BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ President Bush sought Thursday to defend his record on fighting terrorism in the wake of a bleak intelligence report as he flew South on a campaign outing with the midterm elections drawing near.
In remarks he was making to a $2.5 million fundraiser for Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and the state GOP, Bush aimed to draw a sharp line between Republicans and Democrats on national security, said his chief spokesman, White House press secretary Tony Snow.
The president planned to criticize most House Democrats for voting against a White House plan for interrogating, detaining and trying terrorists. And without referring to anyone by name, he was to cite comments by some Democratic leaders in Congress in arguing that the opposition party lacks the will to win the war on terror and make Americans safer.
His appearances came amid a continuing clamor over a National Intelligence Estimate that said there is a growing threat of terrorism five years after the Sept. 11 attacks. The report has become a political football with less than six weeks to go before critical midterm elections that could strip Republicans of their control of Congress.
Bush also was trying to call attention to the portions of that intelligence report that have received less attention since the existence of the document was leaked to the media over the weekend. Its key findings were declassified, on Bush's orders, on Tuesday.
The document warns that there are more terrorists in the world, in part because of the war in Iraq, and that they are more diffuse and thus harder to find and stop. The government's top analysts concluded that Iraq has become a ``cause celebre'' for jihadists, that most jihadist groups ``will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks'' on ``soft targets'' and that extremists still seek chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.
It concluded that factors fueling the growth in the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and that, if the current trend continues, risks to the U.S. interests at home and abroad will grow.
Democrats have used the report to argue that the 2003 Iraq invasion has inflamed anti-U.S. sentiments in the Muslim world and left the U.S. less safe.
Bush, however, was to say that the report provides more evidence that remaining in Iraq and achieving victory there is central to the war on terrorism. Abandoning Iraq would grant jihadists a crucial victory, he was to say.
The president also was to emphasize the part of the analysis that notes the unpopularity in much of the Muslim world of terrorists' political goals and violent methods of achieving them, Snow said.
``What the NIE does is it focuses attention on the nature of the terrorists and it does reveal what the president has been saying for the past few weeks about the nature of the threat,'' Snow said.