"America did not ask for this war, and every American wishes it were over," Mr. Bush said. "The war is not over — and it will not be over until either we or the extremists emerge victorious."
Mr. Bush, in a prime time address from the Oval Office, staunchly defended the war in Iraq even though he acknowledged that Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
He said Saddam's regime, while lacking weapons of mass destruction, was a clear threat that posed "a risk the world could not afford to take." At least 2,600 U.S. servicemen and women have died in Iraq.
"Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone," the president said. "They will not leave us alone. They will follow us."
The address was coming at the end of a day in which Mr. Bush honored the memory of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks that rocked his presidency and thrust the United States into a costly and unfinished war against terror. In the speech, Mr. Bush explicitly linked the war in Iraq to the broader war on terror, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric reports.
The president remembers 9/11 Bush defends his decision on Iraq 'Peace and moderation in the Middle East' Remembering a fallen firefighter
"Our nation has endured trials, and we face a difficult road ahead," he said.
"We are now in the early hours of this struggle between tyranny and freedom," Mr. Bush said. "Amid the violence, some question whether the people of the Middle East want their freedom – and whether the forces of moderation can prevail."
It was a day of mourning, remembrance and resolve. Before his address, Mr. Bush visited New York, Shanksville, Pa., and the Pentagon to place wreaths and console relatives of the victims.
At 9:38 a.m. at the Pentagon and at 10:03 a.m. in Shanksville, Pa., everything stopped. The president visited those places and shared moments of silence. He also consoled families, laying wreaths and sharing a moment of silence, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.
The president made no public remarks at the disaster sites Monday, calling it a "wordless day," Axelrod reports. "We were told it would be a non-political speech, with no distinctions between Democrats and Republicans."
Instead, Axelrod reports, viewers of the speech saw "stark differences made in terms of handling the war on terror. I think what we're seeing here is the bridge to Sept. 12," which starts the "final sprint to the mid-term elections."
Five years ago, the attacks transformed Mr. Bush's presidency and awakened the world to Osama bin Laden — who is still at large — and his band of al Qaeda terrorists. While the public has soured on, which Mr. Bush calls the central front in the war on terror, the president still gets high marks for his handling of Sept. 11.
Terrorism has been a potent political issue for Republicans, and they hope to capitalize on it in the November elections. GOP lawmakers are anxious about holding control of both houses of Congress.
Congress has approved $432 billion for Iraq and the war on terrorism. At least 2,666 U.S. servicemen and women have died in Iraq. The toll in Afghanistan is 272.
"If we do not defeat these enemies now, we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons," Mr. Bush said. "We are in a war that will set the course for this new century and determine the destiny of millions across the world."
White House officials said President Bush's speech was not intended to outline new strategy. Rather, it was portrayed as an appeal for unity and a commitment to win the struggle against terror at a time when the war in Iraq is widely opposed. There was no mention of Iraq in the excerpts of the speech, but officials said Mr. Bush would talk about it in his address.
"This struggle has been called a clash of civilizations," the president said. "In truth it is a struggle for civilization." He said the United States was standing with democratic leaders and reformers, offering a path away from radicalism.
While Mr. Bush urged resolve, the two co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission accused the Bush administration and Congress of a continued lack of urgency in protecting the country. About half of their 41 recommendations to better secure Americans, offered in July 2004, have become law.
"Where in the world have we been for five years?" said former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., who was joined by his Republican counterpart, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean. Hamilton spoke of failures to put first responders on the same radio spectrum so they can talk to each other during an emergency — as firefighters and police officers who died in the World Trade Center could not in 2001.
The 9/11 attacks changed the political tone in Washington and abroad — but only briefly.
"We had an astonishing moment of unity in America and around the world," former President Clinton told a Jewish conference in Washington. That has given way to bitter political divisions between Democrats and Republicans. Many nations that rushed to stand with the United States now accuse the Bush administration of failing to honor human rights, tolerance and diversity of cultures.
Still, dozens of lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, joined on the steps of the Capitol Monday to remember the attacks, singing "God Bless America" as they had five years ago.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Monday, "Five years later, we have to continue to move forward with unity, urgency and in the spirit of international cooperation, because we are not yet fully healed and not yet as safe as we should be."
Mr. Bush began the day in New York with firefighters and police officers at a Lower East Side firehouse. He stood in front of a door salvaged from a fire truck destroyed on Sept. 11. It was a cloudless morning reminiscent of the sunny day when two hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
The mourners silently bowed their heads, at 8:46 a.m. and again at 9:03 a.m., marking the moments when the planes slammed into the towers. The attacks killed 2,749 people.
Mr. Bush spent time talking with the first responders about what they had been through the last five years, spokesman Tony Snow said.
Five years after the attacks, a piece of limestone, charred by burning jet fuel, is all that remains of the Pentagon wall destroyed by a passenger jet hijacked by terrorists. Just inside that wall, CBS' Aleen Sirgany reports, there is now a military chapel and a permanent memorial. Among the 184 who died in the Pentagon was Dave Laychak.
"I think about Dave every day," his brother Jim Laychak told Sirgany. "I wear a band around my wrist that has his name on it.
The ritual has changed little since the first anniversary of the attacks, and in many ways the site has remained the same as well.
Squabbles over design and security have caused long delays in the project to rebuild at ground zero. Only this year did construction start on a Sept. 11 memorial and the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, which is not expected to be finished for five more years..
The next stop was in Shanksville, Pa., where Mr. Bush and his wife stood without umbrellas in a chilly rain to lay a wreath honoring the 40 passengers and crew killed when United Airlines Flight 93 plowed into a Pennsylvania field. The terrorists apparently had been planning on crashing the plane into the White House or the Capitol until passengers stormed the cockpit to take control.
"We stand here today with pride because of heroism," said Hamilton Peterson, whose father and stepmother died when the plane went down.
The Rev. Paul H. Britton, whose brother, Marion Britton, died on Flight 93, offered a prayer for all as well as for Mr. Bush, whom he called "our conscience and our heart."
Mr. Bush had an emotional meeting with relatives of the Shanksville victims. "There were some people who were still clearly grieving about what happened five years ago," Snow said.