Monday, January 9, 2006

President Bush, criticized by Republican leaders for allowing Hurricane Katrina and a slew of bad headlines to overshadow his Iraq war strategy, plans to remain on the offensive this week as Capitol Hill lawmakers battle over his Supreme Court nominee.

Although the White House expects the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to be the top news this week, Mr. Bush plans to make two major speeches on the war against terror, capped by a press conference with the new chancellor of Germany, who, unlike her predecessor, supports the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Mr. Bush’s speech today to the Veterans of Foreign Wars will lay out “what to expect in Iraq in 2006,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

“The president will also talk about how 2006 will be a time of more progress toward a democratic Iraq that can defend itself, that will not become a safe haven for terrorists, and that will serve as an example of freedom for a troubled region,” the spokesman said.

Although the president will acknowledge again that “we’re fixing what’s not working and we’re adapting as necessary to complete the mission,” Mr. McClellan said, the speech today will feature specifics on how to accomplish that goal.

Mr. Bush also will press world leaders to make good on their pledges to financially aid Iraq.

“The president will call on the international community to fulfill its commitments quickly,” Mr. McClellan said. “There has been more than $13 billion pledged by the international community. There are a number of countries that have not fulfilled those commitments.”

Mr. Bush, whose approval ratings plummeted in the fall and early winter, battered by the federal government’s poor response to Katrina, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan’s vigil outside his Crawford, Texas, ranch and continued violence in Iraq, decided to go on the offensive shortly after meeting with Republican leaders.

In a retreat early last month, Republicans on Capitol Hill privately told Mr. Bush that the administration was badly losing the message battle and had to do more to sell its successes, said one party leader with close ties to the White House.

The president followed the advice, giving a series of speeches on his administration’s strategy for victory in Iraq and — for the first time — acknowledging missteps in the prosecution of the war and the postwar reconstruction efforts. His approval ratings jumped immediately, and he since has been on offense.

Mr. Bush will hammer home his message with another Iraq speech tomorrow, this one from Louisville, Ky., where he will speak to local members of the World Affairs Council.

On Thursday, he will ensure that Americans know he has not forgotten the Gulf Coast, making his 10th trip to the hurricane-ravaged region since Katrina hit. On Friday, Iraq will be the prime topic as he meets with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who late last year became Germany’s first female leader after a campaign in which she portrayed herself as pro-American and a supporter of the Iraq war.

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