(CNSNews.com) - President Bush, in a televised speech on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, rededicated the nation to the cause of leading the 21st century "into a shining age of human liberty." Bush said establishing democracy in Iraq is a key part of that cause.
But one of the president's critics insisted that the nation has "had it in Iraq," and he said it's time to get the troops out of there.
The arguments advanced by Bush, a Republican, and former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, a Democrat, reflect deep divisions in the American electorate as the nation heads toward the midterm elections.
In his prime time speech on Monday, President Bush said -- once again -- that the effort to secure democracy in the Middle East will be long and difficult: "Winning this war will require the determined efforts of a unified country, and we must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us," he said.
But speaking on the same day, former Sen. Cleland made it clear that on questions of Iraq, there is no unity among Americans. In fact, Cleland repeated the call for the United States to get out of Iraq and "leave Iraq to the Iraqis."
Cleland delivered his denunciation of the Iraq war in a Sept. 11 appearance on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann Show."
Appearing on behalf of his friend and fellow veteran Rep. John Murtha - an anti-war Democrat from Pennsylvania who's now running for re-election - Cleland called Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam."
"History will look back on the invasion of Iraq after 9/11 as one of the greatest elements of folly in our history," Murtha predicted.
President Bush sees it very differently, however. He told the nation Monday night that the key to peace for Americans is a Middle East that is free of Islamic radicals who hate freedom, reject tolerance, and despise dissent.
Bush said the U.S. cannot allow the enemy to build a "radical Islamic empire where women are prisoners in their homes, men are beaten for missing prayer meetings, and terrorists have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilized nations.
"The war against this enemy is more than a military conflict," Bush said. "It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation."
But Cleland said President Bush is fighting the wrong war in the wrong place. He blasted the Bush administration for failing to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. And he warned that President Bush will leave U.S. troops in Iraq -- "twisting slowly, slowly in the wind" -- when Bush leaves office.
"It's time to redeploy the forces from Iraq and bring home our guard and reserve to guard our borders and focus on killing or capturing Osama bin Laden and his terrorist cadre," Cleland said.
"And when someone like Jack Murtha says that, what do they (the Bush administration) do? Do they go after Osama bin Laden? No, they go after Jack Murtha. And they're trying to slime him in his own hometown of Johnstown, Pa.," Cleland said, referring to a rally scheduled next month by an anti-Murtha veterans' group. (Cleland has promised to fight the "swift-boating" of Murtha.)
Cleland told Olbermann that if Democrats regain control of Congress in November, here's what Americans can expect lawmakers like Murtha to do:
"First, he'd lead an effort that I think is growing in this nation and in the Congress and hopefully in the new Congress that we've had it in Iraq."
According to Cleland, "It's time for Iraqi citizens to take charge of their own country. It's time to withdraw our forces out of harm's way and eliminate the possibility of the veterans that are getting killed and maimed there and adding to that number."
Cleland said Murtha would deploy guard and reserve troops to the U.S. border, where they're needed. And third, he said Murtha would rally U.S. allies "who we've dissed for five years" in an effort to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and his fellow terrorists.
Cleland said it's time for the U.S. to "withdraw our forces" from Iraq - "and leave Iraq to the Iraqis. And let's take care of our country first."
President Bush believes that the only way to take care of our country is to win the war against an enemy that is "determined to bring death and suffering into our homes."
"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 warned.
The president said the 9/11 attacks prompted America to "go on the offense" against its enemies. "On September the 11th, we learned that America must confront threats before they reach our shores, whether those threats come from terrorist networks or terrorist states," he said.
Addressing the main criticism of his foreign policy, Bush said he's often asked why the U.S. is fighting in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
"The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat. My administration, the Congress, and the United Nations saw the threat -- and after 9/11, Saddam's regime posed a risk that the world could not afford to take. The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. And now the challenge is to help the Iraqi people build a democracy that fulfills the dreams of the nearly 12 million Iraqis who came out to vote in free elections last December."
Bush added that al Qaeda and other extremists have flocked to Iraq to stop the rise of a free society in the heart of the Middle East. But he said the United States and its coalition partners will not leave Iraq until Iraqis can defend their own nation and government themselves.
"We will not leave until this work is done. Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone. They will not leave us alone. They will follow us. The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad," Bush said.
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