Bush Bids to Shore Up War Support

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President Bush spoke this week in Ohio and West Virginia, continuing his effort to answer the public's concerns about the war in Iraq. Did he reach those who had questions? Many say they remain unconvinced.


This is WEEKEND EDITION for NPR News. Scott Simon is on vacation. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Well into President Bush's second term, he is still on the campaign trail. Mr. Bush spent most of the week trying to win back support for the war in Iraq, a war that has grown increasingly unpopular with the American people.

Mr. Bush made stops in Ohio and West Virginia. He insisted there is progress in Iraq despite worrisome images on television.

NPR's David Greene reports.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

The City Club of Cleveland calls itself the Citadel of Free Speech. It's a civic organization where past speakers include Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Desmond Tutu, Rosa Parks and Ronald Reagan. And this week, George W. Bush joined the list.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: For almost a century, you have provided an important forum for debate and discussion on the issues of the day.

GREENE: He was there to talk about the war in Iraq and take questions from the audience. One of the City Club's senior members, 87-year old Stanley Adelstein, was sitting at a front table. He was scribbling notes on his ticket envelope.

Mr. STANLEY ADELSTEIN (City Club Member): I heard him say something like, what'd he say, I marked it down here. He said Americans have had their confidence shaken.

President BUSH: And in the face of continuing reports about killings and reprisals, I understand how some Americans have had their confidence shaken.

Mr. ADELSTEIN: And I have several notes I made. When he made that statement, I just, I thought, I thought of other reasons why, why the people may have lost their confidence in Iraq. And basically that many people have questions about the veracity of what's being told to them by their officials in Washington, whether it's the President or the Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld, or the Vice President.

President BUSH: Yes, sir?

Mr. ADELSTEIN: Mr. President, at the beginning of your talk today, you mentioned that...

GREENE: Adelstein stood up and asked the President about three widely-circulated reasons for going to war.

Mr. ADELSTEIN: ...weapons of mass destruction, the claim that Iraq was sponsoring terrorists who had attacked us on 9/11, and that Iraq had purchased nuclear materials from the Niger. All three of those turned out to be false. My question is, how do we restore confidence that Americans may have in their leaders and to be sure that the information they are getting now is correct?

President BUSH: That's a great question. First, just if I might correct...

GREENE: Mr. Bush's answer was familiar. He said he stood by his decision to invade Iraq and blamed bad intelligence for suggesting Saddam Hussein was stockpiling WMDs.

After the event, I went to find Stanley Adelstein at his home in the Cleveland suburbs. He and his wife, Hope, both Democrats, disagree about whether it was a good idea for Mr. Bush to come.

Do you think the President got anything done in coming to Cleveland that day?

Mr. ADELSTEIN: I think he did. I think he did exhibit some touches of humor.

Ms. HOPE ADELSTEIN (Wife of Stanley Adelstein): It was obvious that most of the people that were there were very, very in favor of the President, because they laughed at all his jokes...

Mr. ADLESTEIN: You don't have to be a Republican to laugh at a joke.

Ms. ADELSTEIN: Well, you have to be, you have to be a Republican to laugh at some of his jokes.

GREENE: But what the Adelstein's do agree on is that Stanley never got a firm answer from the President.

Mr. ADELSTEIN: It was not really an answer but was really an explanation for his policy.

GREENE: Mr. Bush next took his policy to Wheeling, West Virginia, finding a new audience at a symphony and country music hall downtown. He put on a similar show, speaking about Iraq, then taking questions.

The morning after, I headed for Island Coffee in Wheeling. It's a local hangout, part coffee house and part casino. Donald Edge, a steelworker, he just got off the midnight shift and came here for a little morning gamble.

Mr. DONALD EDGE (Resident, Wheeling, West Virginia): Deuces Wild, Blackjack, Keno, Super Keno, Caveman Keno...

GREENE: In my pocket I had a tape recording of the President's speech in Wheeling.

See, here's a clip of Bush yesterday.

President BUSH: It's important for me to continue. Look, I'm an optimistic guy. I believe we'll succeed.

GREENE: What do you think?

Mr. EDGE: As far as succeeding, we don't have enough troops over here to end it.

GREENE: Edge is a Republican who voted for the President both times.

Mr. EDGE: I don't want it to drag out like Vietnam. Want to get in there, get it done with as much manpower as it takes, and end it as soon as possible. I just hope he does that, gets our boys home. Thank you.

GREENE: Sharon Gebbia(ph), a nurse, was on another slot machine. She's also a Republican. She said Mr. Bush got his message out by coming to Wheeling.

Ms. SHARON GEBBIA (Resident, Wheeling, West Virginia): I think that was a real good move on his part.

GREENE: But no matter what the President said, Gebbia says her frustration over the war is getting deeper. She doesn't understand why it's taking so long for elected Iraqi leaders to form a government as American casualties keep going up.

Ms. GEBBIA: So I would say that he needs to start wrapping it up now. Because I think they've been given ample chance to do something with their government and it looks like it's not going to happen.

GREENE: In places like West Virginia and Ohio, there are a lot of American flags outside houses. Everyone, it seems, talks of supporting American troops.

John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University who studies war and public opinion, says one of the troubling signs for the President is that even in places like this Americans are telling pollsters they don't believe going to Iraq was worth the cost.

Mr. JOHN MUELLER (Political Scientist, Ohio State University): You can be certainly perfectly patriotic, but that doesn't follow that therefore patriotism means you want to send out a large number of Americans to die in a cause for which you think there is no value.

GREENE: Mr. Bush insists there is value in battling insurgents and establishing a democracy in Iraq, even if the cost is high.

David Greene, NPR News.

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