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In Speech, Bush to Ask Americans and Allies for Teamwork on Iraq
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 7, 2003; Page A21
President Bush will use a prime-time address tonight to make a conciliatory appeal to countries that opposed the war in Iraq and will warn Americans that peace will take much more time, administration officials said yesterday. He also is likely to reveal the amount of money he plans to request from Congress for Iraq next year, officials said.
The tone and content of the 8:30 p.m. White House address will continue a fundamental reworking of the administration's Iraq strategy that first became apparent last week when Bush decided to negotiate for a U.N. mandate for a multinational force in Iraq as a way to attract more troops and money from allies.
"The president will reflect on the fact that we didn't all agree on how to confront the threat from Iraq, but that's behind us and we need to focus on the future," a senior administration official said. "Iraq is now the central battlefield in the war on terror. These attacks have been on the civilized world. Collectively, we have an interest in getting this right."
Bush has resisted giving the United Nations greater control in Iraq, and his aides described no significant concessions in the speech. The senior official said Bush will say that "long-term success will require increased international cooperation, among other ingredients."
In a possible sign of Bush's willingness to reach out, officials said he may try to mend sour relations with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder by meeting when Bush goes to the United Nations for a speech in two weeks. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in remarks aimed abroad, said Friday that Bush has "a strategy of partnerships" with other nations.
The president's speech, to last about 15 minutes, comes at a time of growing concern in the White House. Bush is ramping up his reelection campaign against the backdrop of persistent job losses, and Democratic presidential candidates have seized on his handling of postwar Iraq as a potential vulnerability. Only months ago, Bush's strategists saw his handling of the war on terrorism as a political trump card, and Democrats had planned generally to focus on other topics as much as possible.
"He'll make it very clear that our success in Iraq is directly linked to the security of the American people and to peace in a vital part of the world," the administration official said. "It will require a sustained commitment of time as well as sacrifice."
Until now, Bush's speeches about Iraq have said little about a need for sacrifices from society as a whole.
Analysts called the address an attempt by Bush to take command at a time when his justification for the war has proved factually flawed, his planning for the occupation is being criticized as inadequate, and Iraq is beset by rising sectarianism, sabotage and chaos.
Ivo H. Daalder, a senior foreign-policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, said he sees no indication that Bush plans to redress the concerns that have made foreign governments reluctant to contribute money or troops to the occupation.
"This is typical Bush: 'I know what's right; here is what's right; you have to do what I tell you to do,' " Daalder said. "They think they can fix this with a speech instead of doing the hard work of traveling to these countries and convincing them that we're willing to listen to their point of view and figure out what they need for us to do in order for us to do this together."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said Bush "should take this opportunity to acknowledge the administration's failures in Iraq and make it clear that he is willing to work as partners with our allies at the U.N. and achieve real compromise."
Another administration official said that sovereignty for Iraqis is a major focus of coalition efforts and that Bush will discuss "the benefits of returning a renewed Iraq to Iraqis in a democratic way," although he will not give a timetable.
As described by aides, Bush's speech will confront several Iraq-related questions that Congress has been imploring him to decide for months. A Republican official said Bush "will discuss in specific terms the amount of money that will be needed in the near future." The official said Bush waited so long to give a figure because he "felt an obligation that when he gave one, that it be accurate."
"This is an effort to remind people of the stakes," the official said. "That gets lost sometimes in the day-to-day quibbles about this fact or that fact, or that dollar amount or this dollar amount. You can see in the kinds of bombings that we've seen that the enemy understands the stakes."
Bush is trying to convince domestic and global audiences that he has followed a sound course in Iraq, but has struggled to win over either one. Polls have suggested a majority of U.S. voters think the United States should be reducing, not deepening, its involvement in Iraq. A Time/CNN poll released yesterday found that 49 percent of respondents thought the war has been worth its toll, and 43 percent said it has not been.
Bush also needs to convince skeptical members of the U.N. Security Council -- notably France and Germany -- that they should in effect endorse the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq after opposing the war. Leaders of both nations immediately rejected the administration's first draft of a resolution as giving the United Nations too small a role in Iraq and failing to provide for a fast-enough transfer of political control to Iraqis.
The senior administration official said Bush plans to argue "that a free, stable and democratic Iraq in the center of the Middle East will be a serious blow to hateful ideologies of terror."
A major section of the speech will be devoted to progress that the administration contends is occurring. The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council named a 25-member cabinet Monday to take over key ministries, and the administration says that 46,000 Iraqi police officers are on the job and that 90 percent of towns and cities have functioning local governments.
Bush does not plan to announce the discovery of any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, his staff said. He will defend the U.S. troop level in Iraq but does not plan to announce any increase, officials said.
Aides said Bush will seek to rebut the notion that the deaths of U.S. soldiers in guerrilla and large-scale attacks in Iraq bear any relation to the fact that the United States had emphasized planning for humanitarian and refugee crises and was left less prepared for security and infrastructure emergencies.
"This is not the local Iraqi who is now frustrated that he doesn't have electricity or running water," the official said. "These attacks have been on religious sites and on the U.N. and have been very sophisticated. That is separate from the issue of reconstruction."
Bush's last prime-time address was May 1 from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, when he declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq. "The tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free," he said, to applause.