Bush Rejects Iraq Withdrawal on Trip to Idaho
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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
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President Bush speaks today to the Idaho National Guard. The speech comes at a time when opinion polls show increasing opposition to the president's handling of the war in Iraq. NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea is traveling with the president and joins me from Boise, Idaho.
DON GONYEA reporting:
MONTAGNE: Don, this is the president's second speech this week about the war in Iraq. What's he saying?
GONYEA: These speeches really are an effort by this White House to address falling public support for the war in Iraq and for the president's handling of the war. A Gallup Poll shows that a majority of Americans, 54 percent, think the war was a mistake; 57 percent say the war has made the US less safe from terrorism. It has certainly been a deadly summer in Iraq. And what the president's trying to do, starting this week, at the VFW convention in Salt Lake City, on Monday--and, then, again, today, in Idaho--is to really focus on the positive, to tell Americans that wars are not easy, that the stakes here are very high, that the US must succeed in Iraq, and he's saying that the mission is succeeding.
MONTAGNE: And the president has encountered a number of anti-war protesters as he's traveled this week. He's responding to their calls to bring the troops home, and here's one little bit of what he had to say yesterday.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I think those who advocate immediate withdrawal or--from not only Iraq, but the Middle East, would be--are advocating a policy that would weaken the United States.
MONTAGNE: Don, to what extent is the president paying attention to these anti-war protesters?
GONYEA: Well, he's had to talk about them. In that clip he was talking about, among others, Cindy Sheehan, the woman who lost her son in Iraq and who's been protesting down in Crawford, Texas. He said she has a right to her opinions, but that she's wrong and that she doesn't represent the view of the majority of military families. Now those protests outside the Bush ranch down in Texas have gotten a lot of attention, and there have also been protests in Salt Lake City, in Boise. The president doesn't see those, but if you look at what he said in the speech in Salt Lake City Monday, it was very much a direct response to the protesters who say the US should withdraw from Iraq, and he was adamant that that will not happen, and saying in language he's used in the past quite often, in fact, that, as the Iraqis stand up, the US military will stand down.
MONTAGNE: But it's not just protesters who've been arguing against the war. The president is even hearing these days some discontent from members of his own party.
GONYEA: Right. He still has strong Republican support in Congress, but it's becoming more common for members of his own party to openly disagree with him, specifically on Iraq. This week Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Vietnam veteran, said the US is not winning in Iraq, and that it's starting to look a lot like Vietnam. So such comments from prominent Republicans are certainly troubling to the White House.
MONTAGNE: Don, let's look at another issue the president addressed yesterday, and that's the Iraqi constitution. That process has been slowed by difficult negotiations and a couple of missed deadlines. But the president said the constitution is still an important step for Iraq. We can hear him right here.
Pres. BUSH: We're watching an amazing event unfold, and that is the writing of a constitution which guarantees minority rights, women's rights, freedom to worship in a part of the world that had only--a country that only knew dictatorship.
MONTAGNE: And there Mr. Bush is focusing, as he does, on the progress Iraqis have made rather than missed deadlines.
GONYEA: Right, and he spoke yesterday with reporters at a resort in Idaho where he was essentially taking the day off yesterday. But he said that as Americans watch this process in Iraq, it's important to remember US history. He said the US had trouble at our own conventions writing a constitution, so he says that's what's going on in Iraq, and he says anything that happens, as we've seen this week, is certainly a positive development.
MONTAGNE: And after the speech in Idaho later today, the president heads back to his ranch in Texas. What's on the agenda during that time on his ranch?
GONYEA: Well, he's got the rest of the week at the ranch, but he does have more travel next week out West. They're also continuing to prep for the upcoming Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. They see the Roberts story as a good news story for the White House and they really do want that process to go smoothly.
MONTAGNE: Thank you, Don.
NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea traveling with the president in Boise, Idaho.
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