CORONADO, Calif. - Nearing the end of a vacation month dominated by antiwar protests outside his Texas home, a rising death toll in Iraq and sagging poll numbers, President Bush yesterday invoked the anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II and the postwar rebirth of that country as a historic parallel to present-day U.S. efforts in the Middle East.
Bush spoke before a backdrop of the Ronald Reagan, the 1,092-foot, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier stationed at the North Island Naval Air Station, drawing repeated applause from an audience of Marines, Navy seamen and World War II veterans.
The picture-perfect setting, adoring crowd and historical references contrasted sharply with the political realities facing Bush as he returns today to Washington, where lawmakers in both parties have begun comparing Iraq to a war with far more negative connotations than the Allied victory over the Japanese and the Nazis: Vietnam.
Bush pegged his remarks to Friday, the 60th anniversary of the Japanese surrender to Gen. Douglas MacArthur - linking the bombing at Pearl Harbor that sparked the U.S. entrance into World War II to the Sept. 11 attacks that led to today's campaign against terrorism.
"Once again, war came to our shores with a surprise attack that killed thousands in cold blood," Bush said. "Once again, we face determined enemies who follow a ruthless ideology that despises everything America stands for. Once again, America and our allies are waging a global campaign with forces deployed on virtually every continent. And once again, we will not rest until victory is America's and our freedom is secure."
Bush sought to connect the debate over Iraq's newly drafted constitution - a process that has flummoxed Bush and other U.S. officials who tried unsuccessfully to coax Sunni leaders to support the document and avoid what some critics say is a recipe for civil war - to the reconstruction led by the Allies 60 years ago.
"The Japanese constitution would guarantee the universal freedoms that are the foundation of all genuine democracies, while, at the same time, reflecting the unique traditions and needs of the Japanese people," Bush said, adding that it "set Japan on the path to a free society." Moments later, Bush said the Iraqi constitution "guarantees freedom for all Iraqi citizens," although he acknowledged that the present-day debate faces obstacles.
Bush did not mention the protesters who have gained prominence during his month away from Washington, led by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq last year. She has called on Bush to withdraw U.S. forces immediately.
Citing the success in transforming Japan into a democracy, Bush did refer indirectly to critics who say the United States has failed to rebuild Iraq amid an insurgency that has grown since the 2003 invasion.
He said that Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman "understood that the sacrifices of Allied forces would mean nothing unless we used our victory to help the Japanese people transform their nation from tyranny to freedom."
"There were many doubters," Bush said, a clear reference to his critics. "American and Japanese experts claimed that the Japanese weren't ready for democracy."
With Bush's return to Washington, Sheehan and other protesters have also planned their departure from their encampments that have persisted outside Bush's property near Crawford, Texas, since Aug. 6, backed by a series of well-funded liberal groups. The groups Gold Star Families for Peace and Military Families Speak Out will leave today on a national bus tour, dubbed "Bring Them Home Now," that will end with a rally Sept. 24 in Washington.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.