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Bush affirms war on terror

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Al Stark was among the faithful Thursday at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City listening to President George W. Bush outline the war on terrorism.

But Stark, who lives in Summit Park and is a district commander for the American Legion, the veterans group that hosted Bush, says he disagrees with the president on some issues.

Stark wants more funding for veterans hospitals, for instance, and says he did not support some of the commander in chief’s decisions regarding Iraq.

"He said what I expected he would say. I do not agree with everything he says or does," Stark said in an interview after the president’s speech.

The audience at the Salt Palace, though, seemed to be unwavering supporters of the president, repeatedly applauding the president during his approximately 44-minute speech, heavy with affirmations of the war on terrorism.

"The war we fight today is more than a military conflict. It is the ideological struggle of the 21st century," Bush said.

Bush’s appearance in Salt Lake City spurred mass gatherings, with most of the demonstrators unhappy with the president.

In the speech, Bush connected the war on terrorism to the Iraqi conflict, saying that Iraq is a "central front in our fight against terrorism."

He said the U.S., in the past, supported Middle East countries to counter the potential of communists taking over the region. Then, though, terrorism ripened in the region, he said, recounting some of the notable terror acts of the past, including African embassy bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, the bombing of the World Trade Center and the destruction of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

"The calm we saw in the Middle East was only a mirage," he said, allowing terrorists to incubate.

The president said Iran is ruled by a "radical regime" that "arms, funds and advises Hezbollah," the group that Israel battled in its recent conflict in Lebanon. Bush charged that Iran denies people human rights and wants to obtain nuclear weapons. The crowd applauded as Bush said that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.

"It is time for Iran to make a choice," he said.

Bush said the U.S. should not pull its troops out of Iraq. If the Americans were to leave, he said, "we would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies."

"If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities," he said.

Bush said Iraq has not "descended into civil war" and that "only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence."

"America has a clear strategy to help the Iraqi people protect their new freedom and build a democracy that can govern itself, and sustain itself and defend itself," he said.

Stark, the legionnaire from Summit Park, agreed with Bush that the U.S. needed to handle Iraq.

"The world would probably be worse off if we had done nothing," he said .

But Stark said the war plan should have been different, involving more allies and overwhelming force. He said the Gulf War in the 1990s was planned better.

Fua Tukuafu, a master sergeant in the Army Reserves who lives in Heber, who listened to Bush at the Salt Palace, said afterward that he continues to support the president and said the speech was reminiscent of those Bush has given before.

He is worried that Americans, though, are losing interest in the war on terrorism.

"I’ve seen it from 2003 till now, not the American Legion, but the overall public," he said. "9/11 comes up, it’s just another day . . . We need to keep remembering them."


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