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Bush on Iraq: 'We're doing the right thing'

President defends NSA domestic surveillance

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Iraq
Acts of terror
Anne M. Northup
George W. Bush

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday defended the National Security Agency's controversial warrantless eavesdropping program and the nearly three-year mission to plant democracy in Iraq -- his second speech in as many days revolving around national security.

He said the Iraqi insurgency would not shake his determination to succeed there: "I just want to tell you, whether you agree with me or not, they're not going to shake my will. We're doing the right thing."

Bush made the speech to residents of Louisville, Kentucky, repeating much of what he said about Iraq on Tuesday in a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Bush also fielded a number of questions on security and other issues such as education, small businesses, health care, taxes and immigration.

At one point, a 7-year-old boy asked the president, "How can people help on the war on terror?"

Bush responded by saying he expects and welcomes "an honest debate about Iraq," but he dislikes assertions that he believes veer into reckless accusation, such as when critics say policy-makers "lied" or that "they are in there for oil" or in Iraq for the sake of Israel.

"That's the kind of debate that basically says the mission and the sacrifice were based on false premise," he said.

Emboldening the enemy

"It's one thing to have a philosophical difference," but people should "remember the effect that rhetoric can have on our troops in harm's way and the effect that rhetoric can have in emboldening or weakening an enemy," the president said.

But he did urge that the tone of the political debate in the upcoming midterm elections be "respectful," a point he also made Tuesday before the VFW group, where he warned about "irresponsible" political debate in the midterm elections.

Bush also reiterated the U.S. goals in Iraq: helping establish security and a potent and professional Iraqi security force, fostering an economic reconstruction and keeping up the political momentum that has resulted in three free elections last year.

As for the NSA program, Bush said he wanted to find out why al Qaeda and affiliates "are making phone calls into the United States and vice versa."

"I did so because the enemy still wants to hurt us," he said. "And it seems like to me if somebody is talking to al Qaeda, we want to know why."

Bush said he understands the "concerns about government eavesdropping" and shares those concerns. At the same time, he said he is trying to strike a balance between civil liberties and security, saying "on a limited basis, and I mean limited basis, try to find out the intention of the enemy."

Bush said "before I went forward I wanted to make sure I had all the legal authority necessary to make this decision as your president."

The president said there will be hearings about the program but said "that's good for democracy" -- as long as the hearings don't communicate "to the enemy what we're doing."

As for reauthorizing Patriot Act legislation, Bush said the anti-terror measures are important and it has given the FBI and the intelligence agencies the "same tools of sharing information" that law enforcement has in its fight against drug lords.

He said the Patriot Act is also helping "connect the dots" of potential terrorist activities in ways that weren't available before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"All of a sudden we start connecting the dots through the Patriot Act and the NSA decision and we're being criticized," he said.

Battleground District

Bush speech was delivered in Kentucky's 3rd Congressional District where U.S. Rep. Anne M. Northup, a Republican supporter of Operation Iraqi Freedom, faces a re-election challenge from Democrat Andrew Horne, a lawyer who served in Iraq.

The 44-year-old lieutenant colonel was in Iraq from August 2004 to March 2005, serving as a civil affairs detachment commander in Anbar province, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have battled the insurgency for months.

Horne said he had "enormous misgivings about how we got into Iraq" and criticized the manner in which the operation is being conducted. He cited an environment of instability, insufficient arms and forces "to get the job done" and said such problems were putting Marines at risk.

Horne criticized the Bush administration, saying that a reluctance to admit its faults complicates getting the mission right.

At the same time, he invoked former Secretary of State Colin Powell's phrase about Iraq -- "once you break it, you own it" -- and said, "Now that we're there, we need to get it right."

Horne has said he plans to retire from the Marine reserves this spring.

Community organizations critical of Bush administration policies, like the Louisville Peace Action Community, demonstrated during the president's visit.

Northup was first elected to her seat in 1996 and serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

Her office confirmed that she backed Bush's decision to invade Iraq in March 2003, saying that the country under Saddam Hussein had become a "country of choice" for terrorists.

"We have got to win the war on terrorism," The Associated Press has quoted Northup as saying. "I believe that Iraq has been a step in that direction -- a much more difficult step."

The AP quoted Northup as acknowledging wrong decisions were made, including the "failure" to train local forces expeditiously and establish border security.

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