SMYRNA - America is safer today than when terrorists attacked five years ago, and the U.S. is winning the war on terror that began with those attacks, President Bush declared on Thursday.
But more work lies ahead if the nation is to keep at bay violent extremists who remain as determined as ever to kill Americans, the president said during a speech to about 600 supporters at the Cobb Galleria Centre.
"On 9/11, we found out that the terrorists have to be right only once to kill our people,'' he said. "We have to be right all the time.''
Bush's speech, sponsored by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, was his fourth in the last week on themes tied to Monday's fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon just outside of Washington.
With congressional elections just two months away, he divided his 49 minutes of remarks between outlining steps his administration has taken since 9/11 to ensure the nation's safety and urging Congress to act on several homeland-security bills he said would provide the tools necessary to bring the war on terror to a successful conclusion.
Congressional Republican leaders have vowed to make those measures their top priority during the next few weeks before lawmakers go home to campaign.
However, they face opposition from minority Democrats, who unveiled a legislative package of their own on Thursday that takes a far different approach.
Bush said state and federal law enforcement agencies have been doing a better job gathering and sharing information on potential terror suspects since the 2001 attacks, aided by the creation of the federal Department of Homeland Security and congressional passage of the Patriot Act.
Also, the federal takeover of airport security by the new Transportation Security Administration has made air travel safer, he said.
"It was important that he made the point that there's been progress,'' said Benita Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a think tank that emphasizes market-based approaches to state and federal issues. "So many people have lost sight of that.''
Looking ahead, the president called on Congress to enact legislation allowing military commissions to try accused terrorist leaders. Bush confirmed during a speech on Wednesday that some of those leaders have been held in secret CIA prisons and that the last 14 of them have now been transferred to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He also pushed for a bill that would authorize wiretapping of terrorist suspects without a warrant, a practice recently held unconstitutional.
Bush said communications technology is much more sophisticated today than when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act became law in the 1970s. He said modern terrorists use disposable cell phones and open anonymous e-mail accounts.
"Our laws need to change to take those changes into account,'' he said.
State Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, said the president made a strong case for federal legislation to reverse recent court rulings that could hamstring the war on terror.
"Congress needs to overturn those ... to make our country safer,'' Balfour said.
With polls showing growing opposition to the 3-year-old war in Iraq among voters, Bush also sought to link the war with the global fight against terrorism.
"The fighting in Iraq has been difficult and bloody,'' Bush said. "(But) the terrorists know that the outcome of the war on terror will depend on the outcome in Iraq.''
Democrats argue just the opposite. They say Bush's focus on Iraq has hurt efforts to rein in terrorists elsewhere by draining America's military resources.
Under a key provision in legislation introduced by Senate Democrats on Thursday, the U.S. would begin to draw down troops in Iraq for redeployment in other spots threatened by terrorists.
"(Republicans) want to 'stay the course' in the face of failure,'' said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. "We won't. We'll change course in Iraq.''
Such major differences between the parties make the November elections all the more important.
With that in mind, Bush traveled to the Savannah area following his speech in Smyrna to appear at a fundraiser for former U.S. Rep. Max Burns, R-Sylvania. Burns' old seat in Georgia's 12th Congressional District, now held by freshman Democrat John Barrow of Savannah, is a top target of House Republicans.