War in Iraq Holds President's Poll Numbers Down

President Bush is suffering from low poll numbers as he embarks on a series of speeches to defend the war in Iraq. Steve Inskeep talks to News Analyst Cokie Roberts.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This month will mark the three-year anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, which liberated Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

INSKEEP: President Bush says he will mark that anniversary with a series of speeches starting today.

The president knows that news reports surrounding next weekend's anniversary may paint a grimmer picture than his administration once did. Joining us as she does every Monday is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning Steve.

INSKEEP: How has the political calculation changed for the president since the early days of the war?

ROBERTS: Well you know it's hard to remember now, but the invasion was originally considered politically helpful to the president. In fact critics said he was just doing it for political reasons, if you might recall.

And even at the time, some of the presidents defenders said no that's wrong, and they warned that the could all go bad, and said the president was willing to invade anyway because it was the right thing to do.

Well now according to the polls, American's do think it has all gone wrong, and the president acknowledge that in his radio address on Saturday. And apparently according to the strategist, it is Iraq that is driving American's to say that they think that the country is off on the wrong track, rather than going in the right direction.

And that's, that is something that makes it very tough, not only for the president, but for members of his own party. And so that's one of the reasons he's going to be out this week with speeches, supporting the policies, starting today at George Washington University, here in Washington, and also giving broader warnings about isolationism in the country, particularly on the heels of the upset over the ports deal with the Dubai Company.

INSKEEP: And this president, whose administration for a long time famously acknowledged no mistakes, says that he's going to speak this week about fixing things that went wrong in Iraq. How likely is he to be able to succeed in persuading the public to look at the war differently?

ROBERTS: Well it's going to be hard, particularly when the pictures continue to show, the bombs going off, and people getting wounded or killed. And also Steve, you've also got the 2008 presidential campaign underway. One possible democratic candidate, Delaware Senator, Joseph Biden, said over the weekend that he was a supporter of the war, but if he had to vote on the war now, he'd vote against it, because it's a disaster. And that if things don't get better politically in Iraq over the summer, American troops should come out, after the summer.

You're going to have a drumbeat like that, and then other Democrats, just keeping up their criticism of the president. Another possible presidential contender, Russ Feingold, saying that the president illegally approved of domestic surveillance--and he is introducing a censure resolution against the president. Now other senators have said that's ridiculous, mainly republicans, but Democrats appear to be cringing at that as well.

But you're going to have just this constant drumbeat, because of the campaign ahead, and it's going to be tough for the president to shout above it.

INSKEEP: We should mention that Republicans are also maneuvering towards 2008.

ROBERTS: Indeed, and they met over the weekend with southern Republicans, in Memphis, Tennessee. And by the way there was a straw poll, which surprisingly, was run by, won by Tennessee Senator, Bill Frist, who--the homeboy.

But one of the interesting things that happened at that event, was that--watching John McCain, the senator from Arizona, absolutely wrapping himself firmly around President Bush. He does not want to be seen as, not a party player, the way he was in the 2000 election.

This is something we're just going to be seeing more and more of Steve, the Democrats who are already trying to change the process once again for the nomination for 2008, the campaign is upon us.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. That's NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

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