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Ensor: Speech more about passion than facts

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CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor

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David Ensor
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush delivered what the White House termed a "major speech" Thursday on the progress of the war in Iraq and the broader conflict against terrorism.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday the president would address the connection between Iraq and the war against al Qaeda terrorist network "in greater detail than he has before." (Full story)

CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor talked with news anchor Daryn Kagan about the speech. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation:

KAGAN: We've been listening to President Bush as he speaks in the Ronald Reagan Amphitheater, speaking to the National Endowment for Democracy, refocusing the nation's attentions on the war on terror and the situation on Iraq.

The president and the White House had promised some unprecedented details in that speech. We have brought David Ensor on board to be our CNN fact checker, and we're looking for some specific facts.

ENSOR: Daryn, it was more a speech about passion, a well-crafted and passionate speech, making an appeal and sort of an attack, an ideological attack, on al Qaeda, than it was a speech about hard facts.

There was, however, one passage that I'm sure reporters will be following up on -- I certainly will -- the rest of the afternoon and in the coming days, where the president got specific _- saying attacks were disrupted. Here's what he said:

"Overall, the United States and our partners have disrupted at least 10 serious al Qaeda terrorist plots since September 11, including three al Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States. We've stopped at least five more al Qaeda efforts to case targets in the United States or infiltrate operatives into our country. Because of the steady progress, the enemy is wounded, but the enemy is still capable of global operations."

Now the president is talking about successful disruption of attempts to attack around the world and in the United States in greater numbers than are known about publicly. So it will be interesting to see, Daryn, whether any of the officials in the administration are willing to fill in the details there and tell us about 10 successful disruptions of al Qaeda attacks, including three in the United States.

KAGAN: But, David, in some ways it's hard to prove a negative of something that hasn't happened. It is true we have not seen a major terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11, and don't you, indeed, have to count that as a victory, as something that Americans can look to as success?

ENSOR: It's the proudest single fact in this area that the Bush administration can point to, as well as, of course, what he noted in the speech, that 75 percent of al Qaeda leadership that existed at the time of 9/11 has been wrapped up.

Trouble is, the critics would say Iraq has become a recruiting ground, a flash point that is causing more people to get interested in terrorism and is creating as many problems as it may be solving.

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