Politics with Juan Williams: Iraq and the Capitol

Alex Chadwick talks politics with NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. This week's topic: the politics of the continued occupation of Iraq and the failure to reach a compromise on the nation's draft constitution.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

After a trip to Idaho this week, President Bush is back in Crawford, Texas. On Wednesday, the president delivered a speech to the Idaho National Guard where he introduced a woman named Tammy Pruett who has four sons currently serving in Iraq with the Ohio National Guard.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Tammy says this and I want you to hear this. `I know that if something happens to one of the boys, they would leave this world doing what they believe, what they think is right for our country.'

CHADWICK: But also returning to Crawford, Texas, is Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a US soldier slain in Iraq. She's kept an anti-war vigil outside the president's ranch as he vacations there this month.

Joining us from Washington, NPR senior correspondent and regular DAY TO DAY contributor Juan Williams.

Juan, welcome back. The president's found his answer to Cindy Sheehan, this grieving mother, who's become the face of a growing anti-war sentiment. I'm not sure he's found it. He's looking for it, though, isn't he?

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

I think he's looking very aggressively. White House aides are trying to help him in this regard, but it's been a really hard week, Alex. What you see is people like Dan Bartlett, the communications director, out on all the shows trying to make the argument that the US, the Bush administration in specific, has a plan for dealing with Iraq, but seeing poll numbers fall precipitously that as most Americans indicate that not only do they have a low regard for the administration's lack of a plan in Iraq but that what they favor--you know, more than half of all Americans now favor pulling all troops out of Iraq either immediately or within the next year.

So that's really bad news for the president and he's been out giving two speeches this week in which he simply said, `This is a matter of resolve.' And what he appealed to was the idea that you've got to justify the deaths of people who've already died by continuing to fight. And that, of course, invited I wouldn't say dismissive attitude on the part of Democrats, but Democrats were of a mind to say, `He doesn't have a plan. He doesn't know what he's doing.' In fact, the most powerful argument that really hit Washington this week came in the form of an Op-Ed piece by Gary Hart who said, `Where are the Democrats? You know, where's the courage to stand up and really form a strong opposition to the president on his policies in Iraq?'

CHADWICK: Well, indeed, where are the Democrats? I don't see current national Democratic leaders getting up and saying, `The president's wrong, and here's what we should do instead.'

WILLIAMS: Right. Well, what you see is, for example, Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations in the Senate, saying that really now is the moment when you have a disaster in Iraq as a real possibility and starting to talk about Vietnam. You have Dianne Feinstein, the senator from California, saying there's a rising concern, everything's going the wrong way. Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois, saying it's a challenge to fix the mess that's been made by this administration. But there is no sense among the Democrats and they're not articulating this to the public that they have an overarching policy that they all agree on. So far it's just nitpicking, but the driving force here, Alex, is the increasing negative numbers for the president. And so you get things like Chuck Hagel, a fellow Republican, saying we're losing the war in Iraq. It doesn't help.

CHADWICK: Yeah, as you say, here's this fellow Republican and he raised the Vietnam analogy on one of the political talk shows...

WILLIAMS: Right.

CHADWICK: ...this last weekend and got a lot of attention for that. This is a man who's considering running for president as a Republican in 2008.

WILLIAMS: Right, and a Vietnam veteran. And so what you're seeing is even people like Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, a very strong Bush state, a state with lots of military, saying, `You know what? People have questions and they're not being answered by the president.' And that's why you see people at the White House even as they're, you know, on vacation sort of, you know, going through the motions here at the end of August thinking, `Wait a minute. Wait a minute. We've got to turn this around quickly,' and being very aggressive about the communication strategy, but it's not being matched by people who are involved in the actual strategy for dealing with Iraq. In fact, the only change we've seen in the strategy recently is the announcement by one of the generals that there are going to be additional troops sent there to help with the problems that are likely to come as the insurgents respond to the possibility of elections in December.

CHADWICK: NPR senior correspondent and regular DAY TO DAY contributor Juan Williams.

Juan, thanks again.

WILLIAMS: My pleasure.

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