Bush tells Alaska troops Iraq no longer 'hopeless'

President uses fuel stop to address airmen at Eielson Air Force Base

Posted: Tuesday, August 05, 2008

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE - President Bush said Monday that U.S. troops going to Iraq soon will find a country dramatically different from the one that was "hopeless" before his troop buildup.

Gerald Herbert / The Associated Press
Gerald Herbert / The Associated Press

Beginning a weeklong Asian tour with a refueling stop in Alaska, the president offered thanks to units from this base near Fairbanks and nearby Fort Wainwright that have done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He also noted an Army Stryker brigade from Wainwright is about to deploy to Iraq, saying it will be "heading into a different situation."

"About a year ago people thought Iraq was lost and hopeless. People were saying let's get out of there, it doesn't matter to our national security. Iraq's changed - a lot," Bush said. "The terrorists are on the run."

And he again asserted that fighting them was not a law enforcement problem. "If it's a law enforcement matter, that means you react after the crime. I think it's important ... to stop the crime from happening in the first place."

"The United States today and tomorrow must stay on the offense and keep the pressure on this enemy and bring 'em to justice so they don't hurt the American citizen again," Bush said.

Eielson is home to the 354th Fighter Wing, which supports operations in the Pacific.

The president departed after his comments for Seoul, South Korea.

His agenda in Asia this week is front-loaded with trouble on the continent: nuclear worries, political repression, recovery from natural disaster. Then comes plenty of sports.

Bush's last venture as president to the Far East is built around the Olympics in Beijing.

Yet with less than six months left in office, he also is out to show that the United States is engaged in Asia's affairs, and that the economic and security dividends pay off back home.

His enthusiastic plans to attend the Olympics are meant to pay respect to the Chinese people in their moment of glory. Yet as hard as Bush tries to define the games only in the context of sports, there is no escaping the politics of a world event held in a police state.

China, trying to ensure the event is clean of controversy, has only intensified its repression of political dissent, religious expression and press coverage. Bush says he can and will candidly raise concerns about China's human rights record to President Hu Jintao.

Before leaving the White House, Bush ratified a United Nations treaty intended to curb performance-enhancing drug use in sports. It ensures that the World Anti-Doping Code becomes national law and commits member nations to prevent cross-border trafficking of sporting drugs, support a national drug-testing program and withhold funding from athletes caught cheating.

The UNESCO Convention on Doping in Sport came into force early last year, but has not been ratified by all the countries that pledged to do so. Bush's signature followed Senate approval of the treaty.

"The timing of the United States' ratification, on the eve of the Beijing Olympic Games, is appropriate," Bush said in a statement. "The Convention makes clear that the use of performance enhancing drugs to gain a competitive advantage undercuts the positive attributes of sport."

Given the long travel and time differences, Bush begins his agenda in earnest on Wednesday in Seoul.

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