Can You Marginalize a Majority?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, September 23, 2005; 11:51 AM

In a move to preempt the antiwar protesters converging on Washington this weekend, President Bush yesterday put forth the following equation: Withdrawing from Iraq equals letting the terrorists win equals more 9/11s.

The White House's goal is to cast anybody who supports a pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq as sadly delusional, reckless and not to be taken seriously.

But Bush may be in trouble here, because he's trying to marginalize a majority.

A recent Gallup Poll , for instance, found that 63 percent of Americans -- almost two out of three -- support the immediate partial or complete withdrawal of U.S. troops. Fewer than one in three Americans support Bush's handling of the war.

The White House, so aware of the power of staying on message, can take some solace from the fact that the antiwar movement is deeply conflicted, lacks clear leadership, and is being kept at arm's length by many top Democrats.

And yet slowly but surely, at least one consistent theme is emerging from the silent majority. And it is a theme that has the potential to neutralize, if not upend, Bush's central message.

That theme: Staying doesn't make things better, it makes things worse.

What Bush Said

Here is the text of Bush's remarks at the Pentagon yesterday. He read from a prepared text, flanked by Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers. Also nearby were counselor Dan Bartlett, national security adviser Steve Hadley, homeland security adviser Frances Townsend, Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and senior political adviser Karl Rove.

"Listen, there are differences of opinion about the way forward; I understand that," Bush said. "Some Americans want us to withdraw our troops so that we can escape the violence. I recognize their good intentions, but their position is wrong. Withdrawing our troops would make the world more dangerous, and make America less safe. To leave Iraq now would be to repeat the costly mistakes of the past that led to the attacks of September the 11th, 2001. The terrorists saw our response to the hostage crisis in Iran, the bombings in the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the first World Trade Center attack, the killing of American soldiers in Somalia, the destruction of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole. The terrorists concluded that we lacked the courage and character to defend ourselves, and so they attacked us.

"Now the terrorists are testing our will and resolve in Iraq. If we fail that test, the consequences for the safety and security of the American people would be enormous. Our withdrawal from Iraq would allow the terrorists to claim an historic victory over the United States. It would leave our enemies emboldened and allow men like Zarqawi and bin Laden to dominate the Middle East and launch more attacks on America and other free nations. The battle lines are drawn, and there is no middle ground: either we defeat the terrorists and help the Iraqis build a working democracy, or the terrorists will impose their dark ideology on the Iraqi people and make that country a source of terror and instability to come for decades.

"The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon the mission. For the security of the American people, that's not going to happen on my watch. We'll do our duty. We'll defeat our enemies in Iraq and other fronts in the war on terror. We'll lay the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren."

Judy Keen writes in USA Today: "President Bush won't be in town for this weekend's anti-war demonstrations, but he had an early rebuttal Thursday for protesters' demands that U.S. troops be withdrawn from Iraq."

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