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Bush Faces Challenge in Changing Public Opinion on Iraq


Reaction in Congress and among the American public suggests President Bush has an uphill battle in trying to win support for his new strategy in Iraq, a strategy that includes deploying more than 21,000 additional troops. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more on the president's public opinion challenge from Washington.

Public opinion polls indicate most Americans oppose a troops surge in Iraq and that they are now increasingly pessimistic about the outcome there.

This is a random sampling of public opinion in San Francisco following the president's speech.

MAN: "The guy [President Bush] does not understand that this is Vietnam all over again."

WOMAN: "I am willing to trust my president. If we do not secure our freedom, it will not exist."

WOMAN: "A [troop] surge is a bad idea. It has been tried and it has failed. We should not do it again."

In his speech to the nation, President Bush argued that his new approach to reduce sectarian violence in and around Baghdad offers the best chance for success in Iraq.

"If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home," said Mr. Bush.

Most Democrats disagree and vow to oppose the new strategy in Congress.

This is Democratic Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois.

"Escalation of this war is not the change the American people called for in the last election," he said. "Instead of a new direction, the president's plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction."

The president is getting support from many, but not all, congressional Republicans. Several Republican Senators have expressed doubts about the troops surge.

Among those who oppose the new strategy is Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who says implementing the Bush plan in Iraq would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder for the United States since the Vietnam War.

Military families are also divided over the deployment of additional troops.

Nancy Lessin is co-founder of a group called Military Families Speak Out, which opposed the war in Iraq.

"This is the same commander in chief who took us into this mess and now he wants the American people to trust him, to know some way forward? I mean this is ludicrous," she said.

But war supporters are rallying to the president's new strategy on Iraq. Romey Kilgore is founder of a group called United We Serve.

"I really feel like we are not in a position to retreat, to pull out, and that we have no option but to see this through and succeed," he said.

The latest public opinion poll from the Associated Press and the Ipsos research firm found that 70 percent of those surveyed oppose sending additional troops to Iraq, a finding consistent with other recent polls.

Christopher Gelphi is an expert on war and public opinion at Duke University in North Carolina. Gelphi says President Bush faces a major challenge in trying to regain support for the Iraq effort.

"I think the public is willing to stay and willing to support larger troop numbers and even willing to support more American casualties if they believe that the military strategy can succeed and is succeeding," he said. "The problem the president faces now is persuading the public that that is true, and I think at this point his words are not likely be enough, that the public is going to need to see progress on the ground."

Political analysts question how much time the public is willing to give the president to see if his new policy works.

John Mueller has written and lectured extensively about war and public opinion at Ohio State University.

"There is declining support for the war, eroding support, and I think that is very likely to continue," he said. "There seems to be an increasing number of people who want to get out. No one seems to want to get out immediately, and that is because basically that is something that is almost impossible, just in a practical sense. But the idea of us sending more troops is getting almost no support, and the number of people who support getting out soon or fairly soon or within a year or whatever, seems to be continually growing."

The president's new strategy presents challenges for both major political parties. Democrats must decide how far they want to go in trying to block funding for the additional troop deployment without being seen as undermining U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq.

For their part, Republicans must decide whether to support a policy that may be unpopular with voters in their home states and congressional districts.