with, and that the battle to defeat Al Qaeda would benefit if American troops weren't committed to staying there.
"Al Qaeda wasn't present in Iraq when this war began," said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. "It's regrettable that all the resources we've put in there could have been put more effectively in Afghanistan in making America safe."
With more than 145,000 troops in Iraq, Bush faces strong opposition from those who say the country is descending into a civil war and demand a timeline for withdrawing troops.
Bush, for his part, has never wavered in his position that Iraq is inextricably linked to the War on Terror.
“This war will be difficult, this war will be long, and this war will end in the defeat of the terrorists and totalitarians and a victory for the cause of freedom and liberty,” Bush said recently.
A majority of Americans find a distinction between the war in Iraq and the War on Terror, according to a CBS/New York Times poll. The poll found that 51 percent don't think there is a link between Iraq and the War on Terror, and 50 percent think Bush is spending too much time on Iraq instead of focusing on other threats.
Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the CATO Institute, says the war in Iraq diverted some crucial assets such as intelligence and military planning resources from Afghanistan.
“I personally don’t believe that a physical U.S. military presence is necessary for our security, but certainly the president has made clear that there will be troops when he leaves office,” Preble said.
“I think the American public has legitimate questions and concerns about the cost of the presence, the open-endedness of the mission and the lack of demonstrable progress that is being made."
But Bush stands firm in his position that American troops must finish the job.
"A failed Iraq would make America less secure. A failed Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will provide a safe haven for terrorists and extremists," Bush said last month.
If the United States were to leave Iraq, it would help downsize the breeding ground for terrorists there, but it would not eliminate the problem," said Daniel Byman, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University. “They are using Iraq as a way to conduct attacks on Iraq’s neighbors.”
“If the United States left, Iraq would be even more so a sanctuary for terrorists,” Byman said.
‘Stay the Course’ vs. ‘Change in Course’
Bush touts a message of “stay the course” in Iraq, but some critics want a “change in course.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., led a Democratic charge to pass a resolution "that would express a loss of confidence in the Bush administration's Iraq policy,' as well as a loss of confidence in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Republicans called the move a political stunt and blocked the resolution.
Republicans say Democrats don’t offer real proposals to address the situation in Iraq, but Sen. Joseph Biden, who has traveled to Iraq seven times, disagrees.
“The fact of the matter is, what’s the plan? The plan so far is to add more troops into Baghdad,” Biden said.
Other Democrats claim the Bush administration Iraq policy isn’t working.
“We don’t believe that we should have an endless plan that doesn’t seem to get anywhere,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “We don’t want to wait until something happens, we want to prevent things from happening.”