Bush says: 'I want to be the peace president'
After launching two wars, U.S. President Bush said on Tuesday he wanted to be a "peace president" and took swipes at his Democratic rivals for being lawyers and weak on defense.
With polls showing public support for the war in Iraq in decline, Bush cast himself as a reluctant warrior and assured Americans they were "safer" as he campaigned in the battleground states of Iowa and Missouri against Democrat John Kerry and his running mate, former trial lawyer John Edwards.
Bush has called himself a "war president" in leading the United States in a battle against terrorism brought about by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. "I'm a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind," he said in February.
Despite a surge in attacks in Iraq and U.S. warnings that al Qaeda is plotting another major strike, Bush said U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had already made America safer, and that his re-election would let him finish the job.
Ahead of the release of a report detailing the breakdown in intelligence and security before the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush said, "We reorganized this government of ours to be better protect the people."
"For a while we were marching to war. Now we're marching to peace. ... America is a safer place. Four more years and America will be safer and the world will be more peaceful," Bush said.
But a few hours later, at an evening rally in St. Charles, Missouri, Bush warned "the world will drift toward tragedy" if America shows "weakness."
Bush was joined on the stump by his twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, and campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said the twins would pair up for campaign appearances away from their father starting Tuesday night in Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Stanzel said the events will be closed to the press.
Bush and Kerry are fighting hard in Iowa, which Bush lost to Democrat Al Gore in 2000 by just 4,144 votes, or roughly two votes for every precinct. Recent polls give Kerry a narrow lead, but a Kerry aide said the Iowa race and the one in Missouri remain a dead heat.
Bush won Missouri by 3 percentage points in 2000, and acknowledged in St. Charles that it would be a tough race this year.
At both rallies, he cast Kerry and Edwards as on the side of trial lawyers, who the president portrays as responsible for a flood of personal injury litigation that burdens the courts and is costly to small business. Edwards himself made his fortune as a trial lawyer.
Democrats get campaign contributions from the group, while many businesses tend to favor the Republicans.
"I'm not a lawyer, you'll be happy to hear," Bush said to cheers. "That's the other team. This is the pro-small business team."
The two-state swing was part of a weeklong offensive by Bush before the Democratic National Convention in Boston starting July 26.