LONDON - President Bush basked yesterday in the highest official welcome the British monarchy can offer and then offered a forceful defense of the invasion of Iraq, warning that more wars may be necessary to bring the world to peace.
Speaking to an invited audience at Whitehall Palace after being greeted by Queen Elizabeth II, Bush sought to justify the war with Iraq by invoking memories of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The president said that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of dictators who would aid terrorists marked the "greatest threat of our age."
"On September the 11th, 2001, the terrorists left their mark of murder on my country and took the lives of 67 British citizens," Bush said. "With the passing of months and years, it is the natural human desire to resume a quiet life and to put that day behind us as if waking from a dark dream. The hope that danger has passed is comforting, is understandable, and it is false."
Bush also said the United States had not lessened its commitment to bring change to Iraq. "We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq and pay a bitter cost of casualties and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins," he said. "We will help the Iraqi people establish a peaceful and democratic country in the heart of the Middle East, and by doing so, we will defend our people from danger."
Bush did not address the failure of coalition troops to find weapons of mass destruction. He has said that there is no evidence connecting Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Yesterday was the first full day of the president's visit to Britain, and he was never more than a five-minute drive from Buckingham Palace, where he is the queen's guest. None of his stops yesterday was public. But his visit and particularly his speech - his only major address before he departs tomorrow - were receiving great attention because of Britain's deep involvement in Iraq.
In his speech, billed by the White House as a major foreign policy address, Bush spelled out a three-pillar approach to ensuring peace and security: reviving and maintaining the potency of international organizations such as the United Nations and NATO; having the willingness to use military might when necessary; and encouraging the global expansion of democracy.
Bush said international organizations must aggressively answer the dangers of terrorism or risk going the route of the League of Nations, which, he said, "collapsed at the first challenge of the dictators," leading to World War II.
Drawing a linguistic bridge to the United Nations and its failure to explicitly back the invasion of Iraq, Bush said he and Prime Minister Tony Blair have worked to enhance the world body's credibility. Both leaders had argued in the buildup to the war in Iraq that a U.N. resolution explicitly authorizing the use of force was only desirable - and not necessary - because an earlier resolution promised "consequences."
"America and Great Britain have done, and will do, all in their power to prevent the United Nations from solemnly choosing its own irrelevance and inviting the fate of the League of Nations," Bush said. "It's not enough to meet the dangers of the world with resolutions. We must meet those dangers with resolve."
About 3,000 protesters took to London's streets yesterday, guarded by thousands of police and security officers. Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters are expected to march today.
In his speech, Bush did not shy away from a commitment to continue using military force when necessary, although he stopped short of explaining under what circumstances such action would be warranted.
The second pillar of peace, he said, is to restrain "aggression and evil by force" when all other options have been exhausted. In a nod to those who oppose his policy in Iraq, Bush said he understood their objections, and those of anti-war activists from past generations, and did not fault their intentions.
"Those in authority, however, are not judged only by good motivations," he said. "The people have given us the duty to defend them, and that duty sometimes requires the violent restraint of violent men. In some cases, the measured use of force is all that protects us from a chaotic world ruled by force."
The third pillar, spreading democracy, is nowhere more important than in the Middle East, Bush said, adding that finishing the war in Iraq - and a successful transition to democracy - is vital to the region.
Polls show that about half of Britons oppose the war, and Blair's alignment with Bush has caused the prime minister's approval ratings to plunge. The president praised Blair for standing with the United States and having the "backbone" to do what was needed. Bush argued that whatever the disagreements before the war, seeing Iraq to democracy is vital for that country and the world.
"There were good-faith disagreements in your country and mine over the course and timing of the military action in Iraq," Bush said. "Whatever has come before, we now have only two options: to keep our word or to break our word."
In a nod to Blair, who has consistently stressed that no lasting peace can come to the Middle East without a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Bush had uncharacteristically blunt words for Israel, calling on its leaders to "freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and not prejudice final negotiations with the placements of walls and fences."
Bush also blamed Palestinian leaders for the conflict, maintaining that they have repeatedly "put their own self-interest above the interests of the people they claim to serve."
The president's welcome with the queen, while high on pageantry, was low on excitement, mainly because spectators were kept at least 200 yards from the gates of Buckingham Palace. About 200 people, including a handful of protesters, gathered behind police barricades to watch the morning ceremony.
With helicopters circling overhead and snipers on rooftops, Bush hopped into his limousine behind the palace and was driven to the front to greet the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, amid a 41-gun salute.
More than 5,000 police officers are scheduled to work 14,000 shifts during Bush's visit because of fears of protests getting out of hand and the possibility of a terrorist attack.
Protesters began gathering at Trafalgar Square late yesterday afternoon, and there were brief skirmishes with police. One group held an "alternative state procession," complete with a horse-drawn carriage, from the south bank of the River Thames to Trafalgar Square. In the carriage, a man in a Bush mask and a woman dressed as the queen waved and, at times, groped each other.
Custom called for the president to take a carriage ride with the queen, but that tradition was shelved because of security concerns.
After his speech yesterday, Bush met with families of British victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. He listened to their stories of why their relatives were in the United States and, in some cases, what floor of the World Trade Center they were on, an administration official said. Reporters were not permitted at the meeting.
"We all have a duty, and remembering the dead reminds of us our duty," Bush told the relatives, according to an aide.
Last night, the president and first lady Laura Bush were guests of honor at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace with the queen and about 160 guests. Today, the president is scheduled to meet with relatives of British soldiers killed in Iraq, and he is to spend much of today and tomorrow with Blair, discussing how to transfer power to a provisional Iraqi government.
They may also discuss the status of nine British detainees being held by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the possibility of ending Bush-imposed steel tariffs that have angered much of Europe.