How Bush Plans to Repackage the War

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Vice President Dick Cheney waves to servicemen Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006, during a visit to Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska

At the Salt Palace convention hall in Salt Lake City, President Bush faces an audience of military veterans, standing before a backdrop depicting iconic scenes from wars past: "Spreading freedom is the work of generations, and no one knows it better than you," he tells them. "Freedom has contended with hateful ideologies before. We defeated fascism; we defeated communism; and we will defeat the hateful ideology of the terrorists who attacked America."

Of the fallen, the President says: "We owe them something. We will finish the task that they gave their lives for."

Those words were spoken a year ago, when the President addressed the convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. At that time, 1,871 U.S. military personnel had been killed in Iraq since March 2003.

Last week at the same venue, the President had a strikingly similar message for the American Legion, before a backdrop showing iconic scenes of past wars: "As veterans, you have seen this kind of enemy before. They're successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists, and other totalitarians of the 20th century. And history shows what the outcome will be: This war will be difficult; this war will be long; and this war will end in the defeat of the terrorists and totalitarians, and a victory for the cause of freedom and liberty."

Of the fallen, whose number had climbed by 768 in the course of the year to 2,639, the President said: "We will honor their lives by completing the good and noble work they have started."

And so it goes: The President imploring an impatient nation for patience, pointing to the long run when the immediate landscape seems to get ever more discouraging. This time, the President pointed more specifically to one of the larger rationales for the attack on Iraq — his "freedom agenda," which he said is rooted in Americans' belief "that every person, of every religion, on every continent, has the right to determine his or her own destiny."

The White House had billed the American Legion appearance as the first in a series of speeches on the global war on terror that will continue through the President's tour marking the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks at their three crash sites, before addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 19.

The next in the series will be Tuesday afternoon at a Washington hotel, to the Military Officers Association of America, which lobbies for officers, both active duty and retirees. A White House official tells TIME that the audience will include members of the diplomatic corps "representing many of the countries that have been attacked by terrorists."

"The focus of Tuesday's speech will be on the nature of the enemy we face — how they think, what they've said, and why we should take them seriously," the official said. "The President will also talk about the state of the enemy, and what we are doing to combat it."

Also this week, the President will hold a Cabinet meeting and speak Thursday in Atlanta on the global war on terror. On Sunday, the day before the 9/11 anniversary, the President and First Lady Laura Bush will participate in a wreath-laying at Ground Zero in New York City, then attend a service of prayer and remembrance.

Bush bristled last week when, during a brief question session with reporters at a restaurant in Little Rock where he had just bought "fried pie," he was asked about the impact he thought the speech series would have on midterm elections. "They're not political speeches," he said. "They're speeches about the future of this country, and they're speeches to make it clear that if we retreat before the job is done, this nation would become even more in jeopardy. These are important times, and I seriously hope people wouldn't politicize these issues that I'm going to talk about."

Republicans, though, are making no secret of their heavy emphasis on national security — a traditional strength of the party — as they head toward Nov. 7. Ahead of the holiday weekend, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a statement headlined: "House GOP September Agenda to Focus on National Security, Homeland Security & Border Security." In case that was too subtle, Boehner added: "Now is not the time for a weak and indecisive approach that has been offered by Capitol Hill Democrats, and that's why Republicans are working to keep America safe through policies based on strength and purpose, rather than confusion and defeat."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, tells TIME that his party will strike back by trying to force a vote of no-confidence in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the next few weeks. "They want to play games; we'll meet them on a very real thing. We're going to deal with Don Rumsfeld's stewardship. Everybody but one person comes to the conclusion that it has been a total disaster, and that's Mr. Decider himself" — a sarcastic allusion to the President.

Aides said Democrats may offer the measure as a privilege motion, or as an amendment to a Defense Department reauthorization bill — but Republicans said they don't worry that it would pass. "While we're fighting the war on terror, they're throwing mud again the wall to see what sticks, not really understanding who the enemy actually is," said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert. "It's a political ploy to get attention." Republicans take solace in the fact that the President has a bigger microphone, and is about to enter a season where the nation is focused on the days when he was at his peak.