Bush’s new approach brings some success

President Bush’s recent effort in defense of the war in Iraq has attracted some support, but he appears to have a long way to go before getting most of the nation on his side.

Recognizing America’s distaste for the nation’s involvement in Iraq, President Bush set about the task of bolstering support for the war last month with a series of lectures, culminating Wednesday, as Iraqis head to the polls to elect a parliament, with an address at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

That strategy, laying out the administration’s game plan and providing rationale for instigating hostilities in Iraq, seemingly has nudged public opinion. But a majority of Americans, according to recent polls, continue to question the administration’s conduct and express concern that the present strategy will fail.

“Despite his aggressive campaign on the war in Iraq, the president is still a victim of the events on the ground there,” said John Zogby, president and CEO of the polling firm Zogby International. “”If the election in Iraq goes smoothly and stability looks to be possible, then the president’s support among his base may increase. But improvements in events on the ground is a big if and, to date, his efforts are falling short.”

While Zogby’s numbers show Bush’s approval ratings at 38 percent, weighed down by Iraq, others show he is making progress. A CNN/USA Today Gallup poll released Wednesday establishes that fewer Americans now maintain the United States made a mistake entering the war and the number of those who support administration actions has crept upward.

“The improved ratings come in the wake of a more active effort by Bush to defend his administration’s Iraq policy,” said Gallup spokesman David Moore.

Noting that some commentators attributed the president’s up tick to improvements in the economy more than any success in Iraq, Moore suggested a broader interpretation _ “that Bush’s improvement may be related to his making a more aggressive defense of his administration, regardless of the specific issue.”

In his Wednesday speech, the president displayed that “aggressive defense,” noting that some critics “have launched irresponsible charges.”

“They say that we act because of oil, that we act in Iraq because of Israel, or because we misled the American people,” Bush said. “Some of the most irresponsible comments about manipulating intelligence have come from politicians who saw the same intelligence we saw, and then voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein.”

Those charges, Bush said, “are pure politics” that harm troop morale.

“Whatever our differences in Washington, our men and women in uniform deserve to know that once our politicians vote to send them into harm’s way, our support will be with them in good days and bad, and we will settle for nothing less than complete victory,” Bush said.

Scott McClellan, the president’s press secretary, said he believes Bush and the public are on the same waive length over Iraq.

“I think the American people want to win in Iraq,” McClellan said. “They understand the importance of winning in Iraq. And they also want to see our troops come home. And polls are snapshots in time. We’ll let you all do the analysis of what the polls say. The president is doing what he believes is right and what he believes will make America safer for the long term. And that’s why it’s so important that we continue to work to achieve victory in Iraq, and he knows we will.”

But those who stand in opposition to the president, including Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., maintain Bush is offering only “rhetoric the American people don’t buy.”

“The American public, the Iraqi people and our brave troops still don’t have any clarity about the U.S. military mission in Iraq,” Feingold said.

(Contact Bill Straub at StraubB(at)shns.com)