Bush's Churchillian speech

The president made clear that the enemy we face is as dangerous as Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.

On October 6, President George W. Bush made what was perhaps most important speech of his career. Though understandably no match for Winston Churchill's rhetorical virtuosity, the president's speech can be compared to the British leader's many wartime addresses warning Hitler that Britain would never relent or give up the fight. At that time, Churchill told the British people: “My aim is to extirpate Hitlerism ... Are we to move steadily forward and have freedom, or are we to move back into the Middle Ages by a totalitarian system that crushes all forms of individual life?” Bush, equating Islamist militant ideology with Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, said: “Against such an enemy, there's only one effective response; we never back down, never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory.” And like Churchill's warning to his people that he had “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” Bush also means to prepare the American public for a long and difficult battle against terror before ultimate victory will be achieved. NOR WAS the timing of either speech accidental. Churchill spoke in May 1940 after facing down a cabinet revolt led by Lord Halifax, who wanted him to get out of the war and make a deal with Hitler in the wake of Dunkirk and the crumbling of the French and Belgian armies; Bush spoke at a moment when the war in Iraq has become increasingly unpopular in America amid calls for a withdrawal of American troops. If America withdrew before victory, Bush said, it would assure a takeover by Iraqi terrorists and their supporters. He must have remembered Churchill's admonition that “wars are not won by evacuations.” But perhaps the most significant aspect of Bush's speech was his reminding the American people of the real sources of Islamist terrorism and explaining why, as was the case with Nazism, there could be no accommodation with it. Some have tried to explain, and even justify, terror by citing a variety of supposed causes: poverty, Israeli “occupation,” the war in Iraq, disgruntlement with the values of the West, and those of America in particular and even the Crusades! Not so, Bush's speech makes clear. “They blame the West, America and the Jews for their own failures.” The real goal of Islamist terrorism, often abetted “by elements of the Arab news media that incites hatred and anti-Semitism,” is the building of a “totalitarian empire” of global reach. “The militants believe that controlling one country” i.e. Iraq “will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia.” Though referring mostly to al-Qaida, there can be no doubt that the way the American administration rightly sees it, the term “Islamic radicalism” covers such groups as Lebanon's Hizbullah and the Palestinian groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and parts of Fatah as well. Indeed, Bush went further: “The influence of Islamic radicalism is magnified by helpers and enablers,” he said. “They have been sheltered by authoritarian regimes, allies of convenience, like Syria and Iran... that share the goal of hurting America...” Bush and most Western leaders for reasons of political correctness or wishful thinking make a distinction between Muslim radicals and moderates. Though in some cases this may be justified, in others, Muslim and especially Arab moderates, whether for reasons of expediency or just plain fear, more often than not yield to the more extremist voices in their community. What makes the distinction between “moderates” and “radicals” even more problematic is the fact that Saudi Arabia, for instance, has been more than a bit selective in its opposition to terrorism while others, as a result of their regimes' corruption and lack of concern for the lot of their people, have added fuel to the machinery of terrorism. ALL THIS brings us to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and his forthcoming trip to Washington. Fact is that the Palestinian Authority so far has done absolutely nothing to fight terror. This is borne out, among other things, by a report of a Palestinian parliamentary commission, remarking that the Palestinian government had never even discussed the matter. None of the terrorist organizations have been disarmed or dissolved while the PA's own media go on with their customary incitement against Israel and Jews. But Abbas is the one whom Bush, true to his vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and in line with the themes expounded in his aforementioned speech, would expect to be on the side of the good and not just in words, but in deeds. So far this hasn't happened and some observers may be forgiven for suspecting Abbas of deliberately wanting to preserve the terrorist option, just in case. Judging by the tone of Bush's speech, there is reason to believe that he will be quickly disabused of that notion. As for Israel, it will surely not repeat the tragic mistake of Oslo and the 2000 Camp David summit, namely giving the Palestinians undeserved credit for something they do not, and probably never intended to do. We will not once again be led astray by the illusion that by ignoring the their failure to act that we shall somehow strengthen the forces of peace on the Palestinian side. The writer served twice as Israel's ambassador to the United States.