FT. DRUM, N.Y. -- President Bush on Friday told front-line troops from the war in Afghanistan that the U.S. will never allow the International Criminal Court to judge them but warned that they may be called on to fight again, possibly against a troublesome dictator like Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
Standing amid the Army's storied 10th Mountain Division, a virtual sea of camouflage and black berets, Bush also called on the Democrat-controlled Senate to approve his requested increase in defense spending "so that we can plan the war."
"Congress has the responsibility to put first things first, and nothing comes before the freedom and the security of the American people," the president said.
International court blasted
But Bush's most pointed rhetoric was saved for the International Criminal Court that European nations have endorsed.
"The United States cooperates with many other nations to keep the peace," he said. "But we will not submit American troops to prosecutors and judges whose jurisdiction we do not accept."
The soldiers cheered his decision, unlike foreign leaders who see Bush's disdain for the court as the latest example of the administration's inattention to the concerns of other nations.
Europeans insist the international court protect troops participating in international peacekeeping missions from charges of war crimes and genocide. U.S. opposition to the court before it even opens for business could only undercut its authority, particularly in places like Bosnia, European leaders have said.
But Bush, who threatened to halt U.S. involvement in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina if the UN Security Council refused to grant immunity, said U.S. commanders and military law will continue to judge American troops, who will not be subject "to the rulings of an unaccountable international criminal court."
For a second straight day, Bush left behind a Washington consumed with questions about his handling of a series of corporate scandals and his business dealings to revel in his most popular role: commander-in-chief. And nowhere has the president found warmer receptions than on military installations across the country, from West Point to Ft. Bragg, N.C., to Ft. Drum in upstate New York.
Nearly 40 times in the 22 minutes that Bush spoke, members of the 10th Mountain Division and their families interrupted him with an appreciative shout of "Hoo-ah!"
"Let's get Saddam," someone in the crowd shouted, igniting applause and bringing a smile to Bush's face. Elsewhere, U.S. allies, lawmakers and some Cabinet members question the wisdom of attacking Hussein, but not the soldiers surrounding their commander Friday.
Without naming Hussein or Iraq, Bush reiterated his intention to take on nations developing nuclear, biological or chemical weapons that could be used by terrorists or used against the United States.
"We're threatened by regimes that have sought these ultimate weapons and hide their weapons programs from the eyes of the world," Bush said in an apparent reference to Iraq.
Bush views global terrorism as a new type of threat that will require a change in U.S. military doctrine, a more aggressive posture that would use pre-emptive military strikes against potential foes.
"The enemies of America no longer need great armies to attack our people," Bush said. "They require only great hatred made more dangerous by advanced technologies.
"Against such enemies, we cannot sit quietly and hope for the best," he said. "To ignore this mounting danger is to invite it."
Bush cautioned his audience, noting the war has gone on for just 10 months and is likely to continue for a very long time.
The 10th Mountain Division was among the forces leading the way into Afghanistan last year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Some of them have returned home after clearing more than 100 mountain caves used by Al Qaeda fighters and seizing more than 500 caches of enemy ammunition.
More than 150 soldiers from the division were decorated for their service in Afghanistan.
"In Afghanistan, coalition troops still have critical work" to do, Bush said.
"And the dangers haven't passed. Elsewhere, new threats are taking shape."
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