"We'll protect America and our friends and allies from these thugs," Mr. Bush, clad in a bomber jacket over his suit, shirt and tie, declared from a pier at the Mayport Naval Station here.
The White House set up the event as a display of American military might with the president surrounded by a sea of sailors in Navy caps and light blue shirts and flanked a frigate and guided missile cruiser — their decks lined with seamen standing in smart formation.
Mr. Bush pressed his case against Saddam, saying he "is not disarming, he's deceiving" as he set the stage for war.
The president's trip to the state where his brother, Jeb Bush, is governor, had a dual purpose: preparing the country for possible war with Iraq and promoting economic policy. Earlier, Mr. Bush defended his call for $1.3 trillion in new tax cuts, telling a forum with small business owners the proposal is just the push the struggling economy needs.
On the shop floor of a family-operated commercial printing shop here, Mr. Bush said, "We need a little further wind at the back of this economy."
The president did not mention Fed Chair Alan Greenspan's public concerns about the Bush economic plan. But a spokeswoman for Mr. Bush said he still has great confidence in Greenspan and thinks he's doing an outstanding job, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.
Democrats who oppose the tax cuts have seized upon statements Greenspan made earlier this week warning against such a move. Greenspan told Congress that Mr. Bush's proposal would swell the budget deficit and said he didn't think the economy needs further stimulus.
As part of an aggressive counteroffensive, the White House departed from usual procedure and completely opened to reporters Mr. Bush's remarks to the round-table and exchanges with its hand-picked participants. The panelists were cited as examples of entrepreneurs who would see tax reductions under his plan.
"This is a realistic plan. It is a hopeful plan. It is a plan based upon sound principle. It is a plan which will work," Mr. Bush said. "But there are some who haven't gotten the message yet and they need to hear from you."
He also modified his argument slightly. Although he originally billed the plan as aimed almost entirely at stimulating the economy, he declared Thursday it also would provide badly needed reform to the tangled federal tax code.
"It really would make the tax code more fair," Mr. Bush said.
The two stops Thursday — only minutes and a few miles apart — allowed the president to reassure Americans he hasn't forgotten their financial woes amid preparations for war. It was Mr. Bush's first visit to a Navy base since the Persian Gulf buildup began in early January.
Some of the sailors and other Navy personnel at the Mayport Naval Air Station have just returned from the Gulf region. The base is home to the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, returned to port after its pilots flew missions over Afghanistan. The USS Philippine Sea, a guided missile cruiser on which Bush was to have lunch with sailors after his speech, came back to Mayport just last week, also from the Afghan theater.
The Florida visit was Mr. Bush's 13th to the political battleground since taking office.