WASHINGTON – President Bush's wars — against Iraq, Afghanistan and terrorism — promise to be a key issue in the race for the White House and Bush sought Friday to shore up his credentials as a decisive leader.
But Bush's Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry, sought to cast the president as a reckless leader who needs to be honest with the American people.
"There can be no separate peace with a terrorist enemy," Bush said in a White House speech that both marked the one-year anniversary of the start of the war with Iraq and the continued terrorism battle. "Any sign of weakness or retreat simply validates terrorist violence and invites more violence on all nations."
Ending a weeklong administration effort to boost support for going after terrorists, Bush said, "the only certain way to protect our people is by united and decisive action."
Meanwhile, Kerry released a statement to hammer away at the incumbent for stubbornly adhering to policies in Iraq that he says aren't working to America's favor.
Saying he called on Bush to build a "genuine coalition" before going to war in Iraq, Kerry said he only supported war "as a last resort, and to have a plan to win the peace."
"I voted to give him the authority to go to war only when he promised me and other members in Congress that he would do these things. He broke those promises," Kerry added.
"It's time for George Bush to start being consistent on Iraq. It's time for him to finally find the right policy for Iraq. It's time to take the target's off the backs of U.S. soldiers, reduce the burden on America's taxpayers, and finish the job in Iraq."
Bush Looks at Big Picture
In his speech Friday, Bush was not only highlighting progress in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but less than eight months before the presidential election he was working to erase doubts about the wisdom of going to war.
"The war on terror is not a figure of speech, it is an inescapable calling of our generation," Bush said in a speech given the East Room of the White House. "We know that this way of life is worth defending, there's no neutral ground.
"We can never bow to the violence of a few."
Bush's remarks echoed the warning he delivered Thursday at Fort Campbell, (search) Ky., when he said last week's deadly train bombings in Madrid showed that terrorists kill innocent people "without conscience, without mercy."
"They cause suffering and grief and they rejoice in it," Bush said. "This terrorist enemy will never be appeased, because death is their banner and their cause."
On Wednesday, before leaving on a five-day vacation from campaigning, Kerry told supporters and reporters that dangers remain for Americans and U.S. interests.
"Today we know that the mission is not finished, hostilities have not ended, and our men and women in uniform fight on almost alone with the target squarely on their backs," Kerry said. "Every day they face danger and death from suicide bombers, roadside bombers, and now, ironically, from the very Iraqi police they are training."
The National Annenberg Election Survey (search) this month found Americans divided on whether they approve of the way Bush is handling Iraq, with 47 percent saying "yes" and 49 percent saying "no." The survey also found they were split on whether the Iraq situation merited going to war.
In a recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, 58 percent said the country is safer today than before Sept. 11, 2001, and 57 percent agreed with Bush’s view that taking military action abroad is necessary to keep from fighting terrorists on U.S. soil.
Fox News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.