By DEB RIECHMANN
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Linking success in Iraq with the future safety of America, President Bush said Wednesday that withdrawing U.S. troops too quickly would lead to a terrorist state more dangerous than Afghanistan in the grip of the repressive Taliban regime.
Bush, who is beginning a series of speeches on Thursday to counter opposition to the war, spoke at a political fundraiser, which raised more than $1.5 million for the Tennessee GOP and Bob Corker, who faces a tough Senate race against Democratic nominee Harold Ford Jr.
If the United States leaves Iraq prematurely, Bush said, it would embolden an enemy that wants to harm Americans and shred U.S. credibility internationally.
"If we leave Iraq before the job is done, it will create a terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, a terrorist state much more dangerous than Afghanistan was before we removed the Taliban, a terrorist state with the capacity to fund its activities because of the oil reserves of Iraq," Bush said.
Promising victory in Iraq, Bush said: "The stakes are high. it's very important for the American people to understand that the security of the United States of America, the capacity of our children to grow up in a peaceful world, in large part depends on our willingness to help this young Iraq democracy succeed. And we will succeed."
Bush delivers the first in a series of speeches on the war on terror at the annual American Legion convention in Salt Lake City. The appearances will continue through the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and culminate on Sept. 19 when Bush addresses the U.N. General Assembly.
It is the third time in less than a year that Bush has launched a public relations offensive to try to rally support for the war in Iraq and his effort to spread democracy in the Middle East. He did it in November and December 2005 and again in March on the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Back then, the speeches were aimed at countering news reports of daily bombings in Iraq, where more than 2,300 U.S. troops had died. The death toll has risen to more than 2,630 and in July, about 3,500 Iraqis died violently -- the highest monthly civilian toll since the war began.
The new addresses come two months before congressional elections and at a point when Bush's approval rate is at 33 percent in the August AP-Ipsos poll. His approval on handling of Iraq also was at 33 percent in the poll.
"They are not political speeches," Bush said earlier Wednesday outside a restaurant in Little Rock, Ark., where he made his first campaign stop of the day. "They're speeches about the future of this country and they're speeches to make it clear that if we retreat before the job is done, this nation will become even more in jeopardy.
"These are important times, and I would seriously hope people wouldn't politicize these issues that I'm going to talk about."
While Bush said Iraq and terrorism shouldn't be politicized, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, only a day earlier, attacked critics of the administration's war policies and suggested they suffered from "cynicism and moral confusion."
Before traveling to Nashville, Bush attended a fundraiser in Little Rock for GOP gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman running against Democrat Mike Beebe. The fundraiser, at the home of former pro basketball player Joe Kleine, raised $650,000 for Hutchinson and the Arkansas GOP.
But after the fundraiser, Bush and Hutchinson stopped to hobnob with customers at Cotham's Restaurant, which has political signs plastered across the walls. It is home to the $9.15 oversized "Hubcap Hamburger," but Bush was toting a piece of fried chocolate pie in a takeout bag when he climbed back in his limousine.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)