Time to Focus on Iraq

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 16, 2005; 12:12 PM

President Bush's recent happy-talk about Iraq just isn't cutting it anymore. Even the White House has figured that out.

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "White House officials acknowledged yesterday that the public's gloomy mood about the Iraq war is forcing President Bush to take a more assertive and public role to reassure nervous Americans and Republican lawmakers about the White House plan for victory.

"Bush had hoped the successful January elections in Iraq would boost the popularity of the conflict and allow him to distance himself from it. But his aides have concluded that recent events in Iraq have contributed to an erosion in support for the president -- and that he needs to shift strategies. Bush's new approach will be mostly rhetorical, however, as the White House does not plan any changes to the policy or time frame for bringing home the 140,000 U.S. troops, as some lawmakers are demanding.

" 'The president takes seriously his responsibility as commander in chief to continue to educate the American people about the conduct of the war and our strategy for victory,' said Dan Bartlett, a senior adviser. As part of the new focus, Bush will meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari at the White House for the first time next week and dedicate several speeches to the war, including a major address on the first anniversary of Iraq's sovereignty this month, White House officials said.

"Bush, who had hoped to spend this summer focusing on Social Security, is instead being forced to defend his economic record and war policies in the face of growing uneasiness among the public and Republicans in Congress. His poll numbers on his handling of Iraq have dropped to all-time lows, as numerous lawmakers, including some Republicans, have accused him of not offering honest assessments about the strength of the insurgency and the slow pace of training battle-ready Iraqi forces."

Wanted: One Exit Strategy

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "With opinion polls showing a drop in support for the war, and a British memo asserting that the Bush administration had intended to go to war as early as the summer of 2002, the words 'exit strategy' are being uttered by both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

"The flurry began over the weekend, when Representative Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, a conservative Republican, called for the Bush administration to set specific goals for leaving Iraq. That came from the man who was once so upset about French opposition to the war that he insisted that House cafeterias change the name 'French fries' to 'freedom fries.'

"But it does not end there."

Christopher Cooper writes in the Wall Street Journal: "As bad news continues to emerge from Iraq and the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, some Republicans are starting to edge away from the White House on its policies in the war on terror. . . .

"In a similar fashion, rumblings are starting within President Bush's camp about the uncertain prospects for drawing down troop levels in Iraq."

Rick Klein writes in the Boston Globe: "With polls indicating that public support for the war has dwindled, more lawmakers who supported the use of force in Iraq are openly voicing their concerns about the lack of a clear, publicly stated plan to set limits on the US presence there. . . .

"Today, a small, bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by a Republican who supported the war, plans to introduce a resolution calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq beginning in October 2006."

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