Bush Faces Dilemma in Addressing Iraq Issue

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Renee Montagne talks with News Analyst Cokie Roberts about public opinion polls on Iraq and how the Bush administration can change the subject of Iraq to its advantage.


The trial of Saddam Hussein and other news from Iraq will be of great interest to members of Congress. They are in their home states for the Thanksgiving recess. Joining me now is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So public opinion polls have been showing less and less support for the war in Iraq. How are politicians responding to those polls?

ROBERTS: With a certain amount of fear and trembling. Some, as you heard yesterday, John Warner, a senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, calling on the president to explain the situation better, saying maybe the equivalent of Roosevelt's Fireside Chats would help with the American people's understanding of the war, that the president should lay out his goals and strategy, but you're seeing many others calling for a timetable for withdrawal. And Senator Joseph Biden, a senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, had an op-ed in The Washington Post over the weekend calling for a drawdown of American troops, and you're seeing that more and more now in both parties in the House and Senate.

There is an expectation that the president is making a speech Wednesday at the Naval Academy at Annapolis where he might talk about Iraqi troop readiness, the improvement of that, which is one of the criteria he has set down for American withdrawal. And there is clearly more talk inside the administration about bringing troops out before next year's congressional elections. Now the president obviously has to be careful here. He can't back off of his `We're not going to cut and run' rhetoric, and he can't leave chaos in Iraq, but I think that he does want to talk about something like a light at the end of the tunnel, to coin a phrase.

MONTAGNE: Well, right. Presumably the Bush administration would like to turn this subject to its advantage or, failing that, change the subject. Is there some way it can do that?

ROBERTS: Well, the president's trying. This week, he is out talking about border security and immigration. Now that's a risky subject for him to bring up because there's so much division within his own party on the subject. There are the conservatives in the party who basically want to close the borders, and then there are pro-business Republicans who say, `Wait. We need the labor of undocumented workers,' and the president himself has spent a lot of time trying to reach out to Hispanics in particular and other immigrants. So that's a tricky issue for him to put front and center.

And, of course, the president can't control the agenda, as he keeps learning over and over again. We have here in Washington a looming scandal in Congress with the lobbyists Abramoff and Scanlon under investigation and Scanlon now having pled guilty to essentially bribing members of Congress. That could be a spreading scandal. And we now have news of another Time magazine reporter being summoned by the special prosecutor investigating the CIA leak case. This is Viveca Novak, no relation to Bob Novak, the original reporter who wrote the story on the CIA leak, but she's now being summoned. So that investigation is ongoing, not to mention what did Bob Woodward, The Washington Post reporter, know and when did he know it?

MONTAGNE: Cokie, last week a longtime member of the press corps died, veteran Time magazine correspondent Hugh Sidey. Former President Gerald Ford wrote an affectionate tribute praising Hugh Sidey. Just briefly, would that sort of tribute happen in today's Washington?

ROBERTS: No. And it's very sad. President Ford wrote a lovely op-ed saying that he had asked Hugh Sidey to eulogize him. After all, President Ford is over 90. And that--then Sidey died last week in Paris at age 78, and Ford said that that relationship between the press and the president was one that he cherished...


ROBERTS: ...and that is now no longer.

MONTAGNE: NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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