- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

President Bush on Monday will give the first of several major speeches to detail his strategy for Iraq and lay out how coalition forces will address concerns about security, sovereignty and international diplomacy as they close in on the June 30 transfer of sovereignty.

“We are approaching a pivotal phase,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Trent Duffy. “The president looks forward, on Monday evening, to discussing with the American people and with a global audience a clear strategy on how we need to move forward.”

Mr. Bush will address the nation at 8 p.m. from the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. The White House did not ask the broadcast television networks for air time, although cable news channels are expected to carry the speech live.

The speech comes amid record-low job approval ratings for Mr. Bush, caused in part by mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq and wall-to-wall media coverage of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. There have also been complaints, even among some Republicans, that Mr. Bush has not been aggressive enough in articulating his strategy for Iraq.

“He realizes, as well as most Americans do, that we have difficult challenges ahead, that the enemies and foes of freedom in Iraq will do anything to stop the progress,” Mr. Duffy told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Mr. Bush foreshadowed the speech during his commencement address yesterday at Louisiana State University.

“The will and character of America are being tested,” he told graduates. “Americans are not the running kind. When this country makes a commitment, we see it through.”

The president sought to take a step back from the daily drumbeat of negative news from Iraq in order to remind graduates of his overarching strategy for keeping America secure.

“We have an historic opportunity, the establishment of a peaceful and democratic Iraq at the heart of the Middle East, which will remove a danger, strike a blow against terrorism, and make America and the world more secure,” he said.

“We will complete the mission for which so many have served and sacrificed,” he added. “And the world can be certain we will defend the freedom and security of this nation, whatever it takes.”

Monday’s speech will be followed by similar high-profile addresses, roughly once a week, until June 30. The second speech will be next Saturday at the dedication of the new World War II Memorial in Washington.

Other speeches will be delivered next month at the Air Force Academy, the Group of Eight Economic Forum in Georgia and a ceremony in Normandy, France.

Bush campaign officials hope the speeches reverse the decline in the president’s job approval ratings. The challenges of postwar Iraq are even driving down the public’s opinion of the booming economy.

“The bad news we’ve had out of Iraq over a couple weeks has had an impact on some other indicators, too,” Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman told The Washington Times.

“I think it’s short term,” he added. “And I think that ultimately it’s not indicative of where people think things are going.”

Mr. Mehlman said such swings in the polls can occur “whenever you have an event or series of events that galvanize public attention.” He pointed out that the public had a more favorable view of the economy months ago, even though it was weaker, because of positive news from Iraq.

“I think what you’re dealing with is the converse of something we saw in December, right after Saddam Hussein was captured,” he explained. “If the events are good news, they tend to have an impact of causing a lot of numbers to rise.

“And if the events are negative, they sometimes have the impact of causing all the numbers to fall,” he added.

Despite the proliferation of negative events, Mr. Bush showed his lighthearted side during yesterday’s commencement address.

“In my job, I got to pick just about everybody I work with,” he said. “I’ve been happy with my choices — although I wish someone had warned me about all of Dick Cheney’s wild partying.”

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