Delegates Praise Strong, Steadfast Bush

NEW YORK -- Led by Arizona Senator John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Republicans opened their national convention here Monday night with tributes to U.S. President George W. Bush's leadership in the war on terrorism and a powerful defense of his decision to invade Iraq.

Meeting just four kilometers from Ground Zero, where terrorists destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the Republicans used their opening-night program to portray Bush as a steady and unwavering leader who immediately understood the dangers of a new era and the United States' responsibility to rally the world to defeat the terrorists. At the same time, they belittled Democratic challenger John Kerry as weak, indecisive and unreliable.

The first Republican national political convention in New York's history bore all the earmarks of how those attacks have transformed the country and this city. There was an unprecedented show of police force on the streets, and the area around Madison Square Garden was heavily fortified with barriers and checkpoints -- to guard against possible terrorism and to keep at bay the protests that formed part of the backdrop for the week's official events.

McCain, Bush's rival from the 2000 primaries who has become one of his staunchest allies in the re-election campaign, praised Bush's decision to depose former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, saying the war was necessary even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found because Hussein was determined to acquire them eventually.

"Our choice wasn't between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war," he said in remarks prepared for delivery. "It was between war and a graver threat. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Not our critics abroad. Not our political opponents. And certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace when in fact it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture chambers, mass graves and prisons that destroyed the lives of the small children held inside their walls."

McCain was referring to filmmaker Michael Moore, whose anti-Bush polemic "Fahrenheit 9/11" has earned tens of millions of dollars since its release earlier in the summer and who has been toasted by Democrats for helping to energize opposition to the president.

Giuliani, who guided New York through the chaos of Sept. 11, invoked his own memories of that searing experience to praise Bush as the indispensable president. He also painted an unflattering portrait of Kerry as a politician with no clear or consistent vision, saying in remarks prepared for delivery that Kerry "has made it the rule to change his position, rather than the exception."

Recounting Kerry's opposition to the resolution authorizing the Persian Gulf War in 1991, his 2002 vote authorizing Bush to invade Iraq and his later vote against an $87 billion authorization for military and reconstruction spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, Giuliani brought a roar from the convention floor when he said, "Maybe this explains John Edwards' need for two Americas -- one where John Kerry can vote for something and another where he can vote against the same things."

As Republicans opened their convention, Bush stirred up fresh criticism when he said in an interview on NBC television's "Today" show that he doubted that the United States could actually win the war against terrorism. "I don't think you can win it," he said. "But I think you can create the conditions that those who used terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."

Bush's comment drew a swift reply from the Kerry campaign, with Edwards, the vice presidential candidate, accusing Bush of declaring defeat, saying the Democrats have a plan to win that war.

Meanwhile, two new polls showed that Kerry had lost much of what he had gained at his convention in Boston last month, particularly in the areas of terrorism and national security.

One poll showed Bush and Kerry deadlocked barely two months before Election Day.