Podium: The war on terror is not a figure of speech. It is real

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These are busy times for the nation's defenders, because we're at war with an enemy that hit us first, hit us hard, and has ambitions to cause ever greater destruction inside our country.

In two weeks, we'll mark another anniversary of September 11th, 2001 – and we'll recall the attacks that took 3,000 lives and did such great harm to our nation. We'll be reminded, once again, of the kind of adversaries that we face in this war.

These extremists don't wear a uniform or recognise any standard of warfare. They hate our country; they are determined to kill as many Americans as they can; and they are fully prepared to kill themselves in the process. Simply stated, an extremist cabal has turned its guns on the United States and the civilised world. For the sake of our freedom and security, we must not relent until this enemy is destroyed. No one can guarantee the enemy won't make another strike on our homeland – indeed, that is their objective. But one thing is certain: we will not sit and wait to be hit again. There was a time when terrorist attacks were treated mainly as an issue of law enforcement – where you investigated the incident, arrest the bad guys, try them, and put them in jail.

September 11th changed everything. We saw the kind of destruction that could be caused by 19 men armed with box cutters and boarding passes – 19 men who were, in fact, part of an international network of terror. We had to contemplate, as well, their broader goals – to acquire more deadly weapons; to gain new safe havens to wage further attacks; to spread an ideology of hatred and resentment across the broader Middle East and beyond.

After 9/11, it was clear that this mixture of ideology and violence, operating across borders and in secret, added up to more than just a law enforcement problem. It was, and is, a strategic threat to the United States, and must be dealt with systematically. So President Bush made a decision to marshal all the elements of our national power to confront the extremists, to deny them safe haven, and above all to deny them the means to wage catastrophic attacks against the United States. He also made clear that in the post-9/11 era, regimes that harbour terrorists and defy the demands of the civilised world should be held to account – before it's too late.

All of these measures – homeland security, terror surveillance, and high-value interrogation – have been absolutely essential to confronting the strategic threat to our country. And the same is true for our ongoing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The war on terror is not a figure of speech. On two fields of battle, it is a shooting war. The only way to win is by going on the offensive – and that's exactly what we're doing.

Taken from remarks by the US Vice-President to the 90th National Convention of the American Legion

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