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Bush acts to rally public on Iraq war

In statements from the White House, he says 'we're winning,' but also urges patience and admits mistakes.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 20, 2005


In an attempt to muscle American opinion on the Iraq war back to his side - and defend his wartime powers - President Bush has just completed the most intense public-relations blitz of his presidency.

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Almost with the feel of the final days of an election campaign, Mr. Bush has sought to make clear that he intends to keep American troops in Iraq until "victory has been achieved"; that he has a strategy for success; and, with a hint of humility, that he acknowledges mistakes and hears his critics.

In a press conference Monday, the president reserved his sharpest comments for critics of a recently revealed secret domestic eavesdropping program and for senators who are blocking extension of the antiterror USA Patriot Act.

"I can fully understand why members of Congress are expressing concerns about civil liberties. I know that. And I share the same concerns," Bush said. "I want to make sure the American people understand, however, that we have an obligation to protect you, and we're doing that and at the [same] time protecting your civil liberties."

He invoked his constitutional authority as president and commander in chief in defending the eavesdropping program that he authorized in the months after 9/11. The program, run out of the National Security Agency (NSA) and bypassing the usual requirement for judicial approval for wiretapping, targets phone calls placed between the United States and foreign countries.

The president also blamed partisan politics for the Senate filibuster that has blocked reauthorization of the Patriot Act, portions of which are due to expire at the end of the year. Without naming names, he blamed senators from New York, California, and Nevada for blocking renewal of the act. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is from Nevada and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) is from New York.

Monday's press conference - a rare appearance before Washington media in the ornate East Room of the White House - capped a 19-day spree of high-profile presidential events, seven in all.

Beginning Nov. 30, Bush delivered four speeches, before foreign-affairs and defense-related audiences, in the run-up to the Dec. 15 Iraqi parliamentary elections. He laid out what he called his strategy for victory in Iraq, and then provided more detail than usual on the efforts toward military, economic, and political progress in that country.

After a successful day of voting in Iraq and then the bombshell revelation in The New York Times last Friday that Bush had authorized warrantless eavesdropping by the NSA, the president opted to deliver his Saturday radio address live from the Roosevelt Room, before television cameras.

There, he defended the wiretapping program and touted the Iraqi elections. And on Sunday night, he delivered a prime-time televised address to the nation, largely summarizing his four earlier speeches on Iraq. It was his first Oval Office speech since announcing the start of the Iraq war in March 2003.