Bush: Bloodshed in Iraq Is ‘Worth It’
The Associated Press continues its tradition of reporting presidential speeches that haven’t happened yet in the past tense. Mitch Albom was suspended for doing less.
President Bush on Tuesday appealed for the nation’s patience for “difficult and dangerous” work ahead in Iraq, hoping a backdrop of U.S. troops and a reminder of Iraq’s revived sovereignty would help him reclaim control of an issue that has eroded his popularity.
In an evening address at an Army base that has 9,300 troops in Iraq, Bush was acknowledging the toll of the 27-month-old war. At the same time, he aimed to persuade skeptical Americans that his strategy for victory needed only time Ã¢€” not any changes Ã¢€” to be successful. “Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying and the suffering is real,” Bush said, according to excerpts released ahead of time by the White House. “It is worth it.”
It was a tricky balancing act, believed necessary by White House advisers who have seen persistent insurgent attacks eat into Americans’ support for the war Ã¢€” and for the president Ã¢€” and increase discomfort among even Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Bush marked the first anniversary of the transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition to Iraq’s interim government by focusing on progress in the past year and promising success against the still-potent insurgency. “The terrorists can kill the innocent, but they cannot stop the advance of freedom,” he said in a speech that was to be attended by 750 soldiers and airmen. “They will fail.”
He was rejecting calls to set a timetable for withdrawing 135,000 American troops. Instead, he argued for maintaining the present two-pronged strategy: equipping Iraqi security forces to take over the anti-insurgency fight and helping Iraqi political leaders in the transition to a permanent democratic government. “The work in Iraq is difficult and dangerous,” the president said. “We have more work to do and there will be tough moments that test America’s resolve.”
Bush’s repeated acknowledgment of death and difficulty came less than a month after Vice President Dick Cheney proclaimed the Iraq insurgency “in the last throes.” Still, the president’s overriding message was one of optimism. “The American people do not falter under threat, and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins,” he said.
Democrats and other critics said the country needed more specifics than Bush has been giving. “We just don’t have a clue what the criteria for success is,” said Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), D-Pa., a Vietnam combat veteran. “People are still willing to give the president time if he would just level with them.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post, in a quaint nod to tradition, is still writing as if the speech that will take place at 9 p.m. this evening has yet to happen:
Surrounded by U.S. troops at a military installation in North Carolina, President Bush will ask Americans tonight to look beyond the daily violence in Iraq and focus on the “quiet process” of “political reconciliation” that will produce a more stable and democratic Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this morning. He will “tell the American people that it has been one year since the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis,” Rice said on NBC’s “Today” Program. “That is not very long,” she said, yet the Iraqis have accomplished a great deal, including holding an election and convening an assembly to write a constitution.
Bush’s speech at the Army’s post at Fort Bragg, N.C., comes as polls show declining approval ratings for him and increasing doubts about the war itself among Americans. Presidential prime time speeches are most commonly presented from the Oval Office with varying degrees of live television coverage rather than from military bases or other venues around the country. Bush has demonstrated repeatedly his fondness for a backdrop of soldiers as he talks about the war and terrorism.
It was uncertain today how many television networks would broadcast the speech. As of late morning, ABC was the only broadcast network planning live coverage, according to the Associated Press. CBS, Fox and NBC had announced no decision. The CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC cable networks were planning to carry the president’s remarks.
Gone are the days when televising a presidential address, let alone about an ongoing war, instead of summer reruns is a no-brainer. More’s the pity.