President Bush gives a nationwide address Tuesday on the first anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq. It is the biggest event yet in the president's campaign to refocus Americans' attention on Iraq at a time of falling public support.
White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says the president will use the televised speech before hundreds of soldiers at a North Carolina military base to outline a political and military strategy for success in Iraq.
The latest Washington Post /ABC News poll shows 56% of Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the war. Mr. McClellan says he believes many Americans have not heard specifics about the president's plans.
"The American people are rightly concerned about where we are in Iraq. That's a top priority for this country. It's a top priority for the president of the United States. The American people want to see our troops return home, but I think they understand the importance of succeeding in Iraq."
The White House launched this campaign to refocus on Iraq after several polls show weakening support for the war. The Washington Post survey says a slight majority of Americans, some 51%, now believe going to Iraq was a mistake. Just 22% of Americans believe the insurgency is getting weaker and about six in ten doubt Iraq will have a stable, democratic government one year from now.
More than 17,00 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, and Bush Administration officials point to television coverage of the continuing violence as one reason for falling poll numbers. Mr. McClellan says the president understands how Americans are affected by what they see.
"We have all seen on the TV screens the images of bloodshed and violence. They are disturbing. The president is disturbed by those images. The terrorists have inflicted great suffering."
There was some good news for the president in the latest poll with 58% of Americans agreeing that U.S. troops must stay in Iraq until civil order is restored there. Mr. McClellan says the president will use his speech at Ft. Bragg to tell Americans that terrorists are trying to influence public opinion in Iraq and the United States to force U.S. troops out prematurely.
"This is a time of testing. It is a critical moment in Iraq. The terrorists are seeking to shake our will and weaken our resolve. They know that they cannot win unless we abandon the mission before it is complete."
President Bush is rejecting calls for a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces, saying that would concede too much to an enemy that could simply wait out U.S. troops. Following a Tuesday morning breakfast meeting with the president, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats want a clearer understanding of what needs to happen in Iraq before U.S. troops can come home.
"The only timetable we want is to soon have a strategy for success. After that it's about benchmarks. Benchmarks about training Iraqi troops, benchmarks about turning on the lights in Iraq and making the domestic situation better, and third involving neighboring countries in the diplomatic efforts to help in the military effort."
Last year's Democratic presidential candidate Massachusetts Senator John Kerry says the Bush Administration is courting disaster in Iraq.
In a column for Tuesday's New York Times, Senator Kerry said the president's decision to invade Iraq has made the country a breeding ground for terrorists.
President Bush is beginning to hear questions about Iraq from some within his own party. Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who is considering his own run for the White House, says the Bush Administration's handling of Iraq is completely disconnected from reality.