WASHINGTON – President Bush on Saturday hailed members of the armed services for their dedication and bravery and said American troops have helped the oppressed around the world.
"They confront grave danger to defend the safety of the American people. They brought down tyrants. They've liberated two nations. They have helped bring freedom to more than 50 million people. Through their sacrifice, they're making this nation safer and more secure, and they are earning the proud title of veteran," the commander in chief said in a Veterans Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery.
Bush did not mention Iraq and Afghanistan by name, though he did say, "From Valley Forge to Vietnam, from Kuwait to Kandahar, from Berlin to Baghdad, our veterans have borne the costs of America's wars, and they have stood watch over America's peace."
Minutes before his remarks, the president laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and held his hand over his heart as a bugler played "Taps." Cannons fired a 21-gun salute and soldiers holding rifles stood at attention as Bush's motorcade made its way through the cemetery on a sunny fall morning.
In Iraq on Saturday, two car bombs exploded in a shopping district in Baghdad, killing eight people. A Slovak and Polish soldier were reported killed overnight by a roadside bomb south of the capital. The U.S. offered $50,000 for information leading to the recovery of a kidnapped American soldier.
At least 2,845 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. In addition, at least 288 members of the U.S. military have been killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion in late 2001 to oust the Taliban government for hosting Usama bin Laden.
Bush said that since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, "our armed forces have engaged the enemy, the terrorists on many fronts. At this moment more than 1.4 million Americans are on active duty, serving in the cause of freedom and peace around the world. They are our nation's finest citizens."
In his radio address Saturday, broadcast before his visit to the cemetery, Bush said America's enemies should not read this past week's ground-shaking election results as a sign of U.S. weakness. During the campaign, he had contended that Democrats would undermine national security.
With two years remaining in his presidency, Bush is trying to keep the nation focused on the global fight against terrorism and prevent a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq before victory is achieved.
"The elections will bring changes to Washington," Bush said. "But one thing has not changed: America faces brutal enemies who have attacked us before and want to attack us again.
"I have a message for these enemies: Do not confuse the workings of American democracy with a lack of American will," the president said. "Our nation is committed to bringing you to justice, and we will prevail."
The victorious Democrats read the elections as a demand for change in Iraq. Delivering the party's weekly radio address, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said, "Americans across the country made it clear that they want a new direction in Iraq and in the war on terror."
Though Democrats have not coalesced around one alternative strategy, Dean promised they will be "tough and smart."
"We will listen to the military, take their advice, and ensure that our troops and agencies have the tools and equipment they need to defend our freedom," he said.
Bush is meeting on Monday with members of the Iraq Study Group, a blue-ribbon commission trying to come up with a new way forward in Iraq.
Since Tuesday's election, Bush has announced the ouster of his defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and named Robert Gates, one-time director of the CIA, as Rumsfeld's successor.
The president said he was looking to Gates to "provide a fresh outlook on our strategy in Iraq, and what we need to do to prevail."