White House Blames Tepid Response on Details

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In the two days since President Bush unveiled his new strategy for Iraq — one that includes the call for an additional 21,500 troops — reaction has been stunningly negative.

On Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have met with harsh criticism of the plan, not only from Democrats but from some Republicans as well.

Meanwhile, public opinion polls show strong opposition to sending more troops, and a belief that it won't do any good.

The White House insists that it expected the initial response to be negative. The White House spin today is that the loud, bipartisan criticism coming from Congress on the President's new Iraq plan is not as bad as it may seem.

Press secretary Tony Snow said, "I mean, you knew going in that there was going to be opposition, and you knew that a lot of people had made public statements about the commitment of additional forces to Iraq.

"But on the other hand, what we now expect is people actually look at the plan."

When it was pointed out that members of Congress have indeed had two days to look at the plan — and to hear directly from both Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates — Snow persisted, saying he's not sure they've been able to look at all aspects.

But public opinion polls underscore just how big a task President Bush has as he presses his case. A new Associated Press/Ipsos Poll says 70 percent of Americans oppose a U.S. troop increase in Iraq. Mr. Bush's overall public approval ratings are also at new lows.

And now the White House is also trying to head off concerns about one particular passage in the President's Wednesday night address, a portion in which he issued a warning to Iran and Syria.

"These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq," the president said. "Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria ... providing weapons to our enemies in Iraq."

The president then said he had ordered an additional carrier strike group to the region. Many analysts read that as a threat of military action. But Tony Snow called all that idea "rumor and urban legend."



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