NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 8/31/2004 11:52:42 AM ET 2004-08-31T15:52:42

Seeking to quell controversy and Democratic criticism over his earlier remark that victory against terrorism may not be possible, President Bush said Tuesday “we will win” the war.

In a speech to the national convention of the American Legion, Bush said, “We meet today in a time of war for our country, a war we did not start yet one that we will win.

“In this different kind of war, we may never sit down at a peace table,” Bush said. “But make no mistake about it, we are winning and we will win.”

Those statements differed from Bush’s earlier comment to NBC News that “I don’t think you can win” the war on terror. "But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.”

That segment of a longer NBC interview with the president ran Monday on the "Today" show.

Bush’s comment — and the ensuing criticism — took attention away from the carefully crafted image of Bush being broadcast from the Republican National Convention in New York as a decisive wartime commander in chief who is securing America’s safety and sure of the course on which he has set the nation.

Bush campaign says not fazed
The Bush campaign professed not to be worried that the president had gone off-message.

“The American people have watched the president lead the war on terror decisively for three years,” Bush-Cheney spokesman Steve Schmidt said. “The people of this country know what his leadership is.”

But Bill Carrick, a California-based Democratic consultant, said the comments — even if they were merely unfortunately phrased expressions of mostly obvious truths — are politically dangerous because they speak to the very heart of the president’s re-election pitch.

Carrick saw no hypocrisy in Democrats playing the issue, even though they have cried foul over similar attacks on Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry. For instance, Vice President Dick Cheney criticized Kerry for saying he could fight “a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror” by singling out for mockery his use of the word “sensitive.”

“Turnabout is fair play on this,” Carrick said. “Exploit this to the hilt.”

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Bush’s campaign swing will land him in New York on Wednesday, a day before his convention speech accepting the GOP nomination for a second term. From Nashville, Bush travels to Alleman, Iowa, to attend a farm show and ends the long day of campaigning in another crucial state, Pennsylvania, where he makes a late-evening appearance at a picnic.

Edwards on the attack
Democrats, looking for ways to deflect the spotlight from Republicans as they opened their convention in New York, pounced on the president's initial remarks.

“After months of listening to the Republicans base their campaign on their singular ability to win the war on terror, the president now says we can’t win the war on terrorism,” Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards said Monday. “This is no time to declare defeat.”

“The war on terrorism is absolutely winnable,” Edwards said later on ABC’s “Nightline.”

“First George W. Bush said he miscalculated the war in Iraq, then he called it a catastrophic success and blamed the military,” added Allison Dobson, a spokeswoman for Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee. “Now he says we can’t win the war on terror. Is that what (White House political adviser) Karl Rove means when he calls for steady leadership?”

Economic plan discussed
Interviewed by NBC's Matt Lauer for the "Today" show on Saturday while on the campaign trail in Ohio, the president was also asked if he felt most Americans would say they are better off today than four years ago. "I think over 50 percent will," he said, referring to what's needed to win re-election in November.

On the federal deficit, Bush was asked if he'd consider raising taxes if it isn't halved in a second term, as he envisions.

"There's no need to answer a hypothetical," he said, "because it is going to [be halved]. That's what we've got in place, and that's what we've got in mind. And I think raising taxes now would be a disaster."

Bush said the major difference between him and Kerry came down to a philosophy of governing.

"There's a philosophical difference, which is that if you look at my policies, they're all aimed at empowering people to make their own decisions," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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