Bush urges allies to stick with united mission
Faced with wavering allies and a divided America, U.S. President Bush said Friday "there is no neutral ground" in the struggle against terrorism. A visit to the bedsides of wounded soldiers underscored the one-year toll of 570 American deaths in Iraq.
Ambassadors and diplomats from 84 countries came to the White House to hear Bush's call for resolve.
"We are the nations that have recognized the threat of terrorism, and we are the nations that will defeat that threat," the president said in a speech marking the one-year anniversary of his launch of the invasion of Iraq.
Divisions over the war still shake the international stage, particularly in Europe.
Spain's new leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, is moving to pull his country's 1,300 troops from Iraq unless the United Nations takes control of the military mission. France's foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, blamed the war for unleashing violence. "Terrorism didn't exist in Iraq before," de Villepin said. "Today, it is one of the world's principal sources of world terrorism."
The continuing violence and rising U.S. death toll have thrust Iraq and questions about Bush's leadership to the forefront of the presidential campaign. After nearly a year of searches, the United States still has not found any of the supposed weapons of mass destruction that Bush had cited as a cause for war.
The president sought to put Iraq differences aside.
"There have been disagreements in this matter, among old and valued friends," he said. "Those differences belong to the past."
Hoping to emphasize unity over division, Bush recited the names of more than three dozen countries that have suffered terrorist attacks or have been involved in the response to them. He allowed no room for nations to waver, laying down what he called an inescapable choice between standing with or against the U.S.-led anti-terror battle.
"There is no neutral ground - no neutral ground - in the fight between civilization and terror," the president said. "There can be no separate peace with the terrorist enemy. Any sign of weakness or retreat simply validates terrorist violence and invites more violence for all nations."
Secretary of State Colin Powell reinforced Bush's warning from Baghdad, where he met with Iraqis, coalition leaders and U.S. troops.
"This is not the time to say, 'Let's stop what we're doing and pull back,'" he said. "It's time to redouble our efforts ... and not run and hide and think it won't come and get us."
Much of Bush's speech was devoted to defending the war in Iraq. He said the toppling of Saddam Hussein removed a source of violence and instability in the Middle East, and he linked Iraq to the broader war on terror, including the ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"We've set out to encourage reform and democracy in the greater Middle East as the alternatives to fanaticism, resentment and terror," he said.
The past week has seen bombings, shootings and mortar attacks across Iraq, including a suicide bombing at Baghdad's Mount Lebanon Hotel that killed seven and an insurgent attack in western Iraq that killed two Marines.
The military said the death toll of American service members had reached 570.
After the speech, Bush and first lady Laura Bush stopped at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center and visited with about 20 U.S. soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. They awarded Purple Hearts to eight of them. He also spent time with the families of four severely injured soldiers remaining in intensive care units, including one who suffered serious head injuries, leaving his relatives unsure of his survival, according to White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
The "coalition of the willing" that the administration cites in Iraq - three dozen nations contributing military forces to the U.S.-dominated mission there - also showed some cracks, beyond the criticism in France and Spain.
South Korea announced would not send its troops to the area of Iraq that U.S. commanders had requested. Although the Defense Ministry said it would position them elsewhere in Iraq, the shift could pose a problem for Pentagon planners.
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told Bush his country's 2,400 troops would stay put in south-central Iraq. His assurance came a day after Kwasniewski said his country had been misled before the war over Saddam's suspected weapons of mass destruction.
At home, polls of the American voting public offer other reasons for Bush to endeavor to connect his actions in Iraq to the larger war on terror. While he receives the support of about two-thirds of those surveyed for his anti-terror campaign, Bush has about as many detractors on his Iraq policies as backers.
Sen. John Kerry, his Democratic presidential rival, has sought to seize on those doubts. Speaking on behalf of Kerry, former national security adviser Sandy Berger acknowledged that "Saddam is gone and that is unreservedly good."
"But all of this has come at a very heavy price - there is uncertainty as far as the eye can see," he said, faulting Bush for going to war without significant allied contributions and without a clear plan or sufficient troops for a postwar Iraq.
"It's increasingly clear that how we conducted the war in Iraq - hurried along unprepared for the day after - has made the terrorism problem more difficult," Berger said. "It took our focus off al-Qaida. It became a rallying point for jihadists in Iraq and elsewhere and we've been losing allies, not gaining them."