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May 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

Can President Bush Regain His Credibility on Iraq?

"I sent American troops to Iraq to defend our security, not to stay as an occupying power. I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them American. Iraqis will write their own history and find their own way. As they do, Iraqis can be certain a free Iraq will always have a friend in the United States of America."

With these words, President George W. Bush ended an address last Monday evening to students and faculty of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It was the first of what the White House announced would be a weekly Presidential update on progress in Iraq.

With his approval ratings dropping at home and insurgency rising in Iraq, President George W. Bush has begun a public relations campaign to shore up confidence in his leadership and boost the morale of American forces serving in that troubled country.

The goal, he told the military brass at Carlisle, was to permit Iraqis to achieve stability and self-rule and to assure the world that the United States intended to remain firm in that commitment. To arrive at that destination, the President outlined five steps to be accomplished, the first of which was to transfer authority to a new interim Iraqi government on June 30th. That government is being formed under the direction of United Nations’ Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi and its shape is emerging. Mr. Bush briefly described a governing arrangement led by a president, two vice presidents, a prime minister and 28 cabinet ministers to oversee the various departments of government.

Left open was the degree of authority that the post-June 30th government would have when it came to the deployment of coalition troops on the ground, an issue that is already controversial. Before the President spoke in the evening, British and U.S. diplomats at the U.N. presented a draft resolution to the Security Council providing for a "sovereign interim government," while insuring that a multinational military force would be unimpeded in efforts to keep the peace. Other Council members, including France, Russia, Germany and China expressed reservations about the new Iraqi government’s lack of authority over foreign troops on its soil.

Other steps leading to the President’s vision of success in Iraq include establishing security in areas not yet pacified, urging more countries to participate in the financial and military support of the effort, continuing the rebuilding of Iraq’s infrastructure, and finally, national elections to choose the leadership of a fully sovereign nation. Mr. Bush assured the Army War College audience that he would maintain the present troop level at 138,000 and increase it if necessary. "America will provide the forces and support necessary to achieve these goals."

Clearly the Bush Administration is alarmed about the President’s plummeting poll numbers and the rising dissatisfaction with the war throughout America. Roughly a year ago, some 75% of the country felt that George Bush was doing a good job in managing the war. Then, as looting and insurgency spread in Iraq and coalition casualties mounted, his numbers began declining to about 50% last December, with a slight bump upward after Saddam Hussein was captured. Since then his approval rate on the war has dropped to 40%. With the Presidential election just five months away, George Bush has decided to become his Administration’s chief spokesman for the war in Iraq.

This week Herald readers can decide if the President can pull it off.

Facing Bush’s efforts to build Iraqi war support anew, is a growing belief that the Administration has botched the job from the beginning.

To begin with, the justifying premise for the invasion of Iraq -- to stop Saddam’s production of weapons of mass destruction and to eradicate a large and growing center for international terrorism -- seems to have been baseless. No such weapons were found and Iraq was not then the terrorist threat that it has become subsequent to the war’s start. Then, in the conduct of the U.S.- led occupation, an unanticipated and effective resistance movement began to thwart the reconstruction efforts and undermine the coalition’s plans to forge a self-governing arrangement for the country. The President spoke of this in his speech, warning that, if left unchecked, the car bombings and kidnappings could return the country to tyranny.

Perhaps the most damaging blow to the President’s approval rating on the war was the recent pictured tableaus of the humiliation, torture and murder of Iraqi detainees held by American military police at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison some twenty miles from Baghdad. It is still not clear how far up the chain of command authorization and knowledge of these abuses ran, or indeed who gave the order to subject detainees to conditions unauthorized by the Geneva Convention. The Administration holds that the conduct was limited to a handful of rogue guards, now being prosecuted. Many in Congress suspect that the orders came from Washington.

The President acknowledged that U.S. abuse of Iraqi prisoners, "became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values." In a symbolic gesture, the President announced that he plans to demolish Abu Ghraib – the 280 acre compound also home to torture and death under Saddam -- and build a modern prison in its place. That promise has already run afoul of Congressional bean counters who say there is no money authorized for such a purpose. ?

In the weeks to come, President Bush will take every opportunity to deflect criticism of the Administration’s pursuit of the Iraq war. No doubt he will continue to chronicle the coalition’s civic action undertakings in Iraq, recounted Monday night. "Our coalition has already helped Iraqis to rebuild schools and refurbish hospitals and health clinics, repair bridges, upgrade the electrical grid and modernize the communications system."

His Carlisle speech sounded the likely theme of his appeal for American patience with a difficult process. "Our work in Iraq has been hard. Our coalition has faced changing conditions of war. And that has required perseverance, sacrifice and the ability to adapt."

Do you think that the President’s case about the conduct of the war in Iraq will be convincing and that he can regain the approval of the American people for its conduct?

Please vote above!

This Week's Question:

Is the President’s case about the war in Iraq convincing and can he regain the approval of the American people for its conduct?

US . Residents
. PR
He can regain approval

50% He cannot regain approval

5% Don’t know



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