Bush Counters Critics On Iraq

President Bush, confronting public doubts about his postwar strategy in Iraq, said Thursday that "life is getting better" there and maintained that "perceptions" didn't reflect the reality of "progress" in Iraq.

Six months after the statue of Saddam Hussein fell in the Iraq war, he told a military audience in New Hampshire that things in Iraq were "a lot better a lot better than you probably think. Just ask the people who have been there. They're stunned when they go to Iraq and the stories they tell are much different from the perceptions that you're being told life is like."

The president's speech to National Guard and reserve troops in Portsmouth was part of an administration bid to seize the initiative from critics of its Iraq policy.

Mr. Bush spoke on a day of fresh attacks in Baghdad, which took American, Spanish and Iraqi lives.

But he said U.S. efforts in Iraq were succeeding – in reopening hospitals and schools, and restoring water and electricity.

He likened the post-war task in Iraq to what America faced in Germany and Japan after World War II, saying the nation didn't run from those challenges, and won't in Iraq, either. "Americans are not the running kind," he declared.

Much of the president's speech sought to refocus Americans on what he said is the continuing danger of terrorism. He grimly read a list of places that have been struck by terror in recent months: Casablanca, Jerusalem, Jordan, New Delhi, Bali and others. "The terrorists continue to plot and plan against our country, and our people," he said. "America must not forget the lessons of Sept. 11."

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, said the president's public relations offensive on Iraq was "offensive."

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi accused the administration of seeking a blank check for post-war needs, reports CBS News Correspondent Peter Maer.

"We keep committing more to the reconstruction of Iraq without recognizing the unmet needs we have in our own country," said Pelosi, D-Calif.

Democrats want to cancel some tax cuts for the wealthy to finance post-war Iraq reconstruction. It's part of a counter-proposal to the administration's $87-billion package.

Mr. Bush's pep talk to a friendly audience of reservists and National Guard members was the beginning of a long day that also had him talking up the economy in Manchester, N.H., then flying to Kentucky.

In Manchester, Mr. Bush said he saw many signs of economic rebound: low inflation, record homeownership, high productivity, rising factory orders.

"Our strategy has set the stage for sustained growth," he said to another supportive audience — this time the local Chamber of Commerce.

Outside his Portsmouth and Manchester appearances, protesters waved signs that read "Bush=Liar" and "Bush lies, our servicemen die."

"All of you are balancing jobs in your lives, and public service," Mr. Bush told National Guard troops and reservists. "You are demonstrating that duty and public service are alive and well in New Hampshire."

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle praised the president's salute to the troops, but said Mr. Bush missed a chance to support an amendment the Senate approved last Friday to extend military and health coverage to some members of the National Guard and Reserves.

"I don't think the American people want spin," the South Dakota Democrat said. "I think they want results."

On the state-by-state map of the 2000 presidential election, New Hampshire was an island — the only Northeastern state to vote for Mr. Bush, and he is eager to keep it in his column.