The end of major combat in Iraq marks a "turning of the tide" in the global fight against terrorism, US President George W. President Bush said Thursday in a dramatically staged address from the deck of an aircraft carrier returning from the Persian Gulf.
Sensitive to charges of American imperialism and ongoing anti-American demonstrations in Iraq, Bush described the outcome in Iraq as a victory just once in his 27-minute speech. Speaking from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln as it neared the California coast, Bush emphasized the ongoing work of "securing and reconstructing" Iraq as it evolves into an open society.
The president also drew a direct link between the fall of Baghdad and the global war against terrorist groups, suggesting that the US and its allies are on the cusp of a new triumph over terrorism.
"The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror," he said. "We have removed an ally of al-Qaeda and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.
"The war on terror is not over, yet it is not endless," he said. "We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose or weaken our resolve or alter their fate. Their cause is lost. Free nations will press on to victory."
Critics of the administration maintain that Bush has yet to demonstrate a conclusive link between former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, and the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is continuing.
Although his advisers had insisted beforehand that Bush would not declare victory in his speech, he made clear that the US and its allies in Iraq had indeed won.
"In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and her allies have prevailed," Bush said.
The carefully choreographed event at sea was designed to solidify Bush's image as a successful wartime president and seemed to mark the unofficial start of Bush's reelection campaign, giving White House political strategists a stockpile of triumphant images to use in his advertisements next year.
In a made-for-television flourish, Bush flew out to the carrier on a four-seat jet that made a harrowing cable-assisted landing and stopped short at the water's edge. Bush emerged in a green flight suit, his helmet tucked under his arm, and told reporters he had taken control of the plane for part of the trip.
"Really exciting," he said. "I miss flying, I can tell you that."
Bush was a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard in the 1970s, although he also went unaccounted for during some of his service and was discharged early.
White House officials said originally that Bush had made the dramatic jet trip because the ship was too far out to sea for a helicopter to reach it. Bush was trained in water survival and ejection procedures in case of a crash.
But the carrier was just 50km from shore by the time he arrived, and officials said it slowed down so that Bush could spend the night on board before it docks, extending by one day the sailors' almost 10-month deployment at sea, the longest by a carrier in 30 years.
Democrats complained that Bush had arranged the event as a political stunt.