- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — President Bush yesterday marked the six-month anniversary of the fall of Baghdad by unapologetically celebrating Saddam Hussein’s ousting and imploring Americans not to abandon Iraq.

“Six months ago today, the statue of the dictator was pulled down,” the president told cheering reservists at Pease Air National Guard Base. “There is only one decent and humane reaction to the fall of Saddam Hussein: Good riddance.”

Without naming names, the president fired back at Democratic presidential candidates who have been attacking his Iraq policy.

“The challenges we face today cannot be met with timid actions or bitter words,” Mr. Bush said. “The terrorists who threaten America cannot be appeased. They must be found, they must be fought and they must be defeated.”

In his first visit to New Hampshire since last year’s midterm elections, the president squeezed in some retail politics by making a rare unscheduled stop at a pizza parlor in Manchester. He shook hands and visited the kitchen before hopping back in his limousine to eat a slice of pizza on his way to another speech.

Mr. Bush then renewed his defense of the administration’s decision to wage war against Iraq, which is being widely second-guessed by the Democratic field.

“I acted because I was not about to leave the security of the American people in the hands of a madman,” he explained. “I was not about to stand by and wait and trust in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein.

“So in one of the swiftest and most humane military campaigns in history, we removed the threat,” he added.

The president tacitly acknowledged his job-approval ratings have slipped after months of Democratic attacks and media focus on setbacks in Iraq. But he also vowed to persevere.

“When you become the president, you can’t predict all the challenges that will come,” he said. “But you do know the principles you bring to office.

“And they should not change,” he added. “They shouldn’t change with time and they shouldn’t change with polls.”

Mr. Bush also seemed to imply that his predecessor, President Clinton, had not squarely confronted the gathering threat of terrorism during the 1990s. By contrast, the president portrayed himself as unafraid to strike boldly at America’s enemies.

“I took this office to make a difference, not to mark time,” he said. “I came to this office to confront problems directly and forcefully, not to pass them on to future presidents and future generations.”

The president hinted that the Democrats’ less-aggressive approach toward terrorists, if allowed to prevail, could prove disastrous in the years ahead.

“These committed killers will not be stopped by negotiations,” he said. “They won’t respond to therapy or to reason.”

Mr. Bush sought to contrast himself with Democrats who have complained bitterly about the cost of reconstruction in Iraq and the slow pace of democratization.

“Our challenges will be overcome with optimism and resolve and confidence in the ideals of our country,” he said. “Our work in Iraq has been long and hard, and it is not finished.

The president’s speeches came a day after National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice began a concerted White House offensive to counter the daily drumbeat of negative news about Iraq. The campaign continues today with a speech by Vice President Dick Cheney.

But Mr. Bush broadened his defense of administration policy to include his stewardship of the economy. Eager to blunt Democratic claims that he is presiding over a “jobless recovery,” the president seized on new statistics showing job growth.

“Last month, the economy exceeded expectations and added net new jobs,” he said. “Just as our economy is coming around, some are saying now is the time to raise taxes.

“To be fair, they think anytime is a good time to raise taxes. At least they’re consistent,” he said of the Democrats. “But I strongly disagree.”

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