Bush strongly defends policy in Iraq

LANCASTER, Pennsylvania - President George W. Bush has strongly defended his Iraq war policy against Democratic demands to bring US troops home and warned that if America leaves Iraq could become a country controlled by terrorists willing to use oil as a weapon.

"Leaving before we complete our mission would create a terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, a country with huge oil reserves that the terrorist network would be willing to use to extract economic pain from those of us who believe in freedom," Bush said.

In a campaign speech for former National Football League star Lynn Swann, the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, Bush appeared to be addressing those Democrats who are trying to turn the November congressional elections into a referendum on his handling of the Iraq war.

He did not specifically mention Democrats. But Democratic congressional leaders last month urged Bush to start pulling out US troops from Iraq this year while not specifying a time frame for completing the withdrawal.

Bush's popularity ratings are near the lowest of his presidency due largely to dissatisfaction over Iraq.

It was his first stump speech of the fall congressional election, Bush showed how he plans to reject Democrats who consider the Iraq war a failed policy.

"They want us to cut and run and there are some good people in our country who believe we should cut and run. They are not bad people when they say that, they are decent people, I just happen to believe they are wrong," Bush said. "This would be a defeat for the United States in a key battleground in the global war on terror."

His voice rising with emotion, Bush added: "If we were to leave before the mission is complete, it would hurt US credibility. Who would want to stand with the United States of America if we didn't complete the mission in a mission that can be completed, and will be completed?"

"If we leave before the mission is complete, if we withdraw, the enemy will follow us home," he said.

The Bush administration has reacted to the Democrats' election of Ned Lamont, an anti-war candidate who defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary a week ago, by portraying Democrats as soft on terrorism.

Bush also said the terror plot in Britain that led to arrests a week ago was similar to al Qaeda activities in the past but he was reluctant to blame it on the extremist group, saying only that "it's the kind of activities that al Qaeda has done in the past."

"And so we've got to use new tactics, new efforts, new assets to protect ourselves against an enemy that will strike us at any moment. This war on terror is more than just chasing down people hiding in caves or preventing people from getting on airplanes to blow them up," he said.

In Pennsylvania for Swann's uphill campaign to unseat Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, Bush first toured a Harley-Davidson plant where he admired the craftsmanship of the quintessential American motorcycles.


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