President Bush said that America's troops are ready to act if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "seals his fate" by refusing to disarm and comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.
"If force becomes necessary to secure our country and to keep the peace, America will act deliberately, America will act decisively and America will prevail because we have got the finest military in the world," he told troops at Fort Hood, an Army base in Texas that would be among the first to deploy thousands of soldiers to the Persian Gulf.
Bush said that the U.S. military is responsible for taking the fight to terrorists who have shown no regard for the United States and its allies and no value for human life. He also said that should it become a last resort, the U.S. military will take the fight to Iraq.
"Should Saddam seal his fate by refusing to disarm, by ignoring the opinion of the world, you'll be fighting not to conquer anybody but to liberate people," Bush said.
Fort Hood, the nation's largest military post, is home to the 1st Cavalry Division, a highly mobile unit that relies on helicopters and tanks.
Currently, 1,300 troops from Fort Hood are deployed around the world from Kuwait to Cuba to Korea, but its 41,000 soldiers had little role in the war in Afghanistan. During the 1991 Gulf War, about 25,000 troops were deployed from there.
Bush reviewed the troops in formation at the base and was lunching with Army personnel after his remarks. It was his first official appearance since heading to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for the Christmas vacation.
On Thursday, he invited reporters on a 4-mile, 90-minute hike around about a third of his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch. Several reporters had trouble keeping up with the president, who runs 7-minute miles and kept a brisk pace on the hike up and down hills, into rocky canyons and through muddy beds.
"There's the great outdoors and you're supposed to be in it," said Bush, as he showed off a canyon called The Cathedral — one of seven on the ranch — newly cleared of brush to reveal a half-circle limestone overhang with a cascading waterfall.
After the hike, he invited reporters to ask questions and then into his home for coffee. During his informal Q&A, the president said that he is skeptical Saddam would comply with the latest U.N. resolution. On Friday, he reiterated that Saddam's resistance does not mean the United States is automatically headed to war with the Iraqi leader, despite the "great threat to the United States" he poses.
"The fate of the Iraqi regime is being determined by its own decisions. Saddam Hussein knows precisely what he can and must do to avoid conflict," he said.
The president also continued to draw the distinction between Iraq and North Korea, both of whom are seeking weapons of mass destruction.
"In the case of North Korea, the world must continue to speak with one voice to turn that regime away from its nuclear ambitions," Bush said. "In the case of Iraq, the world has already spoken with one voice. The Iraqi regime has a duty under Security Council resolutions to declare and destroy all of its weapons of mass destruction."
Bush said that the if military force becomes necessary, he has full faith in the military, which he has attempted to shore up with pay increases, tougher training and better housing.
"In crucial hours, the success of our cause will depend on you. As members of our military, you serve this nation's ideals and you demonstrate those ideals in your code and in your character," he added. "I know every order I give can bring a cost. I also know without a doubt that every order I give will be carried out with skill and unselfish courage."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.