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I was protecting you from a madman, Bush tells America By Alec Russell in Washington (Filed: 10/10/2003)
President George W Bush defended his policies yesterday in the face of mounting criticism of the Iraqi conflict, saying he had acted to protect Americans from a "madman", Saddam Hussein.
With senior aides in his administration openly bickering, and America's diplomatic efforts stalling at the United Nations, the White House is seeking to rally the nation with a public relations offensive.
"I acted because I was not about to leave the security of the American people in the hands of a madman," Mr Bush told National Guardsmen and reservists in New Hampshire. "I was not about to stand by and wait and trust in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein."
In a sideswipe at his critics who have highlighted the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, he added: "Who could possibly think that the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein still in power?"
His address was the centrepiece of an effort by the White House to counter the media's "negative" picture of post-Saddam Iraq, with its focus on terrorist attacks and loss of life, and to purvey instead a more positive message about improvements to the daily lives of Iraqis.
With the Democrats stepping up their attacks, Mr Bush hit back at their criticism, saying that "timid actions" or "bitter words" were not enough to defend America.
"Now our country is approaching a choice. America cannot retreat from our responsibilities and hope for the best. Our security will not be gained by timid measures," he said.
"Our security requires constant vigilance and decisive action. I believe America has only one option. We must fight this war until our work is done."
The audience of military part-timers - whose traditional loyalty may be questioned now that they face far longer stints in Iraq than most had bargained for - was carefully chosen, as was the timing, six months to the day after Saddam fell.
The capture of Baghdad on April 9 was the high point of Mr Bush's presidency and a moment encapsulated by the image of Saddam's statue in Baghdad toppling.
The famous scene was replayed on national television networks yesterday along with footage of Mr Bush's speech. But this time the image was accompanied by commentary pointing out that it has been downhill for the White House since then.
A CBS/New York Times opinion poll last week suggested there were growing doubts over the cost of the war, with only 41 per cent saying it was worth the price, although about 50 per cent said it was worth overthrowing Saddam. The new campaign was part of an overhaul of the US mission in Iraq unveiled on Monday when it emerged that the White House was taking a more direct role, apparently at the expense of the Pentagon.
This prompted a rare public spat between administration officials, with Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, voicing irritation when asked about the changes, saying he had not been consulted about them by the new supremo, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser.
The White House and the Pentagon have tried to play down talk of a rift. But even some of the administration's most hawkish supporters say it has been a sticky month. The latest setback has been the failure to win over enough support for its draft new UN resolution.
Mr Bush also focused on the economy, the key to many a president's electoral chances in the past.
Before his speech, Mr Bush stopped at a pizza parlour, Caesario's, in Manchester, New Hampshire. Although he likes to insist that his re-election campaign has not yet begun, yesterday was his fourth visit to the tiny New England state which is the scene of the first primary contest of the presidential election season.
Mr Bush insisted: "This is not a campaign stop, I'm just hungry."
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