AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -President Bush, preparing new Air Force officers for war, cast the fight against terrorism as a struggle between freedom and tyranny similar to World War II and the Cold War.
"Our goal, the goal of this generation, is the same," Bush said Wednesday, after referring to World War II. "We will secure our nation and defend the peace through the forward march of freedom."
Bush told 981 graduates that they will be joining a war whose central front is Iraq.
Bush warns of more violence in Iraq
"Each of you receiving a commission today in the United States military will also carry the hopes of free people everywhere," the president said.
The graduates wore dress uniforms of white pants, blue tunics and gold sashes around their waists. Bush spoke in the academy's football stadium - at more than 7,000 feet above sea level - under partly cloudy and breezy skies.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., an Air Force Academy graduate, were among the officials who joined Bush on stage.
Bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq, Bush has argued, will undercut the stagnation and despair that feeds the extremist ideologies of al-Qaida and its terrorist allies.
The president's trip to Colorado came after he voiced his support Tuesday for the interim Iraqi government taking shape before the scheduled June 30 transfer of political power from the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority. Bush praised the newly chosen prime minister, Iyad Allawi, and president, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, as part of democracy's vanguard in Iraq.
The new Air Force officers will enter a military strained by an occupation of Iraq that has become increasingly violent in the past two months. Bush and other administration officials say they expect the violence to continue, even after the caretaker government takes over in July.
Plans call for elections in Iraq by January to form a fully independent Iraqi government. The U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq will remain largely in control of Iraqi security until then, and Pentagon officials say they expect to keep about 135,000 American troops in Iraq until at least the end of 2005.
Bush this week is repeating his pledges to stay the course in Iraq despite the surging violence and the failure so far to neutralize anti-American fighters from Sunni extremists around Baghdad to followers of a radical Shiite cleric in southern Iraq.
"We will finish what we have begun and we will win this essential victory in the war on terror," Bush said at a fund-raising dinner in Denver Tuesday night.
American forces have not found the weapons of mass destruction stockpiles Bush cited as a primary justification for the March 2003 invasion. And officials have not announced any evidence directly linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida or the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Still, Bush is pressing his assertion that toppling Saddam and installing democracy in Iraq is an indispensable goal in the wider war on terrorism.
"Part of winning the war on terror is spreading freedom and democracy in the Middle East," Bush told reporters at the White House before leaving for Colorado on Tuesday.
Colorado is important to Bush for more than the Air Force Academy. Bush wants the nine electoral votes from a state he won four years ago, 51 percent to 42 percent for Al Gore. Republicans also want to keep the Senate seat of retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.
Bush raised more than $2.2 million for the Republican Party at Tuesday night's event, for which couples paid $5,000 or more to attend. Bush called his Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry, soft on the war on terrorism.
Bush's speech also is an opportunity for the Air Force Academy to polish its image in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal. Air Force Secretary James Roche replaced the top four officials of the school last year after dozens of female cadets complained they had been raped or sexually assaulted and their attackers were given light punishment or no punishment at all.
Several dozen Bush supporters cheered and waved campaign signs along the road into the academy, which is nestled in the Rocky Mountain foothills near Pikes Peak.