Reviewing Bush's 'War on Terror' Speech

President Bush addressed the nation Thursday about the so-called "war on terror" at a time when many Americans are questioning the cost in lives and money of the ongoing war in Iraq. Alex Chadwick discusses the speech and the president's performance with NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

We're joined by NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

Don, a lot of subjects in this speech. The basic one: the war on terror. Why did the White House want President Bush to give this speech today?

DON GONYEA reporting:

There are several things, Alex, that explain the timing of this speech. First, it's fair to say that this is the kind of speech the president had wanted to give almost a month ago on the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They had hoped to use that event, that day, to try to refocus the public's attention on why the war in Iraq is so important and really to put it in the broader context of the fight against terrorists. Of course, Hurricane Katrina hit. It disrupted that plan. And you'll recall that on 9/11, the president was actually giving a speech in Jackson Square in New Orleans about hurricane relief.

There's another part to the timing, though. We are seeing a push by the administration to really try to seize the initiative in the public dialogue on Iraq. Vice President Cheney gave a speech in Washington yesterday about terrorism. They know that the violence is ongoing, that the news will continue to be full of reports of suicide bombings and attacks. They want to put their own frame around that, one that says despite the difficulty, that progress is being made. That way, their picture of the war, that the war is necessary to confront terrorists around the world, is aggressively being represented as part of the public dialogue.

CHADWICK: Any reaction yet from Democrats?

GONYEA: Yes. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said today that there wasn't really anything new here, that key questions remain unanswered. He said once again the president had an opportunity to lay out for the American people the facts on the ground in Iraq and the president's strategy to achieve military victory, but also to address the political and economic issues there that have to be in place before troops can come home. He says the president did nothing along those lines and, again, leaves many, many questions unanswered.

CHADWICK: So the timing of this--it's coincidental that last night, there was what looked like a political defeat for the White House in the Senate with 46 Senate Republicans joining more than 40 Democrats in supporting an amendment to define and limit interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects, something the White House did not want to have happen.

GONYEA: Right. A big bipartisan vote against the White House. The White House is saying that Bush advisers will recommend a veto if the final version of this bill, once it goes through the House and Senate conference committee, contains those limits on interrogation. They say it's important not to tie the president's hands and the administration's hands, so the veto threat is out there. All the White House would really say today in response to these 90 votes against the president is that they continue to work with the Congress.

CHADWICK: Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: Mm-hmm.

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