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Bush to Face Skeptical US Public on Iraq


President Bush will deliver one of the most important speeches of his presidency on Wednesday when he presents his strategy for a new way forward in Iraq. White House officials are not discussing specifics of the plan, but Republican members of Congress say it will include a temporary surge of more U.S. troops into Iraq to help quell sectarian violence there. But as VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports, Mr. Bush may face an uphill battle in winning public support for his strategy.

Among those supporting the idea of a troop surge to secure Baghdad and other areas of unrest is Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is expected to be a Republican presidential contender in 2008.

"The presence of additional coalition forces would give the Iraqi government the ability to do what it cannot accomplish today on its own, impose its rule throughout the country," he said. "In bringing security to Iraq and chiefly to Baghdad, our forces would give the government a fighting change to pursue reconciliation."

Most Democrats oppose the idea of a troop surge, though they are divided on what to do about it.

Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachuestts told NBC's Today program he will lead an effort to force the president to get congressional approval for the additional troops before they can be deployed.

"Historically, Congress has the power of the purse, and what we are saying is that before the president sends additional American troops to a civil war, that the president has to come back to the Congress and get the authority for that deployment," he said.

Two new public opinion polls, one by The Washington Post and ABC News and the other by the USA Today newspaper and the Gallup organization, show large majorities of those surveyed oppose a troops increase in Iraq.

John Mueller is an expert on war and public opinion at Ohio State University. He says President Bush will have a tough time winning public support for the troops increase.

"I am not sure he has to sell it," he said. "He can just do it, but I do not think it is going to be met with great favor or adulation. The news over the last year, and for that matter, two to three years, has been almost uniformly miserable out of Iraq. And I think the mood of pessimism is very widespread. It obviously influenced the [November congressional] election."

Many Republicans also appear uneasy about the expected call for a troop surge in Iraq, though others say they will support the plan.

Republican political strategist Frank Luntz told NBC television that Republican lawmakers are well aware of the declining support for the war in public opinion polls.

"When you talk about a surge, people hear numbers," he said. "They do not want more troops [sent to Iraq]. The public has basically decided that this war is not going well."

White House officials believe the president's speech will be their best opportunity to rally public support around a new strategy that offers the best chance for victory in Iraq, something many Americans have told pollsters they now believe is doubtful.

"I think millions of Americans believe that this war is winnable and think, furthermore, that it is important to rebuild the sense of political unity," said presidential spokesman Tony Snow. "One of the things the president has often said is, the only way we lose [in Iraq] is if we lose our will."

Complicating the president's push for a new strategy in Iraq is the new reality in Washington that Democrats now control both chambers of Congress.

Democrats will hold weeks of hearings on the president's Iraq policy and some of them are demanding that Mr. Bush justify sending additional troops to Iraq.

Tom DeFrank is Washington bureau chief for the New York Daily News and a regular panelist on VOA's Issues in the News program.

"Nancy Pelosi has made it very clear that the view of the Democratic Party on the war is going to be very different, and the tone is going to be much tougher and probably less collegial," he said. "She basically said that the reason Democrats now control Congress is because of the war, and I think she made it pretty clear that they are not going to roll over on that one."

In the end, many analysts believe the president's greatest challenge will be to reinvigorate public support for his Iraq policy, support that has steadily weakened over the past two years.

"The public has been conflicted," said Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute, who spoke to VOA's Focus. "They do not think the Bush administration has a plan for success in Iraq, but they have not been terribly receptive to the idea that we should just get out and abandon our responsibilities to the Iraqi people and our own security interests in making sure that we do not leave a situation behind that presents an intolerable offense to the country [U.S.]."

The public's uncertainty about what to do in Iraq is reflected in the latest CBS News poll: 72 percent of those surveyed said they disapproved of the president's handling of Iraq. But only 21 percent said they would support an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the country.

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