CRAWFORD, Texas: President George W. Bush's Iraq strategy faces a crisis of faith these days — from the American public. And he is confronting it the way he has previous crises: with a relentless campaign to persuade people to see things his way.
Bush interrupted his annual August retreat here last week for a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars replete with historical references to Vietnam, including a surprising citation from Graham Greene's "The Quiet American."
"I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused," he quoted from the book, criticizing Greene for portraying an American character as naïve and dangerous.
Bush, back at the Prairie Chapel Ranch, went on to record a radio address that showed neither doubt nor any intention of reducing the American commitment in Iraq. On Tuesday, he will make another speech in Reno, Nevada, arguing that a hasty withdrawal of troops would prove disastrous for the Middle East and for American security.
"We are still in the early stages of our new operations," Bush said in the radio address broadcast Saturday, as if there were not those who fervently wished the country was in the later stages, preparing to bring the troops home.
The White House's strategy is as unwavering as it is familiar. In military parlance, it is called preparing the battlefield — in this case for the series of reports and hearings scheduled on Capitol Hill next month to debate the wisdom of struggling on in the midst of Iraq's sectarian chaos and bloodshed.
If recent history is a guide, Bush may well prevail, as he did in January when he made a similar blitz to build the case for dispatching more troops to Iraq, despite swelling public opposition to the war and a Democratic rout in last November's elections.
"If there's one thing that they're good at, it is their ability to campaign for something," said Tara McGuinness, deputy campaign manager for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a coalition of antiwar groups that has organized its own public-relations effort.
That is not to say that the White House's campaign does not face obstacles.
Public opinion remains sour. Republicans appear increasingly frustrated, chief among them Senator John Warner of Virginia, who last week called for at least a symbolic reduction of troops by Christmas. And a new National Intelligence Estimate concluded that violence in Iraq remained high, that terrorists could still attack in spectacular fashion and that the country's leaders "remain unable to govern effectively."
The White House response was a classic look at the bright side. "The National Intelligence Estimate's updated judgments show that our strategy has improved the security environment in Iraq," a spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said Thursday.
Critics have called Bush's ever upbeat message delusional. His rationale for the war has shifted so much since 2003 that any new pitch will have skeptics. His analogy last week between the war in Iraq and the epic struggles of World War II, the Korean War and, especially, the Vietnam War was ridiculed by some as revisionist or simply inaccurate.
"I know that all the P. R. in the world didn't change the truth on the ground in Vietnam and won't change the truth on the ground today in Iraq," Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and former Democratic Senator from Georgia, said in a radio rebuttal on Saturday.
Even so, the White House has the advantage of consistency and being able to play defense. Bush simply has to hold on to enough lawmakers to thwart, with a veto if necessary, any congressionally mandated reductions or timetables for withdrawal.
The Democrats, on the other hand, have to make the case for a new approach that not all of them appear able to agree on. They remain torn between a passionate base that wants American involvement over now and a pragmatic middle that believes a rapid or complete withdrawal of troops would carry risks — exactly the point the White House intends to drive home.
On Tuesday, Bush is to appear before the American Legion in Reno and deliver a bookend to last week's VFW speech.
A new group with close ties to the White House, Freedom's Watch, joined Bush's effort last week with a $15 million advertising campaign that revives "cut and run" accusations against the war's opponents. One of its leaders, Ari Fleischer, the former White House spokesman, said Bush was doing what was necessary to explain why he was keeping the nation at war.
"Any president that fails to communicate that will lose public support," Fleischer said in a telephone interview. "That's where we are today."
Within the White House, there is growing confidence that Bush will be able to withstand Democrats' efforts to force a change in strategy. "The end of August feels much better than the beginning of August," a senior aide said Saturday.
Success in this campaign, however, does not necessarily mean success in winning the war itself.
Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution recently wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times with his colleague, Kenneth Pollack, arguing that the troop increase should have a chance to work. The article prompted denunciations from the war's critics and an invitation to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
O'Hanlon said their conversation focused mostly on tactics of the troop increase, not on the broader strategy of what happens after September. Assuming that the administration keeps a substantial number of American troops in Iraq, what then?
"That's a very good question," he said.
A familiar U.S. strategy to help stay the course in Iraq - Source
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