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Bush Continues Push to Build Public Support on Iraq

President Bush has taken his campaign to build public support for the war in Iraq to West Virginia. It is the latest in a series of speeches by Mr. Bush aimed at reassuring Americans that his administration has a plan for Iraq and that democracy can prevail there.

President Bush often says that leaders cannot govern by public opinion polls.

But the White House is well aware of the declining level of public support for the Iraq mission amid daily news reports of violence and chaos there.

Several recent polls suggest large majorities of Americans now fear Iraq is about to plunge into civil war and that the U.S. led mission to bring democracy to Iraq is doomed to failure.

Mr. Bush sought to counter that perception at a news conference this week.

"And I can understand how Americans are worried about whether or not we can win," he said. "I think most Americans understand we need to win. But they are concerned about whether or not we can win. So one of the reasons I go around the country, to [places like] Cleveland, is to explain why I think we can win."

Opposition Democrats remain divided on what to do about Iraq. But they have focused their recent criticisms on what they regard as overly optimistic assessments of the situation in Iraq by the president, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"No foreign policy can be sustained in the United States of America without the informed consent of the American people," said Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "And informed means just that, successes and failure, a realistic assessment of where we are and what the president plans to do about it."

President Bush gave a series of speeches on Iraq late last year that helped to slightly improve his standing in the polls.

But polling expert Karlyn Bowman with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington says the public's view of Iraq has been generally on a negative track for sometime now.

"When Saddam Hussein was captured, public opinion ticked up a bit and during the elections in Iraq, public opinion once again moved up a tiny bit," she noted. "But the overall trajectory has been downward."

Some of the president's conservative supporters blame biased news reporting for the lack of public support on Iraq.

Analyst Michael Barone is among those who argue that the American public is not getting a full accounting of the successes in Iraq on a daily basis.

"We have got a media that many members of whom would like to see the United States unsuccessful in this effort and some of their reporting has been tilted accordingly," said Mr. Barone.

Recent polls suggest that a small but growing number of Republicans have joined Democrats and independent voters who have become disenchanted with the president's handling of Iraq.

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says the public's loss of confidence in the Iraq mission has also undercut the president's personal credibility.

"But the sum total of all these events, starting with Iraq, are growing doubts about how forthright the president has been as president and whether he has made wise decisions or not," said Mr. Rothenberg.

Despite the dismal poll results, anti-war demonstrations are drawing fewer people than ever and there appears to be relatively little clamor from most of the public or most opposition Democrats for an immediate pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq.

"We do not have an angry American public as much as we have kind of a fatigued, disappointed, disillusioned public," added Mr. Rothenberg. "The anger is not there, I think, because we do not have a military draft, the kinds of people who are over fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have really volunteered for that, and so there is not this angry middle class that is trying to protect its sons and daughters from going over there."

President Bush says future U.S. presidents and governments in Iraq will decide when American troops are no longer needed there. That will likely ensure that Iraq will remain a key issue not only in this year's midterm congressional elections, but in the 2008 presidential election as well.