Freedom is Most Powerful Weapon, Bush Says
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 28, 2008 President Bush called upon the newest graduates of the U.S. Air Force Academy today to lead the cause of freedom in their generation, calling freedom the most powerful weapon in the U.S. arsenal.
Bush addressed the 1,012 cadets who made up the 50th graduating class in the history of the Colorado Springs, Colo., academy during commencement ceremonies.
The president drew comparisons between the wars of the 20th and 21st centuries, citing similar ideological struggles first with fascism and communism, and now with Islamic extremism.
“We are once again facing evil men who despise freedom and despise America and aim to subject millions to their violent rule,” Bush said. “And once again, our nation is called to defeat these adversaries and secure the peace for millions across the world.”
Defeating those ideologies will require all elements of national power, the president said. It will take new and advanced weaponry that offers speed, precision, agile and lethal fires. And it will take patience, the president said. But the most important factor to securing a peaceful future is the perpetuation of freedom, he said.
“For all the advanced military capabilities at our disposal, the most powerful weapon in our arsenal is the power of freedom,” Bush said.
The president remarked that in one generation the technology of aviation moved from its historic first flight, to the age of supersonic flight and space exploration. As aviation progressed, he said, it changed the face of war.
Technology today allows for more precision targeting of enemy regimes. The ability to eliminate a regime, with minimal damage to the civilian population serves as a deterrent, Bush said.
“We've removed two cruel regimes in weeks instead of years,” Bush said, comparing World War II and operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
“In Afghanistan, coalition forces and their Afghan allies drove the Taliban from power in less than two months,” Bush said. “In Iraq, with the help of the United States Air Force, our troops raced across 350 miles of enemy territory to liberate Baghdad in less than one month, one of the fastest armored advances in military history.”
This creates both opportunities and challenges in current and future wars. The United States can now fight its enemies with greater humanity by sparing innocent casualties of war. But, because many enemy forces know they cannot take on the U.S. military in a head-on fight, they turn to terrorist tactics and asymmetrical warfare.
“We've seen this in Afghanistan and Iraq. In those countries, our adversaries did not lay down their arms after the regime had been removed,” the president said. “Instead, they blended into the civilian population and, with the help of stateless terrorist networks, continue to fight through suicide bombings and attacks on innocent people.”
One way to meet the challenge is to continue developing new technologies that offer speed, agility and precision lethal targeting.
But, to win at asymmetric warfare requires patience. The enemy works to unnerve its opponent hoping they will retreat, Bush said.
Terrorists take advantage of the information age and 24-hour news cycles, creating images of chaos and suffering for the cameras, hoping it will undermine the resolve and morale of Americans, the president said.
“This means that to win the first war of the 21st century, we need to prevail, not just in the battle of arms but also in the battle of wills,” Bush said. “And we need to recognize that the only way America can lose the war on terror is if we defeat ourselves.”
Also, key in defeating hate-filled ideologies is strengthening free institutions in countries that are fighting extremists.
Bush said the United States had a “special obligation” to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq as partners in the fight against terrorism. He compared the two countries to Japan and Germany, both which the United States helped to rebuild after World War II.
“These efforts took time and patience. And a result, Germany and Japan grew in freedom and prosperity,” Bush said. “Germany and Japan, once mortal enemies, are now allies of the United States, and people across the world have reaped the benefits from that alliance.
“Today we must do the same in Afghanistan and Iraq. By helping these young democracies grow in freedom and prosperity, we will lay the foundation of peace for generations to come,” Bush said.
One difference between the rebuilding efforts, though, is that in Germany and Japan the rebuilding took place in relative peace, as opposed to today, when the United States and its allies are helping to rebuild democracies still under fire from terrorist networks and suffering significant security challenges as they grow.
“In Iraq we learned from hard experience that newly liberated people cannot make political and economic progress unless they first have some measure of security,” Bush said.
This led to last year’s strategy change, in which the president sent an additional 30,000 troops there to help stabilize the region while the government established its political roots.
“Violence in Iraq is down to the lowest point since March of 2004. Civilian deaths are down. Sectarian killings are down,” Bush said. “And as security has improved, the economy has improved as well. Political reconciliation is taking place at the grass-roots and national level.”
Another challenge to warfare today is defining success, Bush said. Wars past have ended with ceremonial surrenders and victory parades.
“Today when the war continues, after the regime has fallen, the definition of success is more complicated,” Bush said.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, success will come when al-Qaida is not safe, the people can protect themselves, and the countries are economically viable, the president said.
“Success will come when Iraq and Afghanistan are democracies that govern themselves effectively and respond to the will of their people,” Bush said. “Success will come when Iraq and Afghanistan are strong and capable allies on the war on terror.”
Well-rooted freedom ultimately prevails in overcoming tyranny and transforming societies, the president said. When offered a choice, he told the cadets, people always choose to live in freedom.
“The enemies of freedom understand this, and that is why they're fighting desperately to deny this choice to men and women across the Middle East,” Bush said.
Building a free society removes the recruiting grounds for terrorists. Also, free societies are peaceful, and people who live in liberty and hope do not turn to the ideologies of hatred and fear, the president said.
“And that is why, for the security of America and the peace for the world, the great mission of your generation is to lead the cause of freedom,” Bush said.