11 September 2001>News Stories>President Issues Ultimatum to Terrorists and Supporters

President Issues Ultimatum to Terrorists and Supporters

Nations Are Told to Choose Sides; New York Toll Climbs Past 6,000

John F. Harris and Mike Allen . Washington Post . 21 September

Standing before a united Congress and a stricken nation, President Bush last night described in stark and forceful terms a global war against terrorism, issuing an ultimatum to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to immediately turn over Osama bin Laden and vowing that "from this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."

To bipartisan roars of support, Bush promised that the United States will punish and ultimately vanquish the terrorist forces that 10 days ago executed the deadliest attack on U.S. soil. But he pleaded for patience from Americans in waging war against a sprawling, shadowy foe vastly different from any the nation has fought before.

"Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom," Bush declared from the podium in the House of Representatives, where virtually the entire leadership of the national government as well as British Prime Minister Tony Blair was in attendance. "Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done."

The speech clarified in important ways how the president conceives the coming campaign. Bush described a diverse array of military operations executed over time, ranging from airstrikes that will have highly visible results to covert actions that will not. He made plain that the immediate target is suspected terror mastermind bin Laden and the al Qaeda network he heads, as well as the Taliban regime if it responds with anything less than complete cooperation to his nonnegotiable demands.

But Bush, describing a titanic struggle between the civilized world and radical Islam, was open-ended about the war's conclusion. "Our war on terror," he said, "will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated."

The president's explicit demands to the Taliban regime include handing over to U.S. authorities all leaders of al Qaeda within Afghanistan; releasing foreign nationals who have been "unjustly imprisoned"; protecting foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in the country; giving the U.S. access to terrorist training camps; closing, "immediately and permanently, every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan"; and handing over "every terrorist, and every person in their support structure, to appropriate authorities."

"They will hand over the terrorists," he said, "or they will share in their fate."

In an address delivered in the most solemn setting available to a president, Bush projected an ease and confidence not always seen in his formal speeches. It came on a day when New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani who was in the audience and won praise from Bush revised sharply upward the official number of people missing and presumed dead as a result of the two planes that were crashed into the World Trade Center. The new estimate is 6,333.

Bush outlined a number of specific steps he is ordering as part of a government-wide program to confront terrorists and avert new attacks, including the creation of a Cabinet-level coordinator of "homeland defense." He said he will name Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R), a long-time friend of the president, to the post.

The president also said he wants to expand the number of air marshals on domestic flights and "keep our airlines flying with direct assistance during this emergency."

The speech came as the U.S. military was rapidly revving its war machinery, dispatching ships and aircraft to the Middle East and calling up troops for what top officials said will be a military campaign that could last many months, or even years.

"And tonight a few miles from the damaged Pentagon," he said, "I have a message for our military: Be ready. I have called the armed forces to alert, and there is a reason."

Speaking to a country whose citizens are accustomed to thinking of themselves as a benevolent force in the world, Bush sought to explain the drastic world view that causes terrorists to loathe the United States. "Americans are asking: Why do they hate us?" he said. "They hate what we see right here in this chamber a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

Bush described bin Laden's network of terrorist organizations, al Qaeda, as being to terror "what the Mafia is to crime" but with a goal not of making money but of "remaking the world and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere."

"They are the same murderers indicted for bombing American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole," Bush said. "They are recruited from their own nations and neighborhoods, and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan where they are trained in the tactics of terror. They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction."

Calling their leader "a person named Osama bin Laden," Bush described the terrorist network as "the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century," saying they "follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism." The list notably excluded communism an unmistakable nod to China, where Bush hopes to win support.

Bush pointed to the influence of bin Laden and his network in Afghanistan, but made it clear that it was the terrorists not the people of that rugged land that are his targets.

"Afghanistan's people have been brutalized," he said. "Many are starving and many have fled. Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough."

Bush devoted considerable time to emphasizing what the coming war will not be. It will not be a repeat of the Persian Gulf War waged by his father, "with its decisive liberation of territory and its swift conclusion.

"It will not look like the air war over Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat. Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign unlike any we have ever seen."

The web of sponsors and supporters of terrorism goes far beyond bin Laden, he said, and choking off the multiple sources of radical violence will require a coordinated campaign involving multiple governments.

"We will direct every resource at our command every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence and every necessary weapon of war to the disruption and defeat of the global terror network," Bush declared.

Bush's speech went through 12 drafts, moving back and forth between national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and counselor Karen Hughes. An important aim was to use language that would maximize international support for a U.S.-led campaign.

Specifying that he was aiming only at groups of "global reach," for instance, would alleviate concerns that he was proposing war on Palestinian liberation groups, a move that would have little support in the Middle East. He mentioned several times that the terrorists he was targeting practice a "fringe form of Islamic extremism," and that he was not labeling all Muslims as enemies.

It has become increasingly clear that most foreign governments, particularly in the Middle East, have quite different notions than Bush of what constitutes a commensurate or prudent response. This made Blair's presence it is highly unusual for a foreign head of government to sit as guest for a presidential address to the nation a potentially significant boost for the administration.

Before Bush spoke, and after the two of them shared dinner and a walk around the White House grounds, Blair said he believes support for a robust response to terrorism "is strengthening, not diminishing." He said the coming war will "unite people of all faiths, all nations, all democratic political persuasions."

Striking the same theme, Bush pleaded with Americans to prevent the zeal for retribution from curdling into misguided hatred.

"The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends," he said. "Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them."

The president acknowledged that many Americans were fearful, but urged them to hug their children and live their lives as normally as they can. "I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat," he said.

Turning to the practical needs of his government, he asked listeners to cooperate if asked by FBI agents working on the investigation. "I ask for your patience, with the delays and inconveniences that may accompany tighter security, and for your patience in what will be a long struggle," he said.

Bush, facing dropping stock indexes, sagging consumer confidence and layoffs being announced by the tens of thousands, pleaded for "continued participation and confidence in the American economy." He said he will try to help promote recovery by seeking a variety of measures from Congress.

Bush's 34-minute speech was interrupted for applause 30 times, several times for standing ovations and occasionally for so long that he began to fidget and nod for it to stop. Saluting the tireless rescuers and stalwart families of victims, Bush borrowed a phrase often used by presidents in the chamber during happier times and said, "My fellow citizens, for the last nine days, the entire world has seen for itself the state of our Union, and it is strong."

The first time Bush was stopped for applause was when he looked toward the gallery and saluted Lisa Beamer of Cranbury, N.J., widow of Todd Beamer. He was one of the passengers who is thought to have rushed the terrorists aboard a United flight that crashed in Pennsylvania before it could reach its apparent target in Washington.

Other guests included uniformed firefighters and police officers, and he saluted the "endurance of rescuers, working past exhaustion."

Conspicuously absent was Vice President Cheney, who by tradition would have sat behind the president during an address to Congress. He was taken to a secure location as part of what White House press secretary Ari Fleischer called "a reminder of how serious this is." House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) also skipped the session out of security concerns and went to what an aide called "a secure location."

Democrats as well as Republicans praised the president's performance. Rep. Jim Turner (D-Tex.) said after the speech Bush had "hit a home run" by conveying the lengthy battle Americans would have to wage against terrorism.

"He gave the American people a true picture of what we're engaged in," Turner said. "He expressed the sense of resolve and commitment to this nation that we all feel."

Bush concluded by pulling out a police shield that he said had been given to him by the mother of George Howard, a Port Authority officer who died at the World Trade Center trying to save others. "This is my reminder of lives that ended, and a task that does not end," he said.