US President George W. Bush insisted on Thursday that US troops would not pull out of Iraq before "the terrorists are defeated," a day after acknowledging a possible parallel between violence there and the Tet Offensive during the US war in Vietnam.
The comments, coming less than three weeks before crucial elections, follow his acknowledgement on Wednesday that the current steep spike in violence in Iraq "could be" compared to the Tet Offensive, widely considered to be key to souring US public opinion on the Vietnam War.
"Our goal in Iraq is clear and unchanging. Our goal is victory," said Bush, speaking at a rally on Thursday for embattled Republican congressman Don Sherwood in the town of La Plume, Pennsylvania.
"We are a nation at war, and we must do everything in our power to win that war," he said.
"We will not pull out our troops from Iraq before the terrorists are defeated. We will not pull out before Iraq can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself," Bush said.
The ongoing flare-up in violence in Iraq comes in the middle of a bitterly fought political campaign ahead of Nov. 7 elections to decide control of the US Congress between opposition Democrats and Bush's Republicans.
Democrats are pinning their hopes of winning on the unpopular Iraq war and Bush's poor poll numbers.
Even the mention by Bush of the Vietnam War has loud political resonance. The war divided Americans at the time and remains a deeply sensitive subject four decades later.
The 1968 Tet Offensive which was launched by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese against South Vietnamese and US forces was considered a military defeat but a psychological victory, in that it crystallized US public opinion against the war.
Bush acknowledged the Vietnam parallel on Wednesday for the first time when asked in an ABC News television interview about a comparison by Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, of the strife in Iraq with the Tet Offensive.
The Tet Offensive occurred before US presidential elections, bolstering the anti-war camp and leading the former Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson, to announce that he would not seek reelection.
Bush "was making a point that he's made before, which is that terrorists try to exploit pictures and try to use the media as conduits for influencing public opinion in the United States," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
"We do not think that there's been a flipover point," he said. "The president's determined it's not going to happen with Iraq, because you have a president who is determined to win."
"It is possible -- although we don't have a clear pathway into the minds of terrorists, it is possible they are trying to use violence right now as a way of influencing the elections," Snow said.
Bush's remarks appeared to put his Republicans on a slippery slope.
Although US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a similar analogy in June 2004, the Bush administration has always shied from the comparison.
Nearly 60,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam.
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, 2,772 US troops have been killed, according to a Pentagon tally.
This month has already proved to be one of the deadliest for US forces with 73 killed.
Opposition Democrats have made Bush's handling of Iraq a major campaign issue, and opinion polls show public sentiment against the war is growing.