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Bush defends Iraq invasion, war on terrorism

President mocks Kerry's claim of foreign leaders' support

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ORLANDO, Florida (CNN) -- President Bush opened his campaign in Florida on Saturday restating his defense of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the war on terror, saying he would "defend the security of America, whatever it takes."

Bush was interrupted frequently during his 40-minute talk with applause and shouts of "Four more years" and "U-S-A".

The impact of the U.S. effort goes beyond its borders, he said to the more than 10,000 cheering supporters gathered at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. "The world is counting on us to lead the cause of freedom and peace."

But polls in a number of countries -- including some of America's staunchest allies -- have found little support for the doctrine of pre-emption that Bush used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Bush restated his support for that doctrine, which led to the ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"September 11th, 2001, taught a lesson I'll never forget," he said. "America must confront threats before they fully materialize."

He also took shots at his likely Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry, whom he mocked for his claim that his bid for the U.S. presidency had the support of foreign leaders.

"The other day, here in Florida, he claimed some important endorsements," Bush said about the senator from Massachusetts. "He won't tell us the name of the foreign admirers. That's OK. Either way, I'm not too worried, because I'm going to keep my campaign right here in America."

Kerry has refused to identify them, saying the leaders don't want to put their relationships with the Bush administration in jeopardy.

The president also attacked his Democratic contender's stance on Iraq.

"My opponent admits Saddam Hussein was a threat, he just didn't support my decision to remove Saddam from power. Maybe he was hoping Saddam would lose the next Iraqi election."

Kerry voted in October 2002 for a resolution authorizing the war in Iraq, but a year later he voted against a plan to appropriate $87 billion to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The senator said he opposed the appropriations bill because Republicans refused to pay for it by rolling back tax cuts for high-income taxpayers, as he and other Democrats had proposed.

Bush saved his most powerful ammunition for the war on terror, one of the main focuses of his administration's foreign policy since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

He cited the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying that terrorism suspects who are still at large "will know there is no cave or hole deep enough to hide from American justice."

Bush said voters face a stark choice when comparing the candidates' views on national security, implying that Kerry, a decorated Vietnam war veteran, would be soft on terrorism if elected.

"My opponent says he approves of bold action in the world, but only if other countries don't object. I'm all for united action, and so are our 34 coalition partners in Iraq right now. Yet America must never outsource America's national security decisions to the leaders of other countries."

He added, "I'll defend the security of America, whatever it takes."

In another jab at Kerry, Bush said "the other side" had offered little in the way of strategies to win the war or improve the economy.

"So far, all we hear from that side is bitterness, partisan anger. Anger is not an agenda for the future of America."

Bush also pointed to his extensive tax cuts as a reason for Americans to vote for him in November: "It's a choice between keeping the tax relief that's moving this economy forward or putting the burden of higher taxes back on the American people.

"It's a choice between an America that leads the world with strength and confidence or an America that is uncertain in the face of danger."

Bush credited his economic policies with boosting economic growth in the last half of last year to "the fastest in nearly 20 years."

He acknowledged the existence of "some economic pessimists who refuse to accept good news about our economy," but said he disagreed with them, adding, "I'm optimistic."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has said that 3 million jobs have been lost since Bush took office in 2001.

Kerry, Bush said, voted against tax cuts and "voted over 350 times for higher taxes on the American people." That comment elicited a chorus of boos from the crowd.

"He's going to tax all of you," Bush said, adding, "Fortunately, you're not going to give him that chance."

According to Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Reed Dickens, 2,000 people at the event signed up to volunteer for the campaign in Florida. Also, 600 Floridians joined the Republican Party at the rally, 200 of them switching from another party.

Democrats dispute

Kerry was in Idaho, taking a five-day break from campaigning . His campaign spokesman issued a statement calling the Bush speech misleading.

"John Kerry has fought for middle-class tax relief and has proposed new middle-class tax cuts in this campaign," said David Wade.

"The president is on thin ice talking taxes when his economic meltdown and record deficits have forced so many states to raise the middle-class tax burden.

"George Bush should avoid the slippery slope of debating John Kerry on tax fairness, because with his administration's abysmal record, we'll beat him to the bottom of the mountain every time."

And in a statement posted on Kerry's Web site, Democratic Sen. Bob Graham of Florida blamed Bush's leadership for worsening the state's finances.

"I wish the president would spend some more time in Central Florida and speak to people other than his most loyal supporters, because he needs to hear that his misguided policies are hurting people," Graham's statement said. "In greater Orlando alone, the unemployment rate has shot from 2.5 percent in December 2000 to 4.4 percent in January 2004. That's a loss of more than 40,000 jobs.

"President Bush's economic policies have failed Florida," said Rep. Kendrick Meek of Florida, Kerry's state campaign chairman. "His corporate buddies have shipped 70,000 Floridian manufacturing jobs overseas, and now it's time for Mr. Bush to get the pink slip."

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