Four years, five speeches

The president's Iraq war anniversary remarks show just how far we've come.

Published March 19, 2007 5:21PM (EDT)

George W. Bush has delivered four Iraq war anniversary speeches now -- five if you count the one he gave as war began on March 19, 2003 -- and looking back through them gives a pretty good indication of how far we've come. More than $400 billion and 3,200 dead American soldiers later, we've traded a relatively nonexistent threat from a "tyrant" for a nightmare scenario in which terrorists control the Middle East and use Iraq as a "save haven" for another 9/11-style attack on the United States.

But don't take our word for it. Here's George W. Bush over the years, annotated with a few relevant reports from today's news:

Bush, March 19, 2003: "My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger ... The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities. Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory."

Today's news: "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday staunchly defended going to war in Iraq, but acknowledged the Bush administration likely erred by failing initially to send enough troops to quell the civil strife that followed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein."

March 19, 2004: "One year ago, military forces of a strong coalition entered Iraq to enforce United Nations demands, to defend our security, and to liberate that country from the rule of a tyrant ... There have been disagreements in this matter, among old and valued friends. Those differences belong to the past. All of us can now agree that the fall of the Iraqi dictator has removed a source of violence, aggression, and instability in the Middle East ... There are still violent thugs and murderers in Iraq, and we're dealing with them. But no one can argue that the Iraqi people would be better off with the thugs and murderers back in the palaces. Who would prefer that Saddam's torture chambers still be open? Who would wish that more mass graves were still being filled? Who would begrudge the Iraqi people their long-awaited liberation?"

Today's news: "Fewer than half [of Iraqis], 42 percent, said that life in Iraq now is better than it was under Saddam Hussein, the late dictator accused of murdering tens of thousands during a brutal regime."

Bush, March 19, 2005: "On this day two years ago, we launched Operation Iraqi Freedom to ... Today the Iraqi people are taking charge of their own destiny ... Free governments reflect the culture of the citizens they serve, and that is happening in Iraq. Today, Iraqis can take pride in building a government that answers to its people and honors their country's unique heritage."

Today's news: "The United Nations estimates that about two million Iraqis have been displaced since the invasion. Many have gone to Syria or Jordan. Among those fleeing are Iraq's intellectual and professional elite ... There is frustration with the slow pace of reconstruction, which has been paralyzed by the lack of security, leaving electricity, water, fuel and other basic services in short supply."

Bush, March 19, 2006: "Today ... marks the third anniversary of the beginning of the liberation of Iraq. And it's a time to reflect. And this morning, our reflections were upon the sacrifices of the men and women who wear our uniform. ... We are implementing a strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq. And a victory in Iraq will make this country more secure, and will help lay the foundation of peace for generations to come."

Today's news: "Bush noted that his so-called surge of additional troops to Baghdad and the troubled Anwar province is 'still in its early stages,' and acknowledged that 'success will take months, not days or weeks.'"

Bush, March 19, 2007: "Four years ago today, coalition forces launched Operation Iraqi Freedom to remove Saddam Hussein from power. They did so to eliminate the threat his regime posed to the Middle East and to the world ... It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home. That may be satisfying in the short run, but I believe the consequences for American security would be devastating. If American forces were to step back from Baghdad before it is more secure, a contagion of violence could spill out across the entire country. In time, this violence could engulf the region. The terrorists could emerge from the chaos with a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they had in Afghanistan, which they used to plan the attacks of September the 11th, 2001. For the safety of the American people, we cannot allow this to happen."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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