President Looks for Answers to Crisis in Iraq
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
We have two perspectives on Iraq this morning - one from the White House, one from the Middle East. We begin in Washington, where yesterday, White House officials said the president's new approach to the Iraq war will not be disclosed before Christmas as planned. Instead, officials say, President Bush is still gathering information. Today, the president will continue to do that. He goes to the Pentagon to meet with top officials, including the outgoing Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Meanwhile, new polls out this week find the public's discontent over the war is deepening.
NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: The president's session at the Pentagon will be his fifth high-profile meeting of the week on the subject of Iraq. Yesterday he held a teleconference with U.S. commanders in Iraq. Later, it was an Oval Office talk with Iraq's Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who is a member of the minority Sunni population. President Bush noted that members of Hashimi's own family have died in sectarian violence.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: He spoke eloquently about the suffering that innocent families have gone through, and my heart goes out to those, Mr. Vice President, who have suffered at the hands of extremists and killers.
GONYEA: The Sunni vice president's trip to Washington follows last week's Oval Office session with a top Shiite leader. Yesterday also brought word that the president's fact-gathering phase would go on longer than had been anticipated. The speech announcing revisions to Iraq policy would not come next week as promoted, but several weeks later, after New Year's. Press Secretary Tony Snow denied that the goal is to put some distance between the new policy and the Iraq Study Group report that came out last week. Nor, he said, is the delay a result of a request by the military.
Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): No. No. No. The president is the Commander in Chief. He issues orders. It is - he decided that, frankly, it's not ready yet.
GONYEA: Snow said the president wants to make sure that he has all of the best input; that he's pushing people for more because he wants to make sure he gets it right. Critics note that that is different from how the president gathered information before the war, when he relied heavily on a relatively narrow group of key advisors.
As for the latest polls, they serve as a bleak reminder for the White House of the challenge it faces in winning back public support. Approval of the president on Iraq is at an all-time low. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that seven in 10 Americans disapprove of the handling of the war. Separate polls by the Pew Research Center and CBS News are in that same range. USA Today's Gallup Poll found three out of four Americans think Iraq is in a civil war.
George Edwards is a political scientist at Texas A&M who says Mr. Bush has reached a critical point of his presidency.
Professor GEORGE EDWARDS (Political Science, Texas A&M University): He's got to overcome some other challenges. The public doesn't trust him. First, it doesn't trust him to tell the truth. And also, it doesn't trust him to make wise decisions. That makes it very difficult for him. There's going to be very little deference to new policy initiatives he may take.
GONYEA: But for Press Secretary Tony Snow, not all was bad in the polls yesterday. Here's what he singled out when asked to comment.
Mr. SNOW: What's interesting is that a majority of the American public not only thinks that we're capable of winning, but we should. I think that there is understandable apprehension about the situation in Iraq, and what people want to hear is, how do you assess the situation and how do you wish to address it? And those are questions the president's going to answer.
GONYEA: To make such an assertion, Snow went deep into the numbers of the USA Today poll. The survey asked about prospects for a U.S. victory in Iraq. Fourteen percent said the U.S. will win, another 21 percent said it will probably win. The poll also found 25 percent think the U.S. can win, but don't think it actually will. Add all three numbers together and you do get a majority saying the U.S. can win, though the biggest chunk of them don't think it will happen.
Again, George Edwards.
Prof. EDWARDS: They are desperately seeking silver linings, and quite frankly I don't think they are there.
GONYEA: Edwards says that when the president does deliver his speech, the American public will still be looking for results, whatever the president says. And given that Mr. Bush has just two years left in office, he may have only this one more chance to get this right.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.
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