The president's public address Wednesday will push a new war strategy that would increase US troop levels in Iraq.
George W. Bush has always said he wanted to be president so he could undertake bold initiatives, not just hold the title. Now, as he enters the final quarter of his presidency, he stands on the verge of his boldest move since the start of the Iraq war: an escalation of the US troop presence in Iraq, as part of a new strategy for the war.
Convincing the American people and Congress that his plan is worth supporting may be nearly as challenging as achieving some sort of victory in the war itself. But President Bush and his team have taken the plunge, launching a highly orchestrated effort to explain the plan to the public, the press, and a Congress that is talking tougher to the executive branch now that the Democrats control the majority. Bush will address the nation Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST.
With a majority of the public unhappy with the war and support for Bush's handling of Iraq hovering below 30 percent, generating much public enthusiasm for expanded US operations will be tough. Bush's new strategy could also embolden the antiwar movement. But in changing course, he is at least demonstrating to Americans that he too sees the need for change, while holding out hope that the US can achieve something positive in a situation many Americans find hopeless.
Still, in taking this move toward troop increases – combined with more money for reconstruction and required political benchmarks by the Iraqi government – he risks losing the support of people who have stuck with him on Iraq. And so, analysts say, the packaging and presentation do matter.
"Ten percent of Democrats support the president on the war, and 21 percent of independents," says independent pollster John Zogby, citing his own latest numbers. "So it's got to be a good sale, and it's not going to be enough for him to pick up some Republicans that he's lost."
The Bush administration has been building up to a change in Iraq strategy for weeks, but officials say the firm shape of the plan only emerged recently, after extensive conversations with experts and the release of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group report last month. The hard sell began in earnest on Monday, when Bush held meetings with more than 30 Republican senators at the White House. After his 25-minute speech on Wednesday night, Bush will travel to Fort Benning, Ga., on Thursday to visit with troops and make a statement to the press.