Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
As protesters gathered just blocks away, President Bush told an enthusiastic veterans group in the Salt Palace Monday that "we will finish the task" in fighting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, conflicts where more than 2,000 American military men and women have lost their lives.
Looking relaxed and tan after several weeks of vacation, Bush clearly enjoyed addressing the 106th convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, receiving two standing ovations before he even spoke and another as he finished his half-hour address.
As expected, the president took the opportunity to rally support for the Iraq war. Recent polls show Americans are moving to oppose the war and most disapprove of how Bush runs the country.
Taking a break from his five-week stay at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, the president is moving through heavily Republican states, addressing various patriotic groups in defense of his war on terror.
"A policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us safety," Bush said. "The only way to defend our citizens where we live is to go after the terrorists where they live."
More than 1,000 demonstrators gathered in Pioneer Park to protest against Bush and his policies. They included Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, who greeted a morning meeting of the VFW. Anderson, a Democrat, was met with a few boos in the convention hall because the mayor had called last Friday for Utahns to protest the GOP president's policies.
Inside the hall, Bush received only applause and plaudits. He waded into the crowd after his speech, spending nearly a half hour greeting many of the estimated 9,000 veterans and their spouses.
"What a great, great man to do that, to spend that time with us," said one vet from Iowa who tried to work his way near the president but couldn't get close enough for a handshake.
Bush also took a few minutes to greet members of the Utah National Guard before boarding Air Force One on the tarmac at the Utah Air National Guard headquarters. The crowd of more than 50, which included Guard members and their families, cheered the president as he shook hands across the barricades.
"We know he's a busy man, so for him to take time for us means a lot," said Capt. Jeffrey Morrison of the Utah Air National Guard.
Bush's arrival at approximately 10:40 a.m. Monday was less conspicuous, with only a few dignitaries, including Utah officials, Republican Party leaders and World War II veteran Willie Hunsaker greeting him. Hunsaker was given the President's Volunteer Service Award by Bush at the convention.
From Utah, Bush flew to Idaho, where he will spend a couple of days at a resort and also address a National Guard group. Starting with his weekly Saturday radio address, Bush is reminding Americans why it is imperative to stay the course in Iraq and to take the fight against terrorism around the world, White House aides say.
While Bush was articulate Monday in his defense of the war on terror, he proposed no new solutions.
He shied away from even mentioning the topic of setting a timetable to remove U.S. troops from Iraq, something that critics inside and outside of Congress are demanding.
Bush said his administration's three-prong "comprehensive strategy to win this war on terror" is working protect the homeland, take the fight to the enemy and advance freedom through creating new democracies.
He said the Patriot Act, a comprehensive combining of various criminal investigatory authorities, must be renewed by Congress this year. "It gives our law enforcement officers many of the same tools to fight terrorism that they already have to fight drugs and street crime," Bush said.
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