SALT LAKE CITY - President Bush compared the fight against terrorism to both world wars and other great conflicts of the 20th century as he tried to reassure an increasingly skeptical public on Monday to support U.S. military involvement in Iraq.
With the anti-war movement finding new momentum behind grieving mother Cindy Sheehan, Bush acknowledged the fighting in Iraq is difficult and dangerous. But he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention the fight is necessary to keep terrorists out of the United States.
As he did in last year's election campaign and more recently as war opposition has risen, Bush reminded his listeners of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - reciting the date five times in a 30-minute speech.
"We're not yet safe," Bush said. "Terrorists in foreign lands still hope to attack our country. They still hope to kill our citizens. The lesson of Sept. 11, 2001, is that we must confront threats before they fully materialize."
Besides his references to Sept. 11 and the war on terror, Bush also spoke of earlier global fights.
"In a single lifetime, many of you have seen liberty spread from Germany and Japan to Eastern Europe to Latin America to Southeast Asia and Africa and beyond," Bush told the largely gray-haired crowd.
"The generation of men and women who defend our freedom today is taking its rightful place among the heroes of our nation's history."
The speech was the first of two that Bush is giving this week to make his case for staying the course in Iraq. The second is Wednesday in Idaho, and in between Bush planned to take a day off at the Tamarack Resort 100 miles north of Boise.
Bush says the U-S will try to help restart peace negotiations in the Middle East.
On Monday, Bush spoke shortly before the Iraqi parliament failed to meet its second deadline to approve a draft constitution amid disagreements between different ethnic groups. Although earlier this month Bush said he believed the Iraqis should have met their original Aug. 15 deadline, he told the VFW that Americans understand the challenge of drafting such a document.
"We know this from our own history," he said. "The Constitutional Convention was home to political rivalries and regional disagreements."
Bush's arguments for war were not new, but they were his first public statements on the war since his national security and defense advisers visited his Texas ranch on Aug. 11. Since then, the limelight had shifted to protesters camping at a neighbor's ranch, asking that he bring the troops home immediately.
Bush had not left the ranch since Aug. 13, when he attended a Little League regional championship game in nearby Waco. He chose two Republican-friendly states in Utah and Idaho to re-emerge and make his case for continued war. People lined the streets of his motorcade route in Salt Lake City, many cheering and holding up signs such as one that said, "Honor the dead. Support President Bush."
But there also were anti-war signs and a few unfriendly gestures along the way. Hundreds of people gathered at an anti-war rally in Pioneer Park, about three blocks from the Salt Palace where Bush spoke.
Among them was retired Air Force Lt. Col. George Muller of Salt Lake City, who said he believed there has been a shift in the country's attitude toward the war.
"That's what it's going to take - veterans groups, veterans and mothers who have lost kids speaking out," Muller said.
Bush has refused to meet this month with Sheehan, who lost her son last year in Iraq and left the camp near his ranch last week to tend to her hospitalized mother. She and family members of several other soldiers killed in Iraq met with the president in June of last year.
Celeste Zappala of Pennsylvania, another mother who lost her son and has been protesting with Sheehan, flew to Salt Lake City to speak at the rally. Zappala said the large turnout gave her hope for peace.
"It amazes me," said Zappala, whose son Sherwood Baker died while serving with the Pennsylvania National Guard. "I always thought of Salt Lake as a sleepy, conservative, buttoned-up place."
Bush didn't mention the Crawford protesters in his speech, but at both the beginning and the end of his remarks he spoke of the grief carried by the families of fallen soldiers. He said Americans owe it to the war dead to finish the task they gave their lives for.
More than 1,800 U.S. troops have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003. The deaths have taken a toll on national support for Bush, with an AP-Ipsos poll taken earlier this month showing only 38 percent approve of his handling of Iraq.