Bush to Address Drive for Democracy in Iraq
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
President Bush speaks in Philadelphia today, continuing his campaign to restore support for the war in Iraq. This speech comes as Iraqis are preparing to vote for a new parliament. It also comes as polls show most Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the war.
INSKEEP: In a moment, NPR's Cokie Roberts will tell us how that debate sounds in Congress. First, we will preview the president's speech, which is the latest in a series. In recent weeks, the president laid out what he called a national strategy for victory in Iraq. He said terrorists want the US to leave, and he refused to set a timetable for withdrawal.
(Soundbite of speech)
President GEORGE W. BUSH: To achieve victory over such enemies, we are pursuing a comprehensive strategy in Iraq. Americans should have a clear understanding of this strategy. How we look at the war, how we see the enemy, how we define victory and what we're doing to achieve it.
INSKEEP: The president followed that speech with a talk about Iraq's economy.
(Soundbite of speech)
Pres. BUSH: In the space of two and a half years, we have helped Iraqis conduct nearly 3,000 renovation projects in schools, train more than 30,000 teachers, distribute more than eight million textbooks, rebuild irrigation infrastructure to help more than 400,000 rural Iraqis and improve drinking water for more than three million people.
INSKEEP: That speech was before the Council on Foreign Relations, a group of foreign policy experts here in Washington. Today the president speaks before the World Affairs Council, which is in Philadelphia, a city chosen for symbolic reasons.
We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.
Don, good morning.
DON GONYEA reporting:
INSKEEP: What is the symbolism here?
GONYEA: Well, what better place to talk about freedom and democracy than Philadelphia, so that's what's going on here. And this speech is all about the progress being made toward establishing a working democracy in Iraq. Look for Mr. Bush to do something he's done in the past, which is to link the struggle for democracy in Iraq with the struggle that our own Founding Fathers went through more than 200 years ago in this country. He says, `It wasn't easy there--here. It won't be easy there. It hasn't been easy there.' He's acknowledged that in these speeches of late. And he'll talk a lot about these elections this week as an important part of building these institutions, of really building this process.
INSKEEP: And, of course, for the president, the key is building the approval rating for his conduct of the war. What has the response been like to these speeches so far?
GONYEA: Well, he's gotten a bit of an uptick in his approval ratings. He has been at his all-time low for some time now. In a CBS poll just this past week, he came in at a 40 percent approval rating; 40 percent is not a great number, but compare it to the 35 percent he had, the all-time low in the previous CBS poll. Now what we don't know is if that's because of these speeches on Iraq about some of this new candor that the president is using to talk about the situation, or maybe it's about gas prices starting to come down and people feeling perhaps generally a bit more good about the economy.
But really the White House feels it has at least seized the initiative and is once again controlling the dialogue.
INSKEEP: Let's talk about a survey of Iraqis which is out today. This is a poll that shows that there is some optimism about the future. In fact, there's been optimism among Iraqis throughout this process, although they've been very unhappy about the present. Does that match what the president has been saying?
GONYEA: Yes and no. It was conducted by ABC News, again, just out. They did it in conjunction with the BBC and Japan's NHK television. Seventy-six percent of Iraqis polled say they're confident elections will produce a stable government; 71 percent say their own lives are going well. But even with those optimistic views, the poll also shows that just 44 percent think things are good for Iraq, half think the US invasion was wrong and nearly two-thirds oppose the presence of US forces. They want the US military to leave, but again, like Americans, they are divided on what sort of a timetable there should be, could be for that to happen.
INSKEEP: Don, thanks for coming in this morning.
GONYEA: My pleasure.
INSKEEP: And the president's latest speech on the war comes this morning in Philadelphia. He'll give a fourth and final speech on Iraq on Wednesday.
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