CARLISLE, Pennsylvania -- Trying further to define his legacy before he leaves office, President George W. Bush said Wednesday that America has been kept safe from another Sept. 11-style terrorist attack during his watch.
In a speech at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Bush said that after the terror attacks in New York and Washington, he set up an elaborate plan to reorganize the governmental apparatus to confront such threats. At the same time, he said, the United States has worked to nurture alternatives to hateful regimes around the world.
The speech was part of what amounts to a presidential legacy tour, with Bush using his last days at the bully pulpit to weigh in on how he thinks the country should judge his two terms of service. His final day in office will be Jan. 20, when Barack Obama will be sworn in as president.
"While there's room for an honest and healthy debate about the decisions I made - and there's plenty of debate - there can be no debate about the results in keeping America safe," Bush said. "Here at home, we've prevented numerous terrorist attacks."
He said the U.S. government had foiled an attempt to bomb fuel tanks at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, a plot to blow up airliners bound for the U.S. east coast, a scheme to attack a shopping mall in the Chicago area, and a plan to destroy the tallest skyscraper in Los Angeles.
"We'll never know how many lives have been saved," Bush said, "but this is for certain: Since 9/11, there's not been another terrorist attack on American soil."
Bush said that for many years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the nation viewed the threat of terrorism as isolated incidents and responded with limited measures. On that day, he said, "the sun had set on a very different world."
"With rumors of more attacks swirling, Americans went to bed wondering what the future would bring," he said. "On that night, virtually no one would have predicted that more than seven years would pass without another terrorist attack on our soil. It's not a matter of luck. It is a tribute to the dedicated men and women who work day and night to defend our great land."
Bush said he rejected a strategy of retreat that would have had Americans hunkering down within the U.S. borders or seeking quick revenge by attacking nations that supported terrorism, but with no broad strategy to address the root cause of the threat.
"First, we recognized that our homeland security and intelligence capabilities were inadequate so we launched the largest reorganization of the federal government since the beginning of the Cold War, with one overriding purpose, and that was to prevent new attacks," Bush said.
He said the United States also launched a global campaign to take the fight to the terrorists abroad, try to dismantle their networks and worked to counter the terrorists' "hateful ideology" with a more hopeful alternative based on liberty and justice.