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Bush Goes on Offensive To Explain War Strategy
Speeches to Combat Public Pessimism

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 11, 2006

President Bush plans to begin a series of speeches next week again explaining the administration's strategy for winning the war in Iraq, as the White House returns to a familiar tactic to allay growing public pessimism about the war that has helped keep the president's approval rating near its historic low.

After previewing the upcoming speech in his radio address today, the president is scheduled to make remarks on the war at George Washington University on Monday. The appearance, which will be followed weekly by as many as four other speeches, marks the start of the White House's latest effort to convince skeptical Americans that it has a coherent plan for victory as the war nears its third anniversary later this month.

The president hopes to give "better depth, understanding and context for how the strategy in Iraq is unfolding," a senior White House official said of the planned speeches. Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Cabinet members will be making speeches on Iraq in advance of the anniversary of the U.S. invasion.

The public relations offensive is being launched amid intense concern in the White House about polls showing that a growing majority of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of the war and harbor growing doubts about the prospects for success. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that four in five Americans believe that the ongoing sectarian violence in Iraq will mushroom into civil war. Also, more than half of those surveyed believe the United States should begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, the poll found.

Meanwhile, the president's approval rating remains at 41 percent, virtually unchanged since January and among the lowest in his presidency.

The initiative is modeled on a similar effort the White House rolled out in November and December, when Bush gave four speeches, acknowledging setbacks, pointing out how the military had adapted its strategy and highlighting the administration's plans for victory. That effort, coupled with the success of another round of elections in Iraq, helped the president's approval rating to rebound a little, before it fell again amid the latest wave of violence.

Bush's planned speeches on Iraq come as that nation's fledgling democracy is struggling to put together a unity government against a backdrop of intense sectarian violence. The bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22 ignited a series of attacks and counterattacks that have killed hundreds and brought the nation to the brink of civil war.

"There are some who are trying to, obviously, sow the seeds of sectarian strife," Bush said, during remarks to a group of community newspaper publishers yesterday. "They fear the advancement of a democracy. They blow up shrines in order to cause this Iraqi democracy that is emerging to go backwards, to not emerge."

Bush praised Iraqis for so far not escalating the ongoing crisis into a full-fledged civil war. "As I said earlier, there was -- no question there was violence and killing, the society took a step back from the abyss," Bush said. "And people took a sober reflection about what a civil war would mean."

He also waved away concern about his low poll numbers, saying that they will not cause him to lose sight of his core beliefs. "I understand some of the things I've done are unpopular. But that's what comes with the territory," he said. "If you're afraid to make decisions and you only worried about, you know, whether or not people in the classroom are going to say nice things about you, you're not leading."

As he did during his last round of speeches, Bush will attempt to focus on specific elements of his Iraq strategy in hopes of rallying public support for the war. His speech Monday will focus on the efforts being made by Iraqi security forces to tamp down the ongoing violence. Another address will focus on the military's evolving strategy for detecting and defusing roadside bombs. A third address is likely to be a case study of an Iraqi city or town, which the White House hopes will illustrate its plans for clearing insurgents from parts of Iraq, installing Iraqi security forces then rebuilding.

The ideas is to bring the view "from 30,000 feet down to eye level," the senior White House official said.

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