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Bush Defends Iraq Policy Amid Mounting Criticism - 2003-10-09


President Bush is defending his Iraq policy in the face of criticism both at home and abroad. The president's tone was determined, as he spoke to military personnel in the state of New Hampshire. He likened the rebuilding of Iraq to the post-World War II reconstruction of Japan and Germany, and he warned Americans against complacency in the midst of the war on terrorism.

"Our work in Iraq has been long. It is hard. And it is not finished," he said. "We will stay the course. We will complete our job."

On another day of violence in Iraq, Mr. Bush said there are those who are testing the will of the United States. He said they will fail, and he stressed once again that he sees Iraq as the central front in the war on terrorism.

"The terrorists in Iraq believe that their attacks on innocent people will weaken our resolve," said Mr. Bush. "That is what they believe. They believe that America will run from a challenge. They are mistaken."

At several points during his speech, the president spoke of the lessons of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. He said his decision to launch military action to oust Iraq's Saddam Hussein was right and sound, and was needed to combat threats to the security of the United States.

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

Mr. Bush noted that his remarks at the Pease National Guard Base in the town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire came six months to the day after one of the most lingering images of the war in Iraq - the downing of a massive statue of Saddam Hussein. He said these months have been marked by progress.

"We're rebuilding schools. A lot of kids are going back to school. We are reopening hospitals. Thousands of children are now being immunized. Water and electricity are being returned to the Iraqi people," he said.

The president has complained in recent days that the news media have not presented an accurate picture of life in Iraq, that there is too much of a focus on the problems and not enough on the success stories. His speech was part of an administration campaign to highlight the positive events that are taking place, and build support for an expensive reconstruction effort.

The White House recently asked Congress for another $87 billion for military operations and rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan. Public opinion polls show many Americans are becoming skeptical of the cost of the military operation in Iraq, both in dollars and human lives.

The nine Democrats seeking their party's presidential nomination are making the administration's conduct of the war and its aftermath an early campaign issue. Perhaps few places in the country are more aware of the growing debate than New Hampshire, where President Bush spoke first to military personnel and their families, and later to a group of businessmen. The small, northeastern state is the site of the nation's first primary election.

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