WASHINGTON – Appearing before hundreds of cheering U.S. Coast Guardsmen and Transportation Security Administration workers at the port of Philadelphia on Monday, President Bush warned of dangers lying ahead but claimed progress in the war on Iraq.
"Day by day, we are moving closer to Baghdad. Day by day, we are moving closer to victory," Bush said, challenging several days of reports that indicate fighting in Iraq isn't moving as swiftly or neatly as military officials had hoped.
In just 11 days, the president said, coalition troops secured a northern front and key bridges, prevented Saddam Hussein's troops from ruining Iraqi oil fields and Iraq from launching missiles at Israel, and delivered tons of humanitarian aid.
"This is a time of great consequence for our country," he said. "In this short time, our troops have performed brilliantly -- with skill and bravery. They make us proud."
The president said the Coast Guard is just part of a massive U.S.-led coalition fighting for the liberation of Iraq.
Taking an active role in the war, guardsmen have helped secure the port at Umm Qasr, a southern port where humanitarian relief deliveries have started filtering into the country. A Coast Guard cutter and helicopter escorted a British ship carrying the first aid shipment into the Iraqi port on Friday.
The president also had a personal message for the people of Iraq.
"We are coming," Bush said. "We will not stop, we will not relent, until your country is free."
"We still believe that all men are created equal and have the right to be free," Bush said. "That is true for Americans and that is true for the men and women in Iraq."
The president was met outside the port by anti-war protesters who held up props such as replicas of oil derricks spewing blood.
Others held signs that read, "Create a U.S. peace department," "Let the rich fight the war" and "Mind your global manners."
Bush has asked Congress to approve about $4.2 billion for the new Department of Homeland Security and other domestic security programs as part of his $74.7 billion war budget. The Coast Guard is just one of the many bureaucratic corners of the federal government that have merged into DHS.
State and local governments would get about half that money to use for equipment, training and other security programs. DHS would get $1.5 billion for its own programs.
The request also includes $500 million to improve the FBI's domestic counterterrorism efforts and $250 million for a pool of money the president could use to prevent and respond to terrorist activities.
Democrats, aware of Bush's high approval ratings on the Iraq conflict, questioned the president's homeland security policies but not his war plans.
Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that Bush had failed to give the Coast Guard $1 billion it sought to secure ports this year. He also said the president requested no money for a U.S. Customs program designed to secure cargo containers.
Bush reassured Americans that efforts are being made to protect them at home; the Coast Guard plays an important role in guarding waterways and ports.
Bush also announced that the Coast Guard will begin purchasing up to 700 new response boats this summer to be used in homeland security missions.
The Coast Guard this year got a $6 billion increase in its funding, much of which will go toward better intelligence capabilities, technology to monitor and safeguard the nation's ports and a more modern fleet of sea cutters and other watercraft.
"By giving the Coast Guard new resources, we are supporting the men and women who defend us all," Bush said.
He touted Operation Liberty Shield, a project that calls for close cooperation among federal, state and local governments, as well as private businesses such as chemical plants and banks, in preventing terror. Many citizens and administration officials think the war in Iraq increases the chances of another attack on U.S. soil or against U.S. interests overseas. The national threat level was raised to code orange, the second-highest level, around the time Bush ordered the attack on Iraq.
Last week, six Iraqis were arrested in two foreign nations as they planned attacks on U.S. interests in those countries.
"All Americans understand we face the continuing threat of terrorism. We know our enemies are desperate, we know they're dangerous," Bush said.
Saying Iraqi and other terrorists may try to launch a terrorist attack against the United States, "thinking that we're distracted," Bush said, "They're wrong. We're meeting threats and acting to prevent dangers."
The Coast Guard has stepped up security on waterways near petroleum and chemical plants, especially those close to large cities. The General Accounting Office recently said in a report that chemical plants "may be attractive targets for terrorists intent on causing massive damage."
Bush made a point to let the American people know he was not blinded to other security issues by the war in Iraq.
He said troops were making advances in rooting out terrorists in Afghanistan and that U.S. and allied troops are "shattering the Al Qaeda networks."
There are also now temporary flight restrictions over some cities, increased surveillance of suspected terrorists within the United States and more interviewing of Iraqi-born individuals within U.S. borders to get information on possible terror plots and to make sure they are not subjected to hate crimes.
"We will do all in our power to make sure our skies and rails and roads are safe from tower," Bush said. But "this nation is determined Iraqi-Americans will be protected and enemy agents will be stopped."
The president also said the nation's public health workers are working to strengthen the U.S. health emergency response system.
"We will not wait for our enemies to strike before we act against them," he said. "We're not going to permit terrorists and terrorists states to plot and plan and grow in strength while we do nothing."
Earlier in the day, Bush held his daily meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. He also was meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Myers' top deputy, Marine Gen. Pete Pace and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Bush's 19th presidential visit to Pennsylvania also included a briefing by Coast Guard commanders.
He was traveling with Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thomas H. Collins and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor whose department would get most of the $4.2 billion assigned for domestic security in the supplemental budget.
With the Philadelphia trip and a stop last week at U.S. Central Command's Florida headquarters, the president seems to be picking up the heavy travel schedule that he had assumed before the war began. In the run-up to war, Bush took a hiatus of more than a month from heavy domestic travel.
Fox News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.