Bush: 'You're Part of a Great Force of Good'
TAMPA, Fla. – President Bush got a rousing reception from U.S. troops around the world Wednesday as he thanked the nation's finest for their service in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the War on Terror.
"Wherever your duty has taken you, I want you to know that you're part of a great force of good in this world," Bush said. "The defense of our country, the security of our friends and the peace of the world depend on you. Thank you for working hard and for bringing credit and honor to the United States military."
The commander-in-chief was speaking to military servicemen and women — many of whom were watching and listening via satellite in Iraq and Afghanistan, or by Armed Forces Radio and TV on bases and ships across the globe.
"You are stationed in faraway lands. You are always in the thoughts of your fellow Americans. You face hard duty. You've endured the heat of the Persian Gulf and the harsh winters of central Asia. You're serving with honor and pride — you're making our country safer and your country is proud of you. Thank you for your service."
Bush is working to persuade doubters that Iraq is on its way to self-rule despite persistent violence.
Bush was speaking at MacDill Air Force Base (search) near Tampa, Fla., which is home of the United States Central Command (search).
Bush said coalition forces are helping to strengthen Iraq's chain of command so Iraqis can be fully responsible for their own security. He praised the Iraqi forces for recent capture of terrorists like a key lieutenant of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
"These brave Iraqis are stepping up… they are staying in the fight, taking the battle to the terrorists and Saddam holdouts. They are securing a future of liberty and opportunity for their children and their grandchildren," Bush said to loud applause and cheering.
But with the June 30 handover of sovereignty coming soon, Bush warned, more violence is likely to be seen but the coalition will play a "supporting role" in securing the country after the transition of power to the new government.
"The terrorists aren't fighting foreign forces," Bush said, "they're fighting the Iraqi people. They're not just enemies of America — they're enemies of democracy and hope. They're enemies of a peaceful future in Iraq."
Calling those involved in attacks against coalition forces and Iraqis "traitors to the cause of Iraq's freedom," Bush remarked, "no matter what they plan or what they attempt, a democratic Iraq is on the way."
"I will not yield, and neither will the leaders of Iraq," the president said. "The terrorists will fail — they will fail because the Iraqi people will not accept a return to tyranny… they will fail because the resolve of the United States and our allies will not be shaken."
When Bush visited MacDill on March 26, 2003, the war was just six days old, Saddam Hussein was still in power and the U.S. death toll stood at two dozen. Now, more than 830 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, where an interim government is to take over political control in two weeks.
In the Rose Garden with Afghan President Hamid Karzai (search) on Tuesday, Bush expressed some reservations about Iraq's ability, after the handover on June 30, to handle its own security, including keeping Saddam in custody.
"The Iraqi people are going to have to figure out how to make sure their country is secure enough for a free government to emerge," Bush said. "And what you're watching is a government learning how to protect itself."
The president's speech initially was scheduled for the afternoon, but White House press secretary Scott McClellan (search) said it was rescheduled for three hours earlier to accommodate soldiers watching in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush is midway through a week of travel to Missouri, Florida, Washington and Nevada — four swing states that together would yield 54, or one-fifth, of the 270 electoral votes he needs to clinch re-election.
The biggest electoral prize of all the battleground states is Florida, which offers the winner 27 electoral votes.
The presidential race is as close in Florida as it was four years ago, when only 537 votes tipped the state and the presidency to Bush.
Of all the states where Bush and his Democratic rival John Kerry are advertising heavily, the two campaigns have spent the most in Florida since early March. Bush has outspent Kerry on television, spending more than $13 million to the Democrat's $10 million.
The Kerry campaign has hopes of winning Florida by increasing turnout, emphasizing negative impacts of Bush's policies on the state and taking advantage of rising numbers of Democratic-leaning blacks and Hispanics.
Based on historical turnout and voting patterns for the two groups, the population change could translate into a net increase of nearly 92,600 Democratic votes, according to the campaign. That prediction is based on the same turnout and voting percentages as 2000.
While registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 330,000, the GOP has narrowed the gap since 2000. There are about 1.6 million voters in Florida with no party affiliation, the fastest-growing category.
Fox News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.