Embattled Bush Preps State of the Union Speech President Bush has many critics on Iraq and a strained relationship with Iraq's prime minister. His political problems set a difficult tone as he prepares for Tuesday's State of the Union address.
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Embattled Bush Preps State of the Union Speech

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Embattled Bush Preps State of the Union Speech

Embattled Bush Preps State of the Union Speech

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

It's been a tough week for the White House. President Bush has run into resistance from lawmakers and the American people as he's tried to sell his plan for a troop increase in Iraq. Meanwhile, Mr. Bush's relationship with Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has appeared strained. All this as the president prepares for Tuesday's State of the Union address.

NPR's David Greene reports from the White House.

DAVID GREENE: Here is when you know things are rough for George W. Bush: when his political predicament is called a crisis situation by the prime minister of Iraq. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suggested Mr. Bush and other U.S. officials may be putting some pressure on Iraq's young government because they're feeling political heat back in the U.S. And Maliki added that the U.S. ought to just give his government more guns and, in essence, a free hand.

At the White House yesterday, spokesman Tony Snow was asked whether Maliki's comments mean there's a growing rift between the two leaders.

Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): I think what happens is that a lot of people are looking for a panic or a failure narrative out of this White House, and it's just not the case.

GREENE: It may not be panic or failure, but it's not the narrative of the president's first term. That much was clear in an interview the president did with PBS this week. The best Mr. Bush could say about his plan for more troops in Iraq was that he hopes people give it a chance.

(Soundbite of PBS broadcast)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The American people are going to say, OK, show us whether this works. When it's all said and done, what really matters is not my speech or my interview with you, but what happens on the ground.

GREENE: What's been happening on the ground this week hasn't been good. A series of grisly car bombs - one killing 60 students at the University of Baghdad - brought a fresh wave of sectarian bloodshed. The United Nations reported Iraqi casualties in 2006 were nearly three times higher than the Maliki government had acknowledged. And the strongest ally the U.S. has had in the war, Great Britain, kept moving closer to total withdrawal.

So Mr. Bush was asked in the PBS interview whether he views Iraq as a broken egg.

(Soundbite of PBS broadcast)

President BUSH: I don't quite view it as a broken egg; I view it as the cracked egg that - where we still have a chance to move beyond the broken egg.

GREENE: But Americans are deeply skeptical about whether it's worth keeping any American troops in Iraq. In a survey this week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 48 percent said U.S. troops should come home as soon as possible and 70 percent said Mr. Bush doesn't have a clear plan.

Perhaps the biggest surprise this week was all the Republican defections on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers like Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska abandoned Mr. Bush and his plan.

Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): I think it is dangerously irresponsible to continue to put American lives in the middle of a clearly defined tribal/sectarian civil war is wrong. I might feel somewhat different if I had any confidence that that would change things. It will not change things.

GREENE: Hagel joined several Democrats in sponsoring a resolution that would declare the president's troop increase not in the national interest.

Sen. HAGEL: The Congress of the United States has a role to play. I don't believe we have played that role very effectively the last four years.

GREENE: Republicans, especially senators up for reelection in 2008, have been lining up to voice doubts. In part they may recall what happened to Democrats like John Kerry, whose votes on war funding in 2003 came back to haunt him in the presidential election of 2004.

This was also the week the administration backed off its defense of its warrantless surveillance program, agreeing to get court approvals after all. And it was a week when even President Bush's prospective library became controversial as a group of Methodist ministers objected to plans to locate his papers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

It is against this backdrop that the president must prepare to make his first address to the new Democratic Congress elected in November, a speech Tuesday night in which he will try to recover some of the momentum that's been missing.

David Greene, NPR News, the White House.

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