ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE - President Bush stopped off here on Monday and slammed critics of the Iraq war before a crowd of flag-waving Alaskans.
Speaking at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Bush - whose public approval rating is at its lowest - went on the defensive against Democrats' criticism that he misled Americans about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction in a ploy to justify going to war against Saddam Hussein.
"Reasonable people can disagree about the conduct of the war but it is irresponsible for Democrats to now claim that we misled them and the American people," Bush said.
"The truth is that investigations of the intelligence on Iraq have concluded that only one person manipulated evidence and misled the world - and that person was Saddam Hussein," the president said.
Bush said lawmakers from both parties looked at the same intelligence reports and some Democrats initially agreed that Hussein was a threat. Now Democrats are trying to rewrite the past, Bush said.
"They are playing politics with his issue and sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy, and that's irresponsible," he said.
During his visit, Bush privately met with some families of the four Alaska-based servicemen who have died in Iraq. On Monday, military officials announced that a soldier from the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team died from injuries after a non-combat related vehicle rollover last week near Rawah in western Iraq.
In Bush's first address in the state in almost four years, he noted Alaska is full of men and women who love and serve their country, a sentiment drowned out by wild applause and hoots inside a packed hangar at the base just outside Anchorage. The estimated crowd of 4,500 - including troops from nearby Fort Richardson - frequently interrupted the president's 32-minute speech with an equally enthusiastic response.
Sometimes veering from his script, Bush defended his stance about the war and the need to continue until the mission is completed.
"As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them," he said. "Our troops deserve to know that whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united, and we will settle for nothing less than victory."
Afterward, Pvt. Kenneth St. Germaine, 19, said hearing Bush in person was inspirational as he faces deployment to Iraq with Fort Richardson's 4th Brigade, 25th Infantry, next year.
"It was powerful, real powerful," he said. "I thought Iraq would be a never-ending war. I thought it would last forever, but the president made me realize the war will end."
Air Force One landed at Elmendorf at 2:13. Bush, accompanied by first lady Laura Bush, spent about two hours at the base.
Bush later continued on a trip that will take him to Japan, South Korea, China and Mongolia - his second major overseas trip this month. He returned Nov. 7 from Latin America.
The centerpiece of the Asian trip is the annual summit of Pacific Rim leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, held this year in Busan, South Korea.
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