Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Bush appeals to public to support him on Iraq


Bush appeals to public to support him on Iraq

By Adam Entous

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - President George W. Bush, facing waning support for his Iraq policy, appealed on Tuesday to Americans not to waver because of the rising death toll and again rejected protesters' calls for a troop withdrawal.

With Americans already worried about sharply rising oil prices, Bush said a pull-out would allow al Qaeda to take hold of Iraq's oil fields to fund new attacks, as well as damage America's credibility.

With nearly 1,900 U.S. troops killed in Iraq and anti-war protesters trailing him from his secluded Texas ranch to California, Bush has seen his job approval ratings plummet to the lowest levels of his presidency.

In a speech in which he sought to cast the conflict as the modern day equivalent of America's World War Two struggle against Japan, which ended 60 years ago this month, Bush said Americans "once again" had a stark choice to make.

"Now as then our enemies have made their fight a test of American credibility and resolve. Now as then they are trying to intimidate free people and break our will," Bush said.

"This is the choice we face: Do we return to the pre-September 11 mind-set of isolation and retreat? Or do we continue to take the fight to the enemy and support our allies in the broader Middle East?" Bush said.

"I've made my decision. We will stay on the offensive. We will stand with the people of Iraq and we will prevail," Bush said.

While Bush invoked World War Two to try to boost public support for staying in Iraq, critics, including some Republicans, say Iraq looks increasingly like another Vietnam.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean also challenged administration comparisons, saying unlike U.S. presidents during World War Two, "Bush has failed to put together a plan, so despite the bravery and sacrifice of our troops, we are not making the progress that we should."

Bush made his appeal at the same San Diego naval air station where, on May 1, 2003, he boarded a Navy plane for a short flight to the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to give a speech to the nation under a "Mission Accomplished" banner. He declared "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

On his return to the naval station more than two years later, Bush had a different message: urging the American public not to show what he called a lack of "courage and character to defend themselves against a determined enemy."

If Osama bin Laden and the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, gain control of the country, Bush warned, "they would create a new training ground for future terrorist attacks. They'd seize oil fields to fund their ambitions. They can recruit more terrorists by claiming an historic victory over the United States and our coalition."

"America will not run in defeat and we will not forget our responsibilities," Bush said. "A free Iraq will show that when America gives its word, America keeps its word."

Though it has been rejected by Sunni Arabs, Bush seized on Iraq's draft constitution as a step toward full democracy and "the result of democratic debate and compromise."

But Bush's personal -- and ultimately unsuccessful -- appeal last week to the Shi'ites to cut a deal with the Sunnis underscored U.S. concerns that the referendum could turn into a sectarian showdown.

But anti-war protesters led by Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, say they are emboldened by polls showing growing doubts about Bush's policies.

Later this week Sheehan, who has been camped out near Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, will launch a bus tour seeking support for a troop withdrawal. The tour will start in Austin, Texas on Wednesday and end in Washington late next month.

The White House said Bush's speech was to mark the 60 years since Tokyo's surrender ended World War II. The actual anniversary of Emperor Hirohito's declaration of surrender was August 15.