"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.