President Bush is concerned by the widespread looting in Iraq but is satisfied that his administration planned adequately for the demise of Saddam Hussein's government, his aides said yesterday.
With some Baghdad residents complaining that the U.S. military should halt the lawlessness, a senior administration official said Bush does not believe the plunderers are "indicative of the character of the people or indicative of the overall moment that we have been experiencing."
"We wish it could be avoided, but he also understands that many Iraqis who've been oppressed for dozens of years by this regime may take action," the official said. "But the president remains confident that rational minds will prevail and that Iraqi citizens will step forward and bring order and stability."
White House officials knew they would need to restrain their public jubilation over Hussein's fall because so many troops remain in harm's way. But now they have another reason. With mobs ransacking offices, destroying antiquities and carting away piles of loot, the images from Baghdad have not represented the sort of liberation Bush had in mind.
The official said Bush's postwar plan made enough provision for what the administration has called "catastrophic success."
"The same type of critics who were attempting to armchair quarterback the strategy of the war are now attempting to claim to know all the facts on the ground with regards to transitioning to a new government," the official said. "It is a process that is going to take some time but we believe that we are moving as quickly as possible."
Bush's public words yesterday accentuated heartwarming developments in Iraq and ignored the chaos. "As Saddam's regime of fear is brought to an end, the people of Iraq are revealing the true hopes they have always held," he said in his weekly radio address, taped Friday. "As people throughout Iraq celebrate the arrival of freedom, America celebrates with them."
The senior official said many of Iraq's cities "are still considered hot zones, with military conflict going on, and it's not safe to bring in civilian-related people or humanitarian assistance."
Also yesterday, officials said Bush has postponed a planned May 5 visit to Ottawa. Canada's government opposed the war and refused to help Bush at the United Nations, and some Canadians interpreted the trip postponement as a snub. U.S. officials cited Bush's busy wartime schedule as the reason.
The administration continues to struggle with its effort to generate sympathetic coverage in the Muslim world, although officials said they sense an encouraging trend from outrage to mere skepticism.
U.S. foreign service officers who speak Arabic are now giving briefings and interviews in Qatar. Representatives of the White House Office of Global Communications are making forays into Iraq with humanitarian workers, trying to promote news coverage of relief efforts. They also are working with the U.S. officials in Kuwait who are planning the postwar government.
One of the White House's most trusted behind-the-scenes aides is heading to the region to assist with rebuilding Iraq. Kristen Silverberg, a domestic policy official for Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., was a key figure in Bush's 2000 campaign. A source said Silverberg is going because she was interested in the work, and not at the behest of the White House.
Bush, trying to show voters he is not focused on Iraq and terrorism at the expense of domestic issues in general, and jobs in particular, will make remarks about the economy early this week. Then he will make a war-related stop Wednesday (officials would not say where) as he heads to his ranch in Crawford, Tex., where family members will join him for the Easter weekend.
The president and first lady Laura Bush spent yesterday at Camp David, where Bush had an 8:30 a.m. intelligence briefing. He met with his war council, as the White House calls it, from 9 to 9:30 a.m., then worked out in the gym.
Attending the war meeting were Card, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George J. Tenet. Joining him on secure video links were Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and their deputies.
Bush's radio address, which will be translated into Arabic for broadcast in Iraq, said Hussein's government had begun "passing into history." He said the world "will always remember the first images of a nation released from decades of tyranny and fear."
"The conflict continues in Iraq, and our military may still face hard fighting," Bush said. "Yet the statues of the dictator and all the works of his terror regime are falling away. Soon, the good and gifted people of Iraq will be free to choose their leaders who respect their rights and reflect their character."