President Bush is making a new push to boost public support for the war in Iraq, casting it as a crucial component of a broader battle against terror. In a speech to a veteran's group in Salt Lake City, Utah, Mr. Bush intensified a crucial election year debate on his Iraq policy.
The president says Iraq is part of a wider war raging between the forces of freedom and Islamic fanaticism.
"When terrorists murder at the World Trade Center, or car bombers strike in Baghdad, or hijackers plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic, or terrorist militias shoot rockets into Israeli towns, they are all pursuing the same objective: to turn back the advance of freedom," said President Bush.
He says this is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and vows America will stand firm against, what he calls, a worldwide network of radicals.
"And the unifying feature of this movement, the link that spans sectarian divisions and local differences, is the rigid conviction that free societies are a threat to their twisted view of Islam," he said.
The president spoke to the annual convention of the American Legion - one of the oldest and largest veterans' groups in the United States.
Many of these men and women served in combat roles in World War II, the Korean conflict and Vietnam. The president drew a link between the enemy they faced, and the enemy of today.
"They are successors to fascists, to Nazis, to communists, and other totalitarians of the 20th century," said Mr. Bush. "And history shows what the outcome will be."
This address to the American Legion was the first in a series of speeches the president will deliver in the days leading up to the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
White House officials say the anniversary is a good time to remind the American people of the high stakes involved in the war on terror. The reminders are also coming in the weeks before congressional elections in the United States and during a campaign in which the conflict in Iraq is a central issue.
The president has denied that this latest round of speeches on the global war on terror - the third in less than a year - is politically motivated. But in his address in Salt Lake City, he took aim at critics of his policy.
"Some politicians look at our efforts in Iraq and see a diversion from the war on terror," he said. "That would come as news to Osama Bin Laden who proclaimed that the third world war is waging in Iraq."
Mr. Bush said those who are calling for a U.S. military pull-out from Iraq are patriotic but wrong, and he warned of dire consequences should the United States withdraw. He said supporters of Saddam Hussein would join with radicals and armed groups with ties to Iran to turn Iraq into a major base of terrorist operations.
"If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities," continued President Bush. "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."
Aides say Mr. Bush will sound similar themes over the next few weeks, culminating with a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on September 19.