President Bush defended the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq Tuesday in a speech to the United Nations but asked world leaders for help in his plan to build an orderly transition to democratic rule in the nation recovering from war and years under a repressive regime.

Bush told the U.N. General Assembly that in removing Saddam Hussein, the U.S.-led coalition acted to “defend the credibility” of the U.N. Security Council, which had ordered the Iraqi dictator to prove compliance with an order to destroy all his weapons of mass destruction.

While acknowledging that that some member nations opposed the pre-emptive strike, Bush said unity remains over “fundamental principles and objectives of the United Nations,” such as collective security and the advancement of human rights.

Bush invited the U.N. to an expanded role in reconstruction of Iraq, asking the international body to assist in developing a new national constitution, training civil servants and conducting free and fair elections.

He rebuffed, however, a move led by France and Germany, calling for immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and turning control to Iraq’s interim government.

“This process must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis—neither hurried nor delayed by the voices of other parties,” Bush said.

The president also sought international support for the U.S. war on terrorism, which he described as having “no neutral ground.”

“All governments that support terror are complicit in a war against civilization,” he said. “No government should ignore the threat of terror because to look the other way gives terrorists the chance to regroup and recruit and prepare.”

Bush requested a Security Council resolution on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by “outlaw regimes.”

In other comments to the General Assembly Tuesday, Bush asked for U.N. help in battling AIDS worldwide and in passing laws against international sex trade.

He also criticized Palestinian leaders “who cling to power but are feeding old hatreds and destroying the good will of others,” an apparent reference to Yasser Arafat.

Earlier, in opening remarks to the General Assembly, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan implicitly criticized the invasion of Iraq, which was carried out without the U.N.’s blessing, saying the use of pre-emptive force could set a precedent for “a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without credible justification.” The U.N. leader urged nations to set aside their differences, however, and move forward with plans to build a peaceful democracy in Iraq.

The U.S. asked the Security Council for authorization to use force against Iraq, but the group failed to reach consensus. Warning that Iraq was defying U.N. demands to abandon biological and chemical weapons and efforts to develop a nuclear bomb, the U.S.-led coalition moved ahead and invaded Iraq in March.

While polls at the time of the invasion found strong support among Americans for Bush’s leadership, recent polls suggest the war is turning into a political liability in his upcoming re-election campaign. Recent polls have gauged the president’s job-approval rating at below 50 percent, and a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll on Monday found Bush virtually tied in head-to-head ratings against leading Democratic contenders.

Some of the 10 Democrats running for the nomination to oppose Bush for a second term characterized Tuesday’s speech as being too little, too late, Reuters reported Tuesday afternoon.

“The president’s rhetoric is becoming more stirring, but once again he has failed to tell us exactly what role he expects the United Nations to play now and what timetable he envisions for the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people,” Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said.

U.S. soldiers in Iraq also shrugged after listening to Bush’s speech, according to MSBNC, saying it did not address their main concern: going home.

“I wasn’t particularly impressed with anything he came up with,” said Staff Sergeant Jason Dungan of the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division, based in Tikrit, home of the deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

A Palestinian leader said he was disappointed with Bush’s critical remark about Arafat, calling it unconstructive.

“One of the bad things about such statements is that it encourages Israel to continue diminishing the rights of the Palestinian people and their leadership,” said Palestinian Labor Minister Ghassan Khatib, according to Reuters.

Republican lawmakers were more supportive.

“The president has made a persuasive case for greater international support of our efforts to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan and to advance the war against global terrorism,” Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said on Fox News. “President Bush has once again made clear the great peril in which we live and the need for the entire globe to contribute to combating this mortal threat.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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