"Your generation will bring us victory in the war on terror," Bush said to Army cadets.
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- The 861 Army cadets President Bush addressed on Saturday gleefully tossed their caps into the air to mark their graduation, their futures tied to the war against terror.
"The reality of war has surrounded you since your first moments at this academy," Bush told the first class to arrive at the U.S. Military Academy after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Bush told the graduates that the future of U.S. security rests with their ability to lead a march for freedom across the globe, especially in the Middle East.
"My call to you is this: Trust in the power of freedom, and be bold in freedom's defense," he said.
Bush's advice to the graduates, clad in white slacks and gray jackets, came during a 35-minute foreign policy address in which he likened the war against Islamic radicals to the Cold War threat of communism.
"The war began on my watch, but it's going to end on your watch," he said. "Your generation will bring us victory in the war on terror."
While Bush addressed the graduates, about 250 protesters marched with mock coffins outside the academy's grounds. Demonstrator Charlie Serra of Central Valley, who was wearing a Korean War cap and walking with a cane, said, "He never saw any combat, and yet he's sending our young people to get killed."
In his speech, the president took a subtle jab at Syria and the nuclear ambitions of Iran, and said decades of excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to keep America safe.
"This is only the beginning," Bush said. "The message has spread from Damascus to Tehran that the future belongs to freedom, and we will not rest until the promise of liberty reaches every people in every nation."
Last year's graduating class was dubbed the "Class of 9-11" because the attacks occurred just weeks into their plebe year. Some say the Sept. 11 attacks made members of this year's class more determined to serve.
Patrick Brundage of Santa Claus, Ind., remembers his brother asking him if going to West Point was what he really wanted to do. Brundage replied, "If I need to go any time, this is the time."
President Truman told the class of 1952 at West Point that the push for global peace depended on the active and vigorous work to bring about freedom and justice across the world.
"That same principle continues to guide us in today's war on terror," said Bush, who compared his moment in presidential history to that of Truman's.
"As President Truman put it towards the end of his presidency, 'When history says that my term of office saw the beginning of the Cold War, it will also say that in those eight years we set the course that can win it.' His leadership paved the way for subsequent presidents from both political parties -- men like Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan -- to confront and eventually defeat the Soviet threat," Bush said.
"Today, at the start of a new century, we are again engaged in a war unlike any our nation has fought before, and like Americans in Truman's day, we are laying the foundations for victory."
Bush recounted his strategy for fighting terrorism, saying the United States continues to view anyone who harbors a terrorist as being a terrorist. He received loud applause, muffled only by the cadets' gloves, when he told of his doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, attacking enemies abroad before they can attack U.S. soil.
The greatest danger America faces is the threat from terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction, Bush said.
"If our enemies succeed in acquiring such weapons, they will not hesitate to use them, which means they would pose a threat to America as great as the Soviet Union," he said. "Against such an enemy, there is only one effective response: We will never back down, we will never give in, and we will never accept anything less than complete victory."
Associated Press writer Michael Hill contributed to this report.