Saturday, March 20, 2004

Bush's speech to the Washington diplomatic corps 

I do not usually write about topics that are being widely blogged, since most of my miniscule but elite readership checks in elsewhere first. However, I do want to suggest that you read Bush's Friday speech to the Washington diplomatic corps. You can read the transcript here.

If, however, reading the whole thing seems like a load, at least reflect on his key message:

The murders in Madrid are a reminder that the civilized world is at war. And in this new kind of war, civilians find themselves suddenly on the front lines.

In recent years, terrorists have struck from Spain to Russia, to Israel, to East Africa, to Morocco, to the Philippines and to America. They've targeted Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen. They've attacked Muslims in Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. No nation or region is exempt from the terrorist campaign of violence.

Each of these attacks on the innocent is a shock and a tragedy, and a test of our will. Each attack is designed to demoralize our people and divide us from one another.

And each attack much be answered, not only with sorrow, but with greater determination, deeper resolve, and bolder action against the killers. It is the interest of every country and the duty of every government to fight and destroy this threat to our people.

There is a dividing line in our world, not between nations and not between religions or cultures, but a dividing line separating two visions of justice and the value of life.

On a tape claiming responsibility for the atrocities in Madrid, a man is heard to say, "We choose death while you choose life." We don't know if this is the voice of the actual killers, but we do know it expresses the creed of the enemy. It is a mindset that rejoices in suicide, incites murder and celebrates every death we mourn.

And we who stand on the other side of the line must be equally clear and certain of our convictions. We do love life, the life given to us and to all. We believe in the values that uphold the dignity of life: tolerance and freedom and the right of conscience. And we know that this way of life is worth defending.

There is no neutral ground -- no neutral ground -- in the fight between civilization and terror, because there is no neutral ground between good and evil, freedom and slavery, and life and death.

The war on terror is not a figure of speech. It is an inescapable calling of our generation.

The terrorists are offended not merely by our policies, they're offended by our existence as free nations.

No concession will appease their hatred. No accommodation will satisfy their endless demands. Their ultimate ambitions are to control the peoples of the Middle East and to blackmail the rest of the world with weapons of mass terror.

There can be no separate peace with the terrorist enemy. Any sign of weakness or retreat simply validates terrorist violence and invites more violence for all nations.

Do you agree with President Bush? All citizens need to figure out their answer, because it is the defining question of the age. It is more important to our society as a whole than "jobs," nuanced differences in health care policy, regulation of the environment at the margin, the precise tax rate imposed at any level of government, or arguments over abortion, the death penalty, gay marriage, or restrictions on gun ownership. It is not that I'm not interested in all of these matters, and I'm certain that there are people for whom these questions loom very large. Indeed, I disagree with President Bush on more of those issues than I agree with him on. I am also aware that a utilitarian might plausibly argue that many more lives, statistically speaking, turn on the resolution of social problems other than terrorism.

But if you believe that Islamist fascism threatens to transform Western society in fundamental ways, and I do, these other questions dwindle into the trivial.

Bush's speech has its flaws -- I believe, for instance, that there are better defenses of the Iraq war than those that he offered. But he closed well, even if he sounded just a little like Gandalf:

It will surely be said of our times that we lived with great challenges. Let it also be said of our times that we understood our great duties and met them in full.


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