Bush Takes Questions on Iraq, Rumsfeld and Wiretapping
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. President Bush is denying claims that Iraq is in the grip of civil war. Speaking at a White House news conference this morning, the president warned of more tough fighting to come, and said the U.S. has a strategy for victory.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Listen now, we all recognize that there is a violence, that there's sectrerian violence, but the way I look at the situation is that the Iraqis took a look and decided not to go to civil war. A couple of indicators are that the army didn't bust up into secterian divisions. The army stayed united. And as General Casey pointed out, they did a, you know, arguably, a good job in helping to make sure the country stayed united.
MONTAGNE: President Bush speaking this morning at the White House. Joining me now to talk about the president's comments is NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. Good morning.
DON GONYEA reporting:
MONTAGNE: The president has been talking about the war in Iraq for the last several weeks. What was his message today? I mean, it was upbeat.
GONYEA: It was upbeat. And what we are seeing is a combination. We're seeing the candid President Bush who talks about the difficulty, who talks about the road ahead, who talks about the determination of terrorists, all of that sort of thing. But, we're also seeing the president, he did it at this news conference today, he did it in a speech yesterday in Cleveland, talking about the success stories that he says are not getting through, that are not able to cut through the steady drum beat of bad news that comes out of Iraq.
Again, he said to the media, he says, it's not your fault. You do have to report those other things, he says, but it is his job as president to talk as he did at length yesterday and again today about the northern Iraqi city of Talafar, where he says it's being policed by Iraqi security forces. Where a one-time terrorist stronghold has been transformed, and is starting to come back to life. So, that really was the theme.
MONTAGNE: He did acknowledge that many people have concerns about the war. Let's listen a little to what he had to say.
President BUSH: I can understand how Americans are worried about whether or not we can win. I think most Americans understand we need to win, but they're concerned about whether or not we can win. So, one of the reasons I go around the country to Cleveland is to explain why I think we can win. And so, I would say yes, I'm optimistic about being able to achieve a victory, but I'm also realistic. I fully understand the consequences of this war.
MOTAGNE: Don, the president is acknowledging difficulties. Any sense this is making a difference with the American people?
GONYEA: Well, it remains to be seen. The last time he gave an intense series of focused speeches on Iraq was last December, and we did see a bump up for him in the polls after that. Now, since then, we've had the outbreak of secterian violence, and it has indeed been a very difficult three months there. They're hoping for the same kind of effect by his focusing on some positive things, and stressing that there is a plan for victory, even though he won't give a timeline. But again, we'll have to wait and see what the public says, and what they think about all this.
MONTAGNE: And, in other areas, the president was asked about domestic wiretapping, and he had a challenge for the Democrats.
GONYEA: Indeed. They think this is an issue that works in their favor. The public is essentially divided on whether or not this domestic spying should take place. The president said if Democrats think we shouldn't be using this tool to track down terrorists, they should stand up and say that. So, that was a direct challenge, kind of framing the issue in the most positive way possible for the White House.
MONTAGNE: Well, the president was relaxed--not only positive, he seemed to be in quite a good mood. What was that about?
GONYEA: He was relaxed, and I think it is absolutely, again, part of this strategy. They recognize that the president has to be out there talking about this. In some ways, taking on his critics. Yesterday, he did something very unusual. Unscripted, unrehearsed questions from an audience in Cleveland--a city that is not a Republican stronghold by any stretch of the imagination. Today, same thing. He feels kind of like he needs to mix it up with the media to really vocally make his point. He even went so far as to call on Helen Thomas, who has been in the White House press corps since the Kennedy years. She was, for a long time, the UPI correspendent, but in recent years, she has been a columnist who has been expressing opinions very critical of the war. The president called on her and engaged in a back and forth, allowing her to make the criticism, but answering her.
MONTAGNE: Don, thanks very much.
GONYEA: My pleasure.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.
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