President 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Bush interrupted his annual August retreat here last week for a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars replete with historical references to Vietnam, including a surprising citation from Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American.”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, apparently in a bid to dismiss those, like Greene, who considered American intervention in Vietnam ill-advised.
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, Nev., 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 anti-war groups that has organized its own public-relations effort.
That is not to say the White House’s campaign does not face obstacles.
Public opinion remains sour. Republicans appear increasingly frustrated, chief among them Sen. John W. 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 D. 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.