MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - With a flag-draped clock tower for a backdrop in a politically friendly state on a sunny Fourth of July, President Bush defended the war in Iraq as part of a grand American quest for freedom "from Bunker Hill to Baghdad."
The president, making a repeat Independence Day visit to a state that helped elect and re-elect him, delivered a challenge to "finish the fight" in Iraq that terrorists carried to America on Sept. 11, 2001.
"From our desperate fight for independence to the darkest days of the Civil War, to the hard-fought battles of the 20th century, there were many chances to lose our heart, our nerve or our way," Bush said. "But Americans have always held firm.
"We know that when the work is hard, the proper response is not retreat. It is courage," he said, reiterating an argument for continuing the costly conflict in Iraq that he spelled out in a televised address last week.
Yet even as he confronts waning public support for combat in Iraq and presses the war on terrorism that consumed his first term, the president's attention is shifting to a domestic matter that could prove just as central to his legacy: appointing a justice to the Supreme Court.
As he prepares to embark today for a European tour starting in Denmark, where he will thank the Danish prime minister for contributing military forces in Iraq, Bush will carry with him a file of candidates for a vacancy on the high court created by the surprise retirement Friday of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Bush does not plan to name a candidate to succeed O'Connor until after returning Friday night from a three-day summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations in Scotland. But well-financed conservative and liberal organizations are gearing up for a battle over Bush's nominee.
Still, the president found time - as he did last year and on a previous Fourth of July - for a quick morning flight to West Virginia, where a few thousand people assembled on the hilly campus of West Virginia University to see him.
A cluster of protesters chanting "Bush lied, people died" and signs saying "We support the troops, not the president" assembled on the perimeter of the university's flag-adorned green.
Most came to cheer the president. The supportive setting on a day set aside for patriotism and pride provided another stage for Bush's defense of the conflict in Iraq that has claimed more than 1,700 American lives.
As he has before, Bush tried to connect the war with the terrorist attacks on the United States and insisted that U.S. troops will remain in Iraq until the nation can defend itself.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.