President Bush is defending his line-in-the-sand approach to the fight against Islamic terrorism, following presidential rivals John McCain and Barack Obama in a speech to a major veterans group.

His address Wednesday in Orlando, Fla., was to highlight themes GOP hopeful McCain has been using to argue that he is better qualified to be commander in chief than Obama, the Democratic nominee-in-waiting.

Bush, in remarks to the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, also was expected to address the conflict between Russia and Georgia, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Tuesday.

Yet it is the nearly seven-year battle against nebulous terror groups such as al-Qaida that has dominated Bush’s presidency and will carry over to a new administration next year.

Bush was to travel to Florida from his Texas ranch, where he is spending most of the remainder of August. The president also was stopping in New Orleans and Gulfport, Miss., to talk about recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005 and brought heavy criticism of the Bush administration for its sluggish response.

McCain and other Republicans contend that his Vietnam service and experience on the Senate Armed Services Committee make him far better qualified to steer the armed forces than Obama, who did not serve in the military.

McCain and Obama traded shots during separate appearances at the weeklong VFW convention.

On Monday, McCain repeated his support for the president’s January 2007 decision to add 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The so-called surge is credited with reducing violence in Iraq, and the additional troops have already returned home.

McCain also said he is opposed to a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces, a position shared by Bush.

McCain criticized Obama for not only opposing the surge but trying to block the funding that would have allowed the increase.

On Tuesday, it was Obama’s turn, and he said McCain should stop questioning his "character and patriotism."

Obama reaffirmed his early opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He said the surge of troops has not led to the political reconciliation needed to ensure the country will remain secure once all U.S. troops are gone.

Bush has about five months left in office. His largely uncompromising approach in Iraq, along with a sputtering economy, a crumbling housing market and high gasoline prices, has led to low public approval ratings. Only 31 percent of those polled approve of the job he’s doing, according to a recent Associated Press-Ipsos survey.


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