Bush: Afghanistan, Iraq Taking Rightful Place Among Free Nations
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 19, 2006 The United States and its allies have fostered a historic transformation in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush said today.
"Two of the world's most dangerous regimes have been removed from power, and the world is better off for it," Bush said during the graduation ceremony at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. "Two violent dictatorships are being replaced with growing democracies that answer to their people, that respect their neighbors, and that serve as allies in the war on terror."
Bush is the first president to deliver the commencement address at the academy.
With the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, both countries are now taking their "rightful place" in the free world, he said.
Bush said his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during his surprise visit to Baghdad last week was an informative exchange.
"The prime minister is a man of strong character; he has a clear and practical plan to lead his country forward," Bush said. "He briefed me on the immediate steps he's taking to improve security in Baghdad, to build up Iraq's economy and to reach out to the international community."
The formation of a new Iraqi government and subsequent successful raids on al Qaeda targets in Iraq have created a moment of opportunity for the Iraqi people, he said.
"Iraqis must seize this moment, and we will help them succeed," Bush said. "I assured the prime minister that when America gives a commitment, America will keep its word."
By helping Maliki's government achieve its goals, the Iraqi people will have expanded opportunities, the terrorists will suffer a major blow, and the world will see the power of a thriving democracy in the heart of the Middle East, the president said.
A free and sovereign Iraq will also require the strong support of Europe, he said.
"Some of the most important support for Iraqis is coming from European democracies with recent memories of tyranny -- Poland and Hungary and Romania and Bulgaria and the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Georgia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia," he said.
Bush said he understands that some Europeans do not agree with U.S. decisions on Iraq. "Yet we've all watched the Iraqi people stand up for their freedom -- and we agree that the success of a democratic government in Baghdad is vital for the Iraqis and for the security of the world," he said.
The European Union has been among the world's most generous financial donors for reconstruction in Iraq, he said. "And Europe and America will encourage greater international support to help Prime Minister Maliki implement his plans for recovery," he added.
The international community has pledged about $13 billion to help the new Iraqi government, but only $3.5 billion has been paid thus far, Bush said.
"All nations that have pledged money have a responsibility to keep their pledges -- and America and Europe will work together to ensure they do so," he said.
During his graduation remarks, Bush also spoke about the life of a Merchant Marine Academy graduate named Aaron Seesan.
Seesan, an Ohio native, grew up dreaming of being a soldier, Bush said. When Seesan graduated from the academy three years ago, he joined the U.S. Army. While he was serving at Fort Lewis, Wash., a group of soldiers from the fort was struck by a suicide bomb in Iraq. Seesan volunteered to go to Iraq to take the place of a wounded platoon leader, Bush said.
"When Lieutenant Seesan arrived in Iraq, some of his fellow soldiers wondered what was the Army thinking. His platoon sergeant said, 'I didn't know what the hell a Merchant Marine graduate was doing here in the 73rd Engineering Company.' The sergeant quickly changed his mind when he saw Lieutenant Seesan in action, taking care of his men as they patrolled the most dangerous roads in and around Mosul," the president said.
In May 2005, Seesan was killed in Iraq when a makeshift bomb struck his truck.
"While still in high school, he (Seesan) wrote a poem that now seems prophetic," Bush told the graduates. "He wrote, 'Mourn not my terrible death, but celebrate my cause in life.' Aaron's cause in life was freedom, and as you take your place as officers in our armed forces, I ask you to celebrate the freedom for which Aaron fought and died."
Seesan was awarded the Bronze Star.