Bush defends terror war in speech to veterans

August 20, 2008 7:51:24 AM PDT
President Bush said Wednesday the war on terror must be fought with all assets of the United States and not treated primarily as a matter of law enforcement. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has faulted the administration for not using the criminal justice system more. Bush, in a speech prepared for a veterans convention in Florida, said, "In this war, we must use all assets of national power to keep the pressure on the enemy, keep the terrorists on the run and keep the American people safe from harm."

The White House released excerpts of the address as Bush was in Crawford, Texas, preparing to fly to Orlando. The president also was visiting New Orleans and Gulfport, Miss., to talk about ongoing recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Bush's prepared speech in Orlando highlighted themes that Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has been using to argue that he is better qualified to be commander in chief than Obama. "America's future leaders must always remember that the war on terror will be won on the offense - and that is where America's military must stay," Bush said.

McCain and Obama are sharply divided about the war in Iraq. Obama opposed it and says he will bring American forces home; McCain was a strong supporter of the war and opposes a quick pullout.

In his remarks, Bush said the war on terror "cannot be won, however if we treat terrorism primarily as a matter of law enforcement. Law enforcement is an essential part of our strategy but our strategy cannot be limited to law enforcement alone."

Bush said the U.S. prosecuted people responsible the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 "but eight years later al-Qaida terrorists came back to finish the job."

Obama in June said the government can crack down on terrorists "within the constraints of our Constitution." He mentioned the indefinite detention of Guantanamo Bay detainees, contrasting their treatment with the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.

"And, you know, let's take the example of Guantanamo," Obama said. "What we know is that, in previous terrorist attacks - for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center - we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated."

"And the fact that the administration has not tried to do that has created a situation where not only have we never actually put many of these folks on trial, but we have destroyed our credibility when it comes to rule of law all around the world, and given a huge boost to terrorist recruitment in countries that say, 'Look, this is how the United States treats Muslims. ...' "

"We could have done the exact same thing, but done it in a way that was consistent with our laws," Obama said.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush was not referring to anyone particular in his remarks.

McCain and other Republicans contend that McCain's Vietnam service and experience on the Senate Armed Services Committee make him far better qualified to steer the armed forces than Obama, who did not serve in the military.

McCain and Obama traded shots during separate appearances at the weeklong VFW convention.

On Monday, McCain repeated his support for the president's January 2007 decision to add 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The so-called surge is credited with reducing violence in Iraq, and the additional troops have already returned home.

McCain criticized Obama for not only opposing the surge but trying to block the funding that would have allowed the increase. On Tuesday, it was Obama's turn, and he said McCain should stop questioning his "character and patriotism."

Obama reaffirmed his early opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He said the surge of troops has not led to the political reconciliation needed to ensure the country will remain secure once all U.S. troops are gone.

Bush has about five months left in office. His largely uncompromising approach in Iraq, along with a sputtering economy, a crumbling housing market and high gasoline prices, has led to low public approval ratings. Only 31 percent of those polled approve of the job he's doing, according to a recent Associated Press-Ipsos survey.

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