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Today President Bush began a new campaign aimed at restoring backing for the war in Iraq. Polls show declining public support for the war and growing doubt about the mission there so in a series of speeches the president says he will discuss why he feels it's so critical to keep U.S. troops in Iraq. The first came this morning at the American Legion convention in Salt Lake City. In a few minutes we'll hear some Democratic Party reaction to the president's speech.
First here's NPR's Don Gonyea, who reports on what the president had to say.
DON GONYEA reporting:
It's being billed as a series of new speeches by the president but the message here in Salt Lake City was very familiar. Mr. Bush acknowledged that some Americans did not support the decision to removed Saddam Hussein from power and that violence has raised concerns and frustration within this country.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But we should all agree that the battle for Iraq is now central to the ideological struggle of the 21st Century. We will not allow the terrorists to dictate the future of this century, so we will defeat them in Iraq.
GONYEA: The president spoke of the debate that's intensifying in the U.S. with many Democrats and some prominent Republicans talking about the need for an exit strategy.
President BUSH: Still there's some in our country who insist that the best option in Iraq is to pull out regardless of the situation on the ground. Many of these folks are sincere and they're patriotic. But they could be, they could not be more wrong. If America were to pull out before Iraq can defend itself the consequences would be absolutely predictable and absolutely disastrous.
GONYEA: He then described an Iraq after a premature U.S. pullout as a place run by Saddam's former henchmen and by armed groups with ties to Iran and providing a base for training al-Qaida terrorists.
And the president echoed the blunt language this week of Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who see strong parallels between this war and World War II. The president told these American Legion members, many of whom fought in World War II, that victory in Iraq is just as important as it was in that war.
President BUSH: As veterans you have seen this kind of enemy before. They are successors to fascists, to Nazis, to Communists and other totalitarians of the 20th Century. And history shows what the outcome will be.
GONYEA: The president was warmly received by the veterans in the audience but it's also true that this reception was less enthusiastic than in past appearances by Mr. Bush at American Legion and VFW national conventions. The discussions with veterans after the speech showed general support for the president's policies but also concerns about where the Iraq mission is heading.
Eighty-year-old Kenneth South from Palmyra, Missouri disagreed with the World War II comparison. I asked him about the president's statement that the U.S. must win in Iraq. He replied that it was the right thing to go in but that he does have some doubts about the future.
Mr. KENNETH SOUTH (Veteran, Palmyra, Missouri): I will say winning - it don't look good. This is such a different situation. I wonder if he himself really knows what's going on.
GONYEA: That kind of sentiment underscores just how difficult a task the president has in trying to rebuild public support for the war.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, in Salt Lake City.
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