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President Bush chose religious broadcasters as the first audience for a series of speeches linked to the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq next week and a progress report next month to Congress by Gen. David Petraeus.

“The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency, it is the right decision at this point in my presidency, and it will forever be the right decision,” the president said Tuesday at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tenn.

The president at one point appealed to theology to defend his Iraq policy.

“We undertake this work because we believe that every human being bears the image of our maker,” he said. “That is why we are doing this. No one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. People of all faiths and all backgrounds deserve the chance at a future of their own choosing. That’s what America believes.”

He also said religious broadcasters can help “those who are on the front lines and those who struggle against evil” through prayer.

“I appreciate the fact that you pray for our troops and their families,” the president said. “And I appreciate the prayers that you have directed my way. And I feel your prayer, and I can’t tell you how meaningful they have been to help Laura and me do our job. And I can report to you this, that the prayers of the people have affected us and that being the president has been a joyous experience.”

“I wish religious broadcasters would introduce the president to Jesus’ teaching for Christians to pray for their enemies,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “He seems to have missed the Christian imperative to love our enemies, especially whenever he justifies his preemptive war against Iraq and appeals to religious conservatives for their support.”

“On the other hand, perhaps he knows Jesus’ teaching and knows religious broadcasters don’t pay any attention to the Sermon on the Mount,” Parham continued. “Either way, he diminishes authentic faith, but he wrongfully uses theology for political gain and warmaking.”

Bush told a supportive crowd of Christian communicators that conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are different arenas in the same war against forces responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Some seem to believe that one of these battles is worth fighting and the other isn’t,” he said. “In other words there is a good war and a bad war.”

But Bush said enemies “are fighting hard in both countries to seize power and impose their brutal vision.”

“The theaters are part of the same war, the same calling, the same struggle,” he said. “And that is why it is essential to succeed.”

Bush said anyone doubting the importance of victory “need only imagine what would happen if we were driven out of Iraq before the job is finished.”

“What would happen if they seized territory to be able to have safe haven?” he asked. “And what would happen if they seized oil fields and used wealth to attack America and our allies? These are vicious people, who know no bounds of humanity. They would not hesitate to murder. It is essential for our citizens to understand this. And that is why this war must be fought, and that is why this enemy must be defeated.”

“I wish I didn’t have to talk about war,” Bush told religious broadcasters. “No president wants to be a war president, but when confronted with the realities of the world, I have made the decision that now is the time to confront, now is the time to deal with this enemy, and now is the time to spread freedom as the great alternative to the ideology they adhere to.”

Bush also pledged to veto any attempt by Democrats in Congress to reinstate Fairness Doctrine regulations repealed 20 years ago requiring balance to controversial views on public airwaves.

“For some in Washington the only opinions that require balancing are the ones they don’t like,” he said. “We know who these advocates of so-called balance really have in their sights–shows hosted by people like Rush Limbaugh, James Dobson or many of you here today.”

“By insisting on so-called balance they want to silence those they don’t agree with,” the president said. “The truth of the matter is they know they cannot prevail in the public debate of ideas. They don’t acknowledge that you are the balance.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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