SALT LAKE CITY — President Bush yesterday called the war on terror a defining “struggle” against radical Islam that can be lost only if the American people lose their will to fight in Iraq.
“We can decide to stop fighting the terrorists in Iraq and other parts of the world, but they will not decide to stop fighting us,” said Mr. Bush, who received applause throughout his speech from a supportive crowd at the American Legion convention.
The president said his critics who call for withdrawal don’t understand terrorists are now a global force that is the successor to Nazis, communists and fascists of the 20th century. He said the new global ideology unites radical Sunni Muslims, Shi’ite Muslims and “homegrown” fanatics opposed to free societies.
“These groups form the outlines of a single movement — a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology,” said Mr. Bush in the first of a series of speeches designed to renew support for the war on terror.
The president said he will remain committed to Iraq as long as he sees Iraqis “make the hard decisions” to push for peace and preserve their new democracy. He said he tells Iraqi leaders that “America is a patient nation.”
Democrats said the calls for patience are falling on deaf ears here at home.
“The American people have been patient. We have resolve, and we are patriotic Americans who because of our patriotism call on this president to change course in Iraq, face the facts on the ground, and focus on the real war on terror,” said Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean.
He said Mr. Bush offered nothing new, and said Republicans in Congress should be punished for supporting him.
“You can’t trust Republicans to defend America,” he said.
Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, said Mr. Bush’s speech was “high on ideological rhetoric and low on substance,” and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Mr. Bush continues to deny his “historic blunder” in Iraq.
“We must win the war on terror, but the war in Iraq is the wrong war,” she said. “Today, just as it has since the war began, Iraq is weakening our ability to fight the war on terrorism.”
Mr. Bush, though, said his opponents ignore the statements of top al Qaeda leaders who say Iraq is now their central fight and said everyone should at least agree “that the battle for Iraq is now central to the ideological struggle of the 21st century.”
“It’s hard to believe that these terrorists would make long journeys across dangerous borders, endure heavy fighting, or blow themselves up in the streets of Baghdad for a so-called ‘diversion,’” he said.
A new AP-Ipsos poll released yesterday found that 59 percent of the nation approved of President Bush’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, significantly more than the 37 percent that now support the war in Iraq. It also says 35 percent fear being victims of terrorism, a number that shoots to nearly 60 percent in New York and Washington.
The legionnaires applauded often, though at times perfunctorily. And despite the focus of the speech, the biggest applause line came on a domestic topic, when Mr. Bush said he will continue to fight for an amendment to ban flag desecration.
Still, members were overwhelmingly supportive of Mr. Bush and praised his insistence on staying in Iraq until he decided the country can defend itself.
“We stand behind our president,” said Bob Royland, a legionnaire from Delaware.
Last year, the American Legion passed a resolution endorsing both Mr. Bush and the war on terror. Answering those who have said they support the troops but not the war, the group’s national commander, Thomas Bock, said yesterday Americans must not distinguish between “support of the war and warrior alike, for they are inseparable.”
The crowd also gave a standing ovation to the family of Salt Lake City native Marine Cpl. Adam Galvez, who was killed by a roadside bomb 12 days ago and was buried here Wednesday.
The president arrived in Salt Lake City on Wednesday night to a rock-star welcome, landing to find 2,000 residents waiting at the airport in a bipartisan welcome designed to counter anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan, who had planned to attend an anti-Bush rally here championed by Mayor Rocky Anderson. In the end, Mrs. Sheehan was unable to attend.
Mr. Bush on Wednesday said he didn’t want his speeches to be political, but as the major issue for Democrats heading into the November congressional elections, the debate is entwined with politics. Mr. Bush’s own Republican National Committee has issued two press memos since then using the label “Defeatocrats” to describe opponents.
In addition to pushing for passage of the flag anti-desecration amendment, which fell one vote shy of passage in the Senate this year, Mr. Bush touted his administration’s veterans funding, which he said grew more in his first four years than it did under eight years of the Clinton administration.
He also said the Veterans Administration is adapting to veterans’ needs by building new facilities in places where veterans are retiring.
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