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Piling on the Defenders of U.S. Policy in Iraq

With President Bush's approval ratings at an ebb, White House counselor Dan Bartlett scheduled six television interviews yesterday to defend U.S. policies on Iraq.
With President Bush's approval ratings at an ebb, White House counselor Dan Bartlett scheduled six television interviews yesterday to defend U.S. policies on Iraq. (By Ron Edmonds -- Associated Press)

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By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You knew it was a bad day for the White House when even Fox News was piling on President Bush's counselor, Dan Bartlett.

E.D. Hill, one of the "Fox & Friends" morning show anchors, said she thought the Iraq war "was a justified one" but now worries "that there's not a plan to actually win that ground war."

"Well, E.D., I can assure you that's not the case," Bartlett assured her. Allowing that it's been a "bumpy process" with "difficult days," he asserted: "We have the right strategy to prevail."

Hill was not reassured by this assurance. "I guess I'm not convinced," she replied.

Nor, it seems, is most of the country. A nationwide poll released Monday by American Research Group showed Bush's approval rating at 36 percent -- a new low that, if accurate, would put him in the unhappy company of his father just before his 1992 loss to Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter before his loss to Ronald Reagan. Antiwar demonstrators dog Bush at his ranch and at every stop on the road, and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) has said we "should start figuring out how we get out of" Iraq. Constitutional negotiators are bickering, and some talk of civil war.

Under that dark cloud, the White House yesterday morning rushed to distribute umbrellas. Bartlett signed up for six morning television interviews, on the three networks and the three cable news channels. The White House announced that Bush, vacationing in Idaho, would come out to face the cameras. The Pentagon said Donald Rumsfeld would hold a news conference. The State Department scheduled an "open press" event for Condoleezza Rice but, perhaps sensing overkill, later said there would be "no Q&A."

There was no mistaking administration talking points. Bartlett said 11 times that the president and the nation appreciate the "sacrifice" of the troops in Iraq, while seven times he spoke of "progress" and the need to be "patient" and "prudent." Pulling out the troops, he said, "would be a disastrous mistake for national security here in America."

But Bartlett spent his tour of the airwaves almost entirely on the defensive.

CBS's Harry Smith: "You have almost two-thirds of the American people thinking the war in Iraq is going badly."

NBC's Matt Lauer: "The Iraqis have once again failed to meet a deadline for a final draft of the constitution."

CNN's Miles O'Brien: "Doesn't look like much progress has been made there."

And everybody wanted to know about Hagel, and everybody got the same answer. "He's a decorated Vietnam War veteran," Bartlett said. "But we couldn't disagree more with his assessment."


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