Bush thanks troops, vows commitment on Iraq
Remarks come one year after start of war
President Bush greets troops at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on Thursday.
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FORT CAMPBELL, Kentucky (CNN) -- Amid renewed violence in Iraq, President Bush on Thursday strongly defended the decision to go to war, telling troops they've made "America more secure" and have terrorists on the run.
Bush's speech comes as he faces sustained criticism from Democrats on national security and his stewardship as commander-in-chief, an issue that looms large on the presidential campaign trail.
The president, wearing a flight jacket, was greeted with rousing cheers from the military personnel and their families on the military base. Many of those in uniform had served in Iraq.
"Because you care, you're helping the Iraqis live as free people," Bush told the audience. "One year ago tomorrow, the armed forces of the United States entered Iraq to end the regime of Saddam Hussein.
"After his years of defiance, we gave the dictator one final chance. He refused. And so in one year's time, Saddam Hussein has gone from a palace, to a bunker, to a spider hole, to jail."
The president described Saddam's regime in familiar terms -- as a state sponsor of terrorism and a torturer of his own people, including the use of chemical weapons.
But Bush never uttered the phrase "weapons of mass destruction," something he mentioned routinely last year in the buildup to the war.
While the administration said Saddam possessed such weapons immediately before the war and would use them, none have been found in Iraq. Yesterday, Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, delivered a speech in which he accused Bush of misleading the country on Iraq.
The president appeared to make an oblique reference to how last year's threat from Iraq was described, and he made a point of including Congress in last year's assessment.
"In Iraq, my administration looked at the intelligence information -- and we saw a threat. Members of Congress looked at the intelligence -- and they saw a threat," Bush said. "The United Nations Security Council looked at the intelligence -- and it saw a threat.
"I had a choice to make: either to take the word of a madman or take such threats seriously and defend America. Faced with that choice, I will defend America every time."
Bush made no explicit mention of either the election or Kerry. But he made a point of citing an $87 billion spending bill last year that Kerry voted against, one that included funds for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I want to thank every member of Congress who voted in favor of the $87 billion supplemental that is meeting the needs of our troops in the field right now," Bush said.
"When your government gives you a mission, we must accept serious responsibility of our own. And here's my pledge: I'll work to make sure you have every resource and every tool you need to fight and win the war on terror."
In the fight against terrorism, Fort Campbell has lost 72 people -- seven in Afghanistan and 65 in Iraq, Maj. Charley Holstein told a pool reporter.
The deaths in Iraq are more than any other division-sized unit, said Bush, who met after his talk with 133 family members representing 46 of the dead.
Throughout his speech, he thanked the armed services, telling them the country was proud of their services.
Fort Campbell is the home of one of the Army's largest military populations and home to the 101st Airborne.