- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

President Bush returned yesterday to the one issue on which Americans give him his highest score — the war on terror — at a time when his poll scores on Iraq, the economy and gas prices continue to decline.

In an address, Mr. Bush sought to put the war in Iraq into a larger context of the global war against a radical Islamic movement that he said was a direct threat to U.S. security. Analysts said the speech was a refocused attempt to connect the war in Iraq to the larger worldwide war on terror that the Gallup Poll says still produces his strongest approval rating — 52 percent.

“He’s on his strongest ground when he talks about the war on terror in the largest possible terms, where Iraq is one battle in a much larger global war,” said Michael Franc, vice president for government relations at the Heritage Foundation.

“With the news media coverage the way it is, focusing on the bombings, it’s hard for Americans to see the war in Iraq in its larger context, and the president is using the bully pulpit to educate us on the war on terror,” Mr. Franc said. “So, it makes perfect sense that he wants to convince Americans that this is a large part of a much larger global struggle.”

The White House has been under some pressure from Republicans in Congress who want Mr. Bush to sharpen his message in Iraq by tying it into the global Islamic terrorist threat to U.S. homeland security, in the belief that if his poll numbers rise, theirs will, too.

It was no coincidence yesterday that Republican leaders, led by Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, released a statement immediately after Mr. Bush’s speech that applauded him for “his strong, principled leadership in fighting the war on terror.”

Their statement was filled with references to terrorists abroad who “wish to harm Americans, as they did September 11 on American soil,” adding that the U.S. had to stop them “before they reach American soil.”

Still, it did not escape notice that Mr. Bush’s war-on-terror address came at a troubled juncture in his presidency during which his job-approval ratings were falling on many fronts. The Gallup Poll gives him only a 40 percent approval score on his handling of Iraq, 39 percent on the economy and 22 percent on gas prices.

As for the timing of Mr. Bush’s speech, Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, said: “I don’t have any quibble with the timing, but I’m not sure he’s helping himself by changing the topic.”

But Mr. O’Hanlon said he found the speech “personally disappointing. Americans have heard this before. They agree the terrorists are a threat. I don’t want to be told we must beat these guys. I want to know how do we beat these guys.”

Even so, Americans give the Republicans higher marks in handling the war on terror than they do the Democrats. A Sept. 12-15 Gallup Poll found that 48 percent of Americans polled said the Republicans did a better job of protecting the country from “international terrorism and military threats,” compared with 37 percent for the Democrats.

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