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Bush implores U.N. to show `backbone'

World body is risking irrelevancy if it doesn't confront Iraq, he warns

`Great tasks lie ahead'

President reaffirms policy on disarmament during visit to Fla. naval station

February 14, 2003|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

He said he is ready to head to the Persian Gulf if the order comes. He said he knows that there is a political debate over Iraq but that such discussions do not often take place among sailors. "People are more concerned about their families and wives and kids," he said. "Our families did not sign up for this."

During his four-hour Florida trip, Bush also attended a forum with small-business owners in Jacksonville to promote his plan for new tax cuts, which he argues are needed to stimulate a stubbornly sluggish economy.

With Iraq - as well as the nuclear threat from North Korea and a heightened terrorism alert - dominating headlines, White House aides have been stressing that Bush is focused on problems at home even as foreign threats gather. Yesterday's event on the economy appeared designed to underscore that message.

At Mayport, Bush sought to portray any conflict in Iraq as a seamless, and necessary, extension of the war on terrorism. Terrorists are struggling to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, he said, and they demonstrated Sept. 11 that they want to harm Americans.

"I'm not going to forget that lesson," Bush said. "We have seen what terrorists can do with four airplanes. We are not going to wait to see what they'll do with even deadlier weapons."

Bush noted that the Enterprise was sent by President John F. Kennedy to take part in the naval quarantine of Cuba in 1962.

The president has previously sought to draw a parallel between the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis - and the threat of Russian nuclear weapons near the U.S. border - and the situation in Iraq, saying both are examples of when a president must pre-emptively confront a threat to the United States.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the former president's brother, has criticized Bush for making the comparison. Several months ago, the Massachusetts Democrat invoked the 1962 crisis differently, saying in fact that it showed how a president could avoid war by taking careful diplomatic steps and by working closely with other countries.

President Kennedy, Bush argued yesterday, "understood that dangers to freedom had to be confronted early and decisively."

"Our strength, as well as our convictions, have imposed upon this nation the role of leader in freedom's cause," Bush said.

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