President pledges pre-emptive strikes

Sunday, June 2, 2002

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- The United States will strike pre-emptively against suspected terrorists if necessary to deter attacks on Americans, President Bush told West Point graduates Saturday. "The war on terror will not be won on the defensive," he said.

Warning of the continuing danger, he said: "We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt its plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge."

Bush heard doubts from some Europeans last week about a possible expansion in the war on terror, but he sounded firm Saturday in his belief that a widening may be needed. He chose a receptive audience in the 25,000 people at West Point's Michie Stadium, among them 958 members of the U.S. Military Academy's class of 2002 -- future leaders of the Army -- who applauded throughout his speech.

"This government and the American people are on watch. We are ready, because we know the terrorists have more money and more men and more plans," Bush said.

"The gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology," Bush said. "When the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology, when that occurs, even weak states and small groups could attain a catastrophic power to strike at great nations."

Bush did not mention the nations he has identified as an "axis of evil" -- Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Aides said his message, with references to "unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction," was aimed at those states and any others that might sponsor or harbor terrorists.

The president had not previously advised Americans "to be ready for pre-emptive action, when necessary, to defend our liberty and to defend our lives." Aides said that was a newly articulated component of his policy.

Bush said the nation cannot afford to "put our faith in the word of tyrants who solemnly sign nonproliferation treaties and then systematically break them." The administration says Iran, Iraq and North Korea are out of compliance with such treaties.

"All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price. We will not leave the safety of America and the peace of the planet at the mercy of a few mad terrorists and tyrants," he said.

The president also framed the war on terrorism as one that could bring a historic shift in international relations, from violent competition among the "great powers" to cooperation in fighting a shared enemy.

"More and more, civilized nations find ourselves on the same side, united by common dangers of terrorist violence and chaos," he said.

In the wide-ranging, 53-minute speech, Bush took on a host of international responsibilities alongside combating terrorism: fighting global poverty and promoting democracy, human rights and healthier economies overseas.

Bush called for "moderation and tolerance" in other nations, though aides said the reference was to no country in particular. Some of America's military and economic allies, such as Saudi Arabia, are strict religious regimes.

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