Bush to Make Last of Iraq Speeches
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Today, President Bush makes the fourth and final speech in a series aimed at boosting support for the war in Iraq both at home and abroad. This speech comes one day before parliamentary elections in Iraq and the timing is far from coincidental. Joining me to talk about what's at stake is NPR White House correspondent David Greene.
DAVID GREENE reporting:
Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: David, has the president in these speeches managed to outline a strategy for what's next in Iraq?
GREENE: Well, that's what this series of speeches was billed as, an articulation of a strategy for success. And the president's given three speeches so far, one on security, one on the economy, and one on the political scene in Iraq, and today's supposed to be a wrap-up leading into the election. But it's important to recall the context for all these speeches. The White House was under enormous pressure, political pressure at home with Democrat John Murtha of Pennsylvania and others calling for a withdrawal of troops and lawmakers hearing the same call for withdrawal from their constituents on visits back to their districts. And the president, while talking about progress and strategy, has also sent a message that beginning to bring troops home is at least on his mind. Now whether he's found the right balance, whether these speeches have worked is not clear yet from the polls. I think the White House is hoping these speeches, combined with some positive news coverage of the elections, can give the president a boost.
MONTAGNE: And that would assume, of course, that the elections tomorrow go well?
GREENE: Well, that's right. And we all know a peaceful day in Iraq is far from a guarantee. In January, in the first election, there was relatively little violence and the images coming back to the United States on TV screens was of proud Iraqis leaving the polls showing their ink-stained fingers, the sign that they had cast their ballot. Mr. Bush's aides believed the president got the boost they wanted from that coverage and they're hoping for a repeat. But a lot's unpredictable including whether the negotiations to form the new government after this election will go smoothly and if after the election, if the new government isn't able to contain the violence, I think you might see the pressure on the president for withdrawal to regain force.
MONTAGNE: Well, any chance the president will take questions after this speech the way he took questions after his speech on Monday?
GREENE: You know, Renee, when the president gave his third speech in Philadelphia Monday, I never would have predicted that he'd take questions from the audience because he does it so rarely. And there he was taking them. I think the White House wants to make sure today goes exactly as planned, so I think it's unlikely, but he seemed to enjoy himself taking the questions on Monday. You know, he--I think we saw a relaxed and more confident George W. Bush. It's something we haven't seen a lot of as his poll numbers have gone down. I think we have a little tape here. Just listen to him here in that Philly speech.
(Soundbite from audiotape)
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Democracies yield the peace. That's what history has shown us. That's what I tried to say in my peroration in this speech. That's a long word. I'm doing it for Senator Specter here.
(Soundbite of laughter and applause)
Pres. BUSH: Just showing off, Senator. Just trying to look good in front of the folks here at home.
GREENE: You know, this is the kind of banter that we hear often from him in news conferences when he's at his most confident and he seemed that way here. Surprising in a speech on foreign policy in Iraq.
MONTAGNE: The downside is that the White House can lose control of the message, and in a way it did in this instance, though. That's what this all led to.
GREENE: I think you're absolutely right. When they took those questions, the first one right off the bat was a question about how many Iraqis have died in the war. And the president seemed like he had to offer an answer, and he gave a number, 30,000, more or less. The White House said it wasn't a number that was from government statistics, it was what he's heard from media reports. But he gave the number and that made all the headlines around the world. And one of the other questions he got was pretty tough. It was, `Why does your government keep tying al-Qaeda and the September 11th attacks to Iraq when there's been no proof of that connection?' And the president kind of wandered around that question a little bit and talked about that the threat from Saddam Hussein was accentuated in his mind by 9/11. But again, off message, I think it's something they want to avoid today. They want to end the series of speeches on a positive note.
MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.
GREENE: My pleasure, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR White House correspondent David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.