President Bush, with the United States at war with al Qaeda and on the brink of conflict with Iraq, yesterday paid solemn homage to soldiers past and present, saying the "mission will go on until the terrorists who struck America are fully and finally defeated."
Honoring soldiers on Veterans Day with a stop at Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Mr. Bush reiterated his pledge to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"No enemy that threatens our security or endangers our people will escape the patient justice and the overwhelming power of the United States of America," he told the audience at the veterans cemetery, where more than 260,000 people are buried.
"We will not permit a dictator, who has used weapons of mass destruction, to threaten America with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. This great nation will not live at the mercy of any foreign plot or power. The dictator of Iraq will fully disarm, or the United States will lead a coalition and disarm him," he said, drawing a standing ovation.
Mr. Bush spent yesterday in a series of Washington-area observances of Veterans Day, and called on the spirit of service exhibited by America's 26 million veterans to lead the country to victory in the war against terrorism.
"Especially in this time of war, we see in our veterans an example of courage and selfless sacrifice and service that inspires a new generation and will lead this country to victory," the president told an East Room gathering of veterans and soldiers after returning from an impromptu, pre-dawn stop at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall.
An illustration of American military power came yesterday as administration officials told reporters on the condition of anonymity about a Pentagon plan for invading Iraq, which calls for a land, sea and air force of as many as 250,000 troops.
The plan calls for quickly taking northern, southern and western Iraq before targeting Baghdad, home of Saddam and his elite Republican Guard.
"We have to keep, in a sense, a gun pointed to the head of the Iraqi regime because that's the only way they cooperate," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said in a radio interview.
War talk was growing just three days after the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a new resolution that would send U.N. inspectors back to Baghdad with broad powers to go anywhere at any time, backed by the threat of force.
Iraq has until Friday to accept the resolution, but its parliament yesterday condemned the U.N. resolution and urged its rejection — a move the United States has suggested would mean war.
At midday, the president went to Arlington National Cemetery. Joined by World War II veteran and former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, Mr. Bush stood without cover in the light rain as several veterans and guests spoke.
In his speech, the president said "members of our military are serving on the scattered battlefields of a new kind of war."
"This new kind of war also requires us to confront outlaw regimes that seek and possess the tools of mass murder. In Afghanistan and beyond, they're on the trail of killers who brought death to the innocent and war to our country," he said.
Joined by first lady Laura Bush, he watched as an honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns placed a wreath, then walked to it, adjusted a few ribbons and stepped back. He stood with his hand over his heart as taps was played, then bowed his head for a moment of silence.
The president began his day, as he often does, before dawn. Accompanied only by a small pool of reporters, Mr. Bush visited the Vietnam memorial in a heavy rain.
Wrapped in a black trench coat and carrying a umbrella, the president walked down to the nearly deserted, black marble walls, etched with the names of 58,229 soldiers who perished in the war. He knelt near one slab and planted a small U.S. flag. At the corner where the two slabs of the memorial meet, he placed a presidential coin.
Greeting the two dozen or so wall visitors, mostly veterans, Mr. Bush, who served as a Texas Air National Guard pilot during the Vietnam War, said: "God bless you" and "Thank you for your service."
He then returned to the White House, which hosted an event for veterans that included current generals, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, British World War II veterans and U.S. soldiers who earned the Medal of Honor.
"On Veterans Day, the American people take pride in every citizen who has defended America, in times of calm and in times of danger. We live today in a time of danger; war has come once again to America. Our nation is called to meet great challenges, and our military is called to the defense of our people and to the defense of our freedoms," he said.
Noting that "the enemies of America have killed thousands of our citizens," Mr. Bush warned: "They desire to kill thousands more."
"They're discovering, as others before them, the fierce resolve of this great nation. We will not forget the harm that was done to us. We will not be distracted from the task before us."
But Mr. Bush said great responsibility comes with great power. The United States is also working to alleviate suffering in Afghanistan in the wake of its war against Osama bin Laden's terrorist group there.
"Recently, Afghan children were dying of whooping cough. Yet they were in a region so remote that the vaccine would lose potency before it could arrive by horse. So the United States acted. We sent helicopters to deliver those vaccines, and as a result, saved more than 100 children every week," he said.
"Defeating our enemy and defending our freedoms is the best tradition of our military. And so is helping the innocent."
Mr. Bush said the United States does not seek to take over Iraq.
"We have no territorial ambitions. We don't seek an empire. Our nation is committed to freedom, for ourselves and for others. We and our allies have fought evil regimes and left in place self-governing and prosperous nations," he said.
But the lesson of September 11 requires the United States act now.
"The danger from Iraq is clear and its multiplied a thousand times over by the possibility of a chemical or biological or a nuclear attack. The time to confront this threat is before it arrives, not the day after."