Both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will give speeches in the next few days on the war on terrorism, to the applause of Republicans who say the White House needs to be more aggressive in selling the successes in Iraq.
“The administration should step it up when it comes to messaging,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, who is one of the strongest supporters in Congress of the president’s Iraq policy. “I think the president has to do more. People like myself have to do more.”
Mr. Graham said the president is “doing a better job of connecting the outcome in Iraq to the global war on terror,” but added that Mr. Bush should “mix it up” in how he communicates the war’s stakes. “Don’t always go to a place where there’s a bunch of troops behind you,” he said, referring to Mr. Bush’s many speeches at military bases.
Mr. Bush will speak on Iraq and the war against terrorism tomorrow in a speech to the American Legion. Mr. Cheney will speak today to the Veterans of Foreign Wars legislative convention.
A senior Bush administration official, however, said that “more than anything else, the actions on the ground in Iraq, part in Baghdad, are going to dictate how it’s interpreted, so, the president, we view his role in this is to give the broader context.”
Politically, the White House is happy that the center of the Iraq war debate has shifted to Capitol Hill, giving the Democrats the chance to fail on their campaign promises to end the war.
“Some of the favorite things for Democrats to unite and kind of coalesce around is to be against the president,” the senior official said. “I think as you saw in that House debate. We let them have that debate themselves.”
After Democrats predicted last month that 40 to 50 Republicans would vote for a nonbinding resolution against Mr. Bush’s plan to send 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, only 17 Republicans defected.
“The president’s going to stay at a certain level on this,” the Bush official said. “We’re not going to get in the weeds of the political debate on Capitol Hill.”
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill say this has been the best political strategy, allowing the debate to focus on the merits of each sides’ arguments and whether the Democrats have a plan, instead of uniting Democrats in opposing the president. But other House Republicans, however, say Mr. Bush has not convincingly argued that Iraq is a fight against al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, and not just a maelstrom of Islamic sectarian violence.
“I think it’s been difficult for the White House to turn up the volume on this fact — on the true nature and intentions of the enemy — above the din of the Democrats’ defeatism. But we all better find a more effective way to do just that,” said a Republican leadership aide. “It’s much easier for Americans to support a precipitous withdrawal strategy when they don’t know how serious the stakes are.”
The senior Bush official said the White House thinks the president has “found about the right level of engagement on it.”
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president has “stepped up outreach … with Congress.”
“We’re aware that the war and the surge are unpopular. No question about it,” Mrs. Perino said. “Our challenge is to keep showing progress and making the case in a variety of ways.”