President Continues Iraq-Talk Marathon
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Bush is continuing his campaign to convince Americans that his strategy in Iraq is working. Yesterday the president spoke at an event in Wheeling, West Virginia. There, he told more than 2,000 supporters that U.S. and Iraqi forces are making progress.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me tell you this, put it to you this way: if I didn't think we'd succeed, I'd pull our troops out. I cannot look mothers and dads in the eye.
(Soundbite of applause)
President BUSH: I can't ask this good Marine to go into harm's way if I didn't believe, one, we're going to succeed, and two, it's necessary for the security of the United States.
(Soundbite of applause)
MONTAGNE: This was the fifth day in the row that President Bush spoke on the war in Iraq. Joining me now to talk about his campaign is NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams, good morning.
JUAN WILLIAMS, reporting:
Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And President Bush has been speaking this week in a variety of forums, from the White House briefing room to yesterday's town hall type meeting. How is his message being received?
WILLIAMS: Renee, the clear message coming from the president is that the nation has a reason for optimism, that things are going better on the ground, that they're being, as they're, then they're being reported in the American press. Yesterday, he spoke with a backdrop, large blue and yellow signs that said plans for victory. And during the press conference that he had in the White House briefing room, he again repeated refrain: there is a strategy in place for victory; a reason in keeping those young people in harm's way; that he believes success is possible.
He really is involved in a campaign to try to bolster public support, domestic support, for the war effort, despite really troubling poll numbers.
MONTAGNE: Well, we just heard a lot of what sounded like enthusiastic applause, but all of this comes as poll numbers show the majority of Americans do not approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling the war in Iraq. Are there any signs that this latest series of speeches making a difference?
WILLIAMS: Not in terms of public opinions, there are very few--sort of instant polls. But the numbers that he's up against, Renee, are pretty daunting. You know, it's about now the case that 50 percent of Americans think the U.S. should withdraw its troop as soon as possible. Only about 20 percent say withdraw immediately. But still, that's a very high number that say, you know, get out at the minute you can.
Secondly, there are a lot of people who think that the president does not have an exit strategy. Despite all of his talk about there's plan for victory, you have numbers in excess of 70 and 80 percent among Democrats, and the very important swing voters, as we go toward the mid-term elections. And even 40 percent, or so, of Republicans who think the president simply doesn't have an idea of how to get out of the situation in Iraq.
MONTAGNE: Now, the president did not speak again yesterday on one of the big headlines earlier this week; that is his statement suggesting that U.S. troops would be in Iraq until at least 2009, after he'd left office. Let's listen to a little of what he had to say yesterday regarding troop levels.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'll be making up my mind about the troop levels based upon recommendation of those who are on the ground. I'm going to make up my mind based upon achieving a victory, not based upon polls, focus groups, or election year politics.
(Soundbite of applause and cheering)
MONTAGNE: Juan, what has been the reaction to the president's remarks earlier this week, that future presidents and future Iraqi leaders will decide when U.S. troops come home?
WILLIAMS: Well, let me give you two settings for reaction, Renee. One is the White House where there was a great deal of, you know, people were disconcerted that that was the headlines coming out of the president's news conference. That was not the intent in terms of what the message would be from that news conference. And yesterday, Scott McClelland, the White House press secretary, tried to downplay it, said it was really in response to a question about when there would be zero American presence in Iraq. And that it wasn't necessarily tied to the idea of drawing down American forces.
As you know, there'd been discussions among generals, and even suggestions from the president, and, of course, pressure from the Congress that there would be significant drawn downs in the size of the American force in Iraq this year, 2006. And so it felt a little bit like they were going back on that message. That did not play well on Capitol Hill at all. And among Republicans on Capitol Hill, who are seeking re-election, it played even more badly.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. That's NPR senior correspondent, Juan Williams.
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