Don't Abandon the Quest for Freedom in the Lands of Islam

By Hughes, John | The Christian Science Monitor, September 6, 2006 | Go to article overview

Don't Abandon the Quest for Freedom in the Lands of Islam


Hughes, John, The Christian Science Monitor


When President Bush set out on his present odyssey to gain support for the war in Iraq, one of his first stops last week was Salt Lake City.

Whether by happenstance or cunning political strategy, the stars were perfectly aligned for the visit.

Utah is one of the most conservative states in the nation. (Republicans unkindly jest that when the state's Democrats go to a convention they charter a small van.) Utah is Bush country, going for him in two presidential elections. His present approval rating in the state is about 65 percent, one of the highest in the country. To top it all, his principal audience was the annual convention of the American Legion, which brought 12,000 veterans to the city.

It was a made-for-Bush audience in a state highly supportive of him. So there was nothing but cheering and applause when he delivered such lines as: The United States will stay in Iraq "until freedom prevails," and when he told the veterans: "We are at a pivotal moment" in the ideological war between democracy and radical, Muslim extremism and terrorism that is "likely the key battle of this century."

To make sure that everybody got the message, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were also assigned to be in Salt Lake City, speak to the audience of veterans, and gain national TV airtime.

Bush critics say that with the midterm elections just two months away, such forays out of the White House to deliver support-the-war messages to audiences across the country are nothing more than politicking. Well, it is hardly surprising that a Republican president wants to see Republicans win in elections to the House and Senate.

But there are subtle signs, too, that Bush is looking beyond 2006, and even the presidential elections of 2008, to the matter of his own legacy and how he will measure up to previous presidents. His remarks are sprinkled with references to previous incumbents of the White House, and to the Founders of the nation.

In his address here, admitting that the US faces tough problems in Iraq, he reminded his audience that Thomas Jefferson found that the American road to democracy was not a "featherbed." He has been reading books about Lincoln, "Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power," and "Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural," as well as "Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different. …

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