President George W. Bush, facing predictions of massive GOP losses in the upcoming midterm elections and eroding public support for his failed Iraq war strategy, opens a new propaganda offensive with lofty predictions of victory that he claims will be “a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21st century.”

His claims, however, may fall on deaf ears from a country that has turned its back on Bush’s failed presidency and his many broken promises.

Beginning a series of war speeches at the American Legion’s national convention on Thursday, Bush plans to acknowledge the unsettling times — marked by sectarian violence in Iraq, disputes along the Israel-Lebanon border and terrorists allegedly plotting to blow up planes between Britain and the United States.

But he will argue the bloodshed and threats are part of an ideological struggle between freedom and extremism that the United States must not abandon.

“They’re not political speeches,” Bush said Wednesday when asked if they might have an impact on the congressional elections just over two months away. “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 would become even more in jeopardy. These are important times, and I seriously hope people wouldn’t politicize these issues that I’m going to talk about.”

Which, of course, is a lie. Every speech Bush makes in this critical midterm election year is a political one, marked by an attempt to overcome the many failures of his administration and the faltering GOP leadership in Congress.

As in every national election since the Sept. 11 attacks, national security remains a dominant issue in the current campaign in with Republicans face the prospect of losing control of Congress in large part because of Americans’ disapproval of the war in Iraq.

“These are challenging times. I wish I could report to you that all is well,” Bush told a couple of thousand cheering supporters gathered at the airport for his Wednesday night arrival in Salt Lake City.

“If we leave the streets of Baghdad before the job is done, we will have to face the terrorists in our own cities,” Bush said. “We will stay the course, we will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed and victory in Iraq will be a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21st century.”

Tickets for the airport arrival were distributed by the governor’s office and members of Utah’s congressional delegation to counter anti-war demonstrations attracting attention elsewhere in the city. The airport crowd was lit with flood lights and given signs that said “Utah Loves President Bush,” generating a campaign rally atmosphere.

But not everyone in this conservative state supports the president. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, a Democrat, led thousands of anti-Bush demonstrators on a march through the city Wednesday. He called Bush a “dishonest, warmongering, human-rights-violating president.”

Anderson’s protest created waves at the pro-Bush American Legion, which refused to extend the customary invitation to the host city’s mayor to deliver the welcoming address. No anti-war speakers or nationally prominent Democrats were scheduled to speak at the Legion’s convention, which attracted at least 12,000 veterans. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld addressed the group earlier this week.

Bush also planned to talk about Iran, which faces a Thursday deadline to freeze uranium enrichment or face sanctions by the U.N. Security Council.

Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president would continue focusing on the war on terror in speeches in Washington and around the country through Sept. 19, when he is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly.

Only a third of respondents in an August AP-Ipsos poll said they approve of Bush’s handling of Iraq or the job he is doing overall. He scores higher for his handling of foreign policy in general and the war on terrorism.

Bush has been successful at winning over supporters in previous war-speech campaigns, when he invokes the memory of the Sept. 11 attacks and portrays today’s fighting as an extension of that ideological battle. But campaign watchers say he has gone to that well once too often and a weary American public wants a change.

This is the third time in less than a year that Bush has made a series of speeches on Iraq and terrorism. This time, it’s an all-hands-on-deck effort, with Vice President Dick Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld also touting the mission this week.

While in Salt Lake City, Bush scheduled a 45-minute meeting with leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also planned to speak at a luncheon fundraiser for Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch.


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Associated Press Writer Nedra Pickler contributed parts of this story.