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Bush Defends Iraq Policy - 2004-07-12

President Bush is defending his handling of the terrorist threat and the war in Iraq, which are major issues in the U.S. presidential campaign.

The president says his decision to go to war in Iraq was justified, even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found.

"We removed a declared enemy of America, who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder, and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them," he said.

Mr. Bush says, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that is not a risk America could afford to take. "The world changed on September 11," he said. "And since that day, we have changed the world."

The president spoke during a visit to a U.S. government facility in Tennessee that is currently storing nuclear weapons parts and equipment from Libya. He said Libya gave up its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, because it saw what America and its allies did in Iraq.

"Today, because the Libyan government saw the seriousness of the civilized world, and correctly judged its own interests, the American people are safer," added Mr. Bush.

Speaking three days after a Senate report criticized the intelligence used by the administration to justify the Iraq war, Mr. Bush said the intelligence community should be proud of its work in Libya.

He pointed to other victories in the war on terrorism, noting that Pakistan is working with the United States. "Today, because we are working with Pakistani leaders, Pakistan is an ally in the war on terror and the American people are safer," he said.

The president's approach to Iraq and terrorism is a big issue in this U.S. election year. With American troops still facing dangers, and taking casualties, Mr. Bush is stressing to voters that building a free Iraq is crucial to U.S. security, and each victory in the war on terror is essential.

"Every element of our homeland security plan is critical, because the terrorists are ruthless and resourceful, and we know they are preparing to attack us again," he said.

His expected opponent in the November election, Democrat John Kerry, has accused the Bush administration of squandering American leadership abroad. The Massachusetts Senator backed a congressional resolution that gave the go-ahead for military action to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He now says he has grave doubts about the case for war presented to Congress and the American public by the president, based on intelligence that was criticized in last week's Senate report.