Taking a clear swipe at Senator John Kerry, President Bush yesterday described Iraq as "the central front in the war on terror", and vowed that America would stay on the offensive, "whatever it takes", to prevail.
Travelling to one of the largest US military bases to address 20,000 troops who have served in Iraq, Mr Bush did not mention the Democratic nominee designate by name. But he implicitly criticised Mr Kerry for his alleged vacillation on key security issues.
"By speaking clearly, consistently and meaning what we say, the more likely the world will be more peaceful," Mr Bush said, contrasting his straight-talking approach with what Republicans say is "flip-flopping" by the Massachusetts senator.
Mr Bush's speech yesterday at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on the eve of the first anniversary of the Iraq invasion, was part of a carefully calibrated White House strategy against Mr Kerry. While Mr Bush takes the presidential high road, surrogates will deliver the negative attacks with which his re-election team intends to define their opponent, before he has time to get his own message across to voters.
That secondary role is being filled by Vice-President Dick Cheney, with his depiction this week of Mr Kerry as a man who constantly changed his mind, and was unfit to be entrusted with protecting the US from terrorism. Citing Mr Kerry's contrasting votes on the 2003 Iraq war, first for and then against, and his previous votes to trim defence spending, the Vice-President said they were "not an impressive record for someone who aspires to be the commander-in-chief at this time of testing for our country".
Once again, Mr Bush was unrepentant about the failure to discover the weapons of mass destruction that were the prime justification for war. America, he said, must confront threats before they fully materialised. The pre-war intelligence suggested a threat, leaving him with a choice of either "taking the word of a madman", or defending the US. "Faced with that choice, I will defend America every time," he said.
Echoing some US officials and commentators who have called Spain's vote to bring in a Socialist government an appeasement of terrorism, Mr Bush insisted that "terrorism will never be appeased". There was "only one path to safety", to stay united and fight until "this enemy is broken", he said.
In his own speech on national security this week, Mr Kerry too said the war on terrorism must continue. But he said the US was "bogged down" in Iraq, and "our men and women fight on almost alone with the target squarely on their backs".Reuse content