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Bush Seeks to Turn US Opinion on Iraq

George W. Bush
President Bush is urging Americans to be patient and to persevere in Iraq despite opinion polls that suggest public support for the effort there is slipping. Political analysts and historians say turning around public opinion is often difficult.

In his Tuesday speech, the president sought to reassure Americans who appear to be increasingly concerned about the violent images from Iraq they see daily on their television screens.

"Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question, is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it and it is vital to the future security of our country," reassured president Bush.

The president said Iraq is the central battlefield in the war on terrorism and says the terrorists will succeed there only if Americans forget the lessons of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Many opposition Democrats say they remain committed to the mission in Iraq but want the president to send in more troops to fight the insurgents and speed up the timetable for training Iraqi security forces.

Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, speaking on ABC's Good Morning America  program, said, "We must succeed. He has to change the course. He has to get more folks involved. He has to stand up that (Iraqi) army much quicker and he has to train an officer corps. All of this is only now beginning to be done and we are way behind the curve."

Some members of the president's own Republican Party have expressed recent concerns about Iraq and the opinion polls that show decreasing support at home.

Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas is hopeful that the president made some headway with his speech in reassuring Americans.

"We are on the cusp of beginning to show people in the Middle East, throughout the Middle East, that self-governance is something that all people can achieve," she said.

Political analysts and historians say U.S. presidents traditionally have had a difficult task in moving public opinion, especially during wartime.

"The president has a tough task. He has got to try to turn around this ocean liner of public opinion in a very, very small pond," said Larry Sabato, a political expert at the University of Virginia.

Another expert, Ohio State political science professor John Mueller, says it is difficult for the administration's message of patience on Iraq to compete with the daily news images of violence there.

"Presidents have often not been very successful at moving public opinion one way or the other," he said. "Actions frequently do it, but not rhetoric. And there is a reality in Iraq that people are becoming increasingly aware of and increasingly concerned about."

Given the daunting task of turning around public opinion, some historians say the president may have to persevere in Iraq without the luxury of overwhelming public support for sometime to come.

"I would say in the near term, see if you can get Americans to feel better about Iraq and basically console yourself with the fact that 30 years from now historians often times look at a presidency very differently," said presidential historian and author Michael Beschloss, speaking on NBC's Today  program. "Bush often says what I care about is 30 years from now whether Americans say Iraq was the right thing to do."

While several recent polls show declining support for the president's handling of Iraq, most indicate that a majority of Americans still back Mr. Bush's overall handling of the war on terror.

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