- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

No matter how much President Bush emphasizes the challenges that still lay ahead in Iraq during his speech tonight, his words will carry an air of vindication that his surge strategy has beat back foes in Iraq and Washington critics alike. Just eight months ago, the president gave a subdued speech from the White House library outlining his plans to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to a country that was on the verge of collapse. Democrats, who swept Republicans out of control in Congress on the backs of promises to pull troops out of Iraq, savaged the idea of a surge, and ratcheted up pressure on key Republicans. The White House, however, held the GOP on Capitol Hill together just long enough for the surge to bear results, even as the number of additional troops went from 21,500 to about 30,000. Now, the presidents speech has been prefaced by solid congressional testimony earlier this week from his top general and ambassador to Iraq. We’re in a completely different political world now than we were [eight months ago], said Peter Wehner, who left the White House just over a month ago after serving six years as a senior strategist for the president. Mr. Wehner recalled that after the presidents speech on Jan. 10, the White House was listing and in danger of capsizing. The speech just didn’t convince people and Republicans were making a lot of unhappy noises, Mr. Wehner said. But we got through it. Im not sure exactly how, except for the presidents fortitude, and the Republicans on the hill were willing to give us one last chance. Critical Republican senators who in recent weeks had signaled they might break ranks with the White House said this week that Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker had convinced them the U.S. should not pull all of its troops out of Iraq too quickly. Gen. Petraeus has said the U.S. can reduce its forces from about 160,000 to about 130,000 by July, without endangering progress made by the surge. Mr. Bush will announce plans tonight to drawdown somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 troops. A Rasmussen poll released today found 43 percent approval of Gen. Petraeuss plan, with 38 percent opposed and 18 percent undecided. The president also got a bump in the polls this week, though he and the war both remain unpopular. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of 1,002 respondents found an eight point swing in Mr. Bushs favor since July on the question of his handling of the Iraq war. Thirty percent of those polled approved of Mr. Bushs job in leading the war, versus 22 percent in July. The presidents approval rating also rose slightly, from 31 percent to 33 percent. The difference now is that facts on the ground are working in [the Bush administrations] favor, not against them, Mr. Wehner said. I’m sure that spirits are lifted. The White House is cautious but optimistic. We think Americans have had a chance to listen to the people who understand what progress we’re seeing in Iraq, and the success our troops are having, said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. Obviously there is still a lot of work to do, and Americans understand that, and that’s frustrating for many of us. But I do think in recent weeks they’ve had an opportunity to see a balanced picture that shows an important degree of success, and I think Americans will be willing to support a critical mission that is showing signs of success, Mr. Fratto said. Democrats however, continued to say they will work to bring U.S. troops home sooner than later. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week said that Gen. Petraeus plan amounts to “a 10-year or more commitment for a long-term occupation of Iraq.” Democrats have assigned Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, to respond to Mr. Bushs speech tonight. Also today, a prominent Sunni Iraqi sheikh who had allied with U.S. forces and was photographed with Mr. Bush at a meeting in Iraqs Anbar Province last week, was killed by a roadside bomb. But Sheik Jubeir Rashid, a member of the Anbar Salvation Council that was founded by the now-deceased Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, vowed that the Sunni sheiks would continue to fight with the U.S. against Al Qaeda terrorists. “It is a major blow to the council, but we are determined to strike back and continue our work,” Rashid told the Associated Press. “Such an attack was expected, but it will not deter us.

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