WEST POINT, N.Y. - President Bush yesterday defended his policy of preemptive military action and said the United States must stay on the offensive to ensure that the American people are protected from harm.

Addressing cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, the president said that after the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States saw the urgency of staying a step ahead of our enemies, a policy reflected in what is known as the Bush Doctrine. Bush said that terrorism continued to pose a serious challenge, as seen in the attacks last month in Mumbai, but that the terrorists had been weakened.

"Al-Qaeda's top two leaders remain at large, yet they are facing pressure so intense that the only way they can stay alive is to stay underground. The day will come - the day will come when they receive the justice they deserve," Bush said to loud applause.

Determined to shape his legacy, Bush has spoken about his record on combating AIDS, his policy on the Middle East, and what he has accomplished as commander in chief. He talked about strengthening allies against terrorism and sharing intelligence. And he talked about the military and military strategy since he took office in January 2001.

"With all the actions we've taken these past eight years," he said, "we've laid a solid foundation on which future presidents and future military leaders can build. America's military today is stronger, more agile, and better prepared to confront threats to our people than it was eight years ago.

"In the years ahead, our nation must continue developing the capabilities to take the fight to our enemies across the world. We must stay on the offensive."

It was at West Point on June 1, 2002, that Bush first described the new, robust military policy called the Bush Doctrine, in which the administration made no distinction between terrorists and those who supported and harbored them, and was willing to confront threats before they fully materialized.

Ten months after that speech, U.S. forces invaded Iraq, with the administration's citing intelligence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Nearly seven years later, the war continues. No WMDs were found.