With the capital fixated on special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald's announcement of a high-level indictment in the CIA leak case, President Bush and Vice President Cheney took flight from Washington on separate trips to make impassioned speeches before military audiences about the Iraq war.
It was a classic day of split-screen television images, with Fitzgerald taking questions at a lengthy news conference on a grand jury indictment he sought against Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, at the very same moment the vice president was addressing soldiers at a "Rally for the Troops" at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
Earlier in the day, Bush traveled here to address the nation's largest military community to try to rally support for the war, saying that in Iraq "there is no peace without victory, and so we will keep our nerve and win that victory."
Bush said that abandoning Iraq would allow al Qaeda to take hold of the country and use it as a base of operations, and he took on rising criticism from Democrats that the war has created a terrorist breeding ground that did not previously exist.
"Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals," Bush said. "I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001, and al Qaeda attacked us anyway. The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse."
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said this week that it is time for the U.S. military to begin drawing down troops in Iraq as part of a 15-month plan to largely withdraw from the war while ceding control to Iraqi security forces. Bush seemed to be speaking to Kerry's points.
"Some observers also claim that America would be better off by cutting our losses and leaving Iraq now," Bush said. "This is a dangerous illusion, refuted with a simple question: Would the United States and other free nations be more safe or less safe with [Iraqi insurgency leader Abu Musab] Zarqawi and [al Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden in control of Iraq, its people and its resources?"
As he has done often before, Bush likened current challenges to the Cold War struggle against communism, imploring the American people to stand together and support the war against Islamic extremism "as the great challenge of our new century."
Cheney focused on the positive, urging troops to continue their contributions and assuring them that they have the nation's support. He said it is uncertain what lies immediately ahead in the war against terrorism.
"Yet the direction of events is plain to see, and this period of struggle and testing is also a time of promise," Cheney said. "The United States of America is a good country, a decent country, and we are making the world a better place by defending the innocent, confronting the violent and bringing freedom to the oppressed."
In Norfolk, a small group of protesters yelled as Bush arrived and left, with one man yelling louder than the others: "Bush lies!" About 10 minutes into Bush's speech, a man stood up in the balcony and yelled: "Mr. President, war is terrorism. War is terrorism."
Security guards quickly escorted the man out of the auditorium to a spattering of boos, and Bush continued speaking.