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U.S.: Bush Seeks To Counter Iraq War Frustrations At Home

  • Robert McMahon

http://gdb.rferl.org/AF4BB052-3EC5-4088-8003-37426FA937F6_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/AF4BB052-3EC5-4088-8003-37426FA937F6_mw800_mh600.jpg George W. Bush (file photo) Recent opinion surveys of the American public show President George W. Bush has some of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. Outside his own summer residence, the president faces a high-profile antiwar campaign led by the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. Legislators from both major U.S. parties continue to question the president's strategy in Iraq. Bush has responded with a series of speeches aiming to underscore the importance of a stabilized Iraq to U.S. security.

Washington, 29 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- President Bush is seeking to counter new signs of public discontent over the war in Iraq.

He spoke last week to U.S. National Guard members and their families in the western state of Idaho. It was the second in a series of speeches in which Bush sought to stress Iraq's importance to U.S. security.

“The battle lines in Iraq are now clearly drawn for the world to see, and there is no middle ground. Transforming a country that was ruled by an oppressive dictator who sponsored terror into a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror will take more time, more sacrifice and continued resolve,” Bush said.

The president has seen his standing drop dramatically this summer in public opinion surveys about the war. A majority still want U.S. troops to remain until Iraq is stable but there are increasing doubts about why the war was launched and how it is being carried out.

Bush last week sought to underline Iraq's significance in the global war on terror and the sacrifices required. He made a rare mention of casualties, which include more than 2,000 U.S. forces killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also pointed to an Idaho woman who has seen five sons and a husband serve in Iraq at various times.

That was a response to the antiwar campaign of Cindy Sheehan, whose demonstration near Bush's Texas residence has become a rallying point for people troubled by the war in Iraq. Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq last year, is calling for a U.S. withdrawal from the country. She has aroused both support and opposition from other military families.

Sheehan last week said she did not seek to portray herself as spokeswoman for all military families. “But I know I speak for thousands of them, I know we speak for thousands of them when we want to know what is the noble cause our children die for, what is the noble cause they’re still fighting for and dying for?" Sheehan said.

A new poll by the Gallup organization puts Bush's job approval rating at 40 percent and his disapproval rating at 56 percent. Both are the most negative ratings of his administration.

A separate poll from AP-Ipsos found that 58 percent of people disapprove of the administration's conduct of the war.

The administration received a further recent setback when Senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and -- like Bush -- a member of the Republican Party, compared the struggles in Iraq to the losing campaign in Vietnam.

But a prominent Washington political analyst, Charles Cook, points to numerous opinion surveys showing Bush still enjoys high approval ratings among most Republicans, who control the U.S. Congress. He told RFE/RL he does not expect an erosion of support from Republicans.

“You may see support for the president abandoned among Democrats and among independent voters, and maybe a little bit of a sag among Republicans, but not that much. And I don’t think you’re going to see many Republicans follow Chuck Hagel,” Cook said.

But some Republicans have been calling for more efforts by the administration to explain and defend policy in Iraq.

One problem, according to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, is that Americans are not as broadly engaged in this war effort as they were in the World War II era. He told reporters last week he would like to see more national leaders communicate the importance of the Iraq campaign to the public.

“I think it’s easy for people that don’t have individuals indirectly or directly involved in this to forget for a minute that we are a nation at war. So, you’re right we need to continue to talk about it and talk about it in ways that will resonate that this is, these are very serious times,” Myers said.

Political analyst Cook says it is up to the president to maintain a steady dialogue with the nation on Iraq.

“I think you’re going to continue to see the president campaigning around the country trying to articulate why we’re there, why we need to stay, the cost of leaving -- trying to articulate that as best he possibly can, to hold up support as much as he can, but knowing that it is events in Iraq that are ultimately going to determine how the public sees that policy,” Cook said.

Bush plans another public defense of his Iraq policy tomorrow from a naval station in California. Sheehan, meanwhile, says she plans to begin a bus tour on Thursday from Bush's Texas ranch to the White House to continue the campaign for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
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