Friday, September 01, 2006

The "Fear" Tour - Just in time for midterm Elections

The New York Times
In Latest Push, Bush Cites Risk in Quitting Iraq

SALT LAKE CITY, Aug. 31 — President Bush said Thursday that withdrawing now from Iraq would leave Americans at risk of terrorist attacks “in the streets of our own cities,” and he cast the struggle against Islamic extremists as the costly but necessary successor to the battles of the last century against Nazism and Communism.

“The war we fight today is more than a military conflict,’’ Mr. Bush said in a speech to veterans at an American Legion convention here. “It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.’’

The speech, the first of five addresses on national security Mr. Bush plans to deliver between now and Sept. 19, was part of an orchestrated White House offensive to buttress public support for the Iraq war and portray Democrats as less capable of protecting the country, a theme that has proved effective for Republicans in the past two elections.

Even as Mr. Bush spoke, a series of explosions ripped through Baghdad, providing more images of a sort that he acknowledged have been “sometimes unsettling” to the public.

The latest White House offensive — the third major public relations effort in the past year to offset a decline in public support for the Iraq war and place it in the context of a broader cause — began unfolding this week, with combative speeches to veterans groups by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Both invoked variations of the word “appease’’ to characterize critics of the president’s policies, with Mr. Rumsfeld saying they had not “learned history’s lessons.’’

That language drew an immediate backlash from Democrats on Wednesday, and Mr. Bush did not adopt it. But he did echo the allusions to the failed strategy of trying to appease Nazi Germany. He called today’s terrorists ‘’successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century,’’ and cautioned Americans against concluding that five years after the Sept. 11 attacks the threat had receded.

“That feeling,’’ he said, “is natural and comforting — and wrong.’’

It was an aggressive opening salvo to the midterm election season, timed to coincide with the days preceding the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. In forceful language, the president painted the war on terror as an epic struggle between good and evil.

While he predicted victory, resurrecting a word he had dropped months ago and using it 12 times in a 44-minute speech, Mr. Bush also cautioned that the road ahead would be fraught with obstacles.

But he put particular emphasis on what he said would be the consequences of a failure to ensure Iraq’s stability, saying, “If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities.”

Telling his audience that the path to a stable and peaceful Middle East would be “uphill and uneven,” he invoked Thomas Jefferson, who said nations cannot move “from despotism to liberty in a featherbed.”

Wiping a tear from his eye, Mr. Bush told the story of Cpl. Adam Galvez of Salt Lake City, a marine who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq and was buried Wednesday.

Corporal Galvez’s parents attended the speech, which coupled familiar phrases about fighting terrorists “overseas so we do not have to face them here at home” with a fresh effort to lump various strains of Islamic extremism into what the president called “a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology.’’

Democrats said Mr. Bush’s strategy of painting them as weak on national security would not work this year and accused him of trying to divert attention from his record.

“After six years,’’ said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, “they’ve got only fear to sell.’’

Another Democrat, Senator Barbara Boxer of California, called the Bush speech “a long repetition of old messages and rhetoric to scare the American people’’ and said she would push for a Senate vote calling on the president to replace Mr. Rumsfeld.

“This latest Rumsfeld rampage cannot stand,’’ Ms. Boxer said.With Congressional Republicans fighting to hold on to their majorities in the House and the Senate, the speech came at a delicate time. Many of those lawmakers view the war as a political liability and have spent the past month at home getting an earful from voters.

“Members of Congress are going to be returning next week, and they will be quite anxious because they will have been briefed by their pollsters, have spent the last three weeks with their constituents and most of them will be worried,’’ said Scott Reed, a Republican strategist. “So the administration is trying to set the terms of the debate to really make this a clear choice between moving forward and the cut-and-run crowd.’’

Indeed, Mr. Bush’s speech made clear that he would make the issue central to his campaign on his fellow Republicans’ behalf. It reflected a belief at the White House that there is no option for the administration but to convince the nation that the struggle in Iraq is necessary and worth the cost in the service of a broader goal: eradicating the threat from Islamic extremists by bringing democracy to the Middle East.

It also reflected a belief inside the White House that Republicans can once again convince voters that they can do a better job of protecting them than can Democrats.

“Between ’04 and now, the Democrats have not only not provided a more united front, they are backsliding into a very irresponsible position of premature withdrawal from the fight in Iraq,’’ said Dan Bartlett, counselor to Mr. Bush. “Most Americans, I think, understand the consequences of that action, and I think that will prove to be difficult for the Democrats.’’

Yet even some Republicans, granted anonymity to speak freely about their criticism of the White House strategy, were skeptical, saying the public was tired not only of the war but also of politically divisive speeches on national security.

“The hard-core conservatives are already behind his Iraq policy,’’ said a senior Republican Senate aide. “For him to move the numbers in a way that benefits Congressional Republicans, he needs to reach out to moderates, and it’s difficult to do that when his surrogates are contradicting him and calling opponents of his policy appeasers.’’

But Mr. Bartlett said the White House did not expect public opinion to change quickly.

“The goal is not to see an immediate spike in poll numbers,’’ he said. “We’ve clearly understood that public sentiment doesn’t develop overnight. It’s been over a period of time, and it doesn’t change overnight.’’

In making the case that the war in Iraq is “the central front in our fight against terrorism,’’ the president linked Iraq, the summer battles between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon and the growing nuclear threat in Iran under the general rubric of his freedom agenda.

At the same time, he placed various factions of terrorists — Sunnis who swear allegiance to Al Qaeda, Shiite radicals who join groups like Hezbollah and so-called homegrown terrorists — under one umbrella.

Experts said that might be overstating the facts.

“ ‘Network of radicals’ suggests they are actually connected in some practical fashion, and that’s obviously not the case,’’ said Steven Simon, a State Department official in the administrations of President Bill Clinton and Mr. Bush’s father.

But the comparison is central to Mr. Bush’s message, said Ken Mehlman, chairman of the National Republican Committee, who has played an integral role in developing Republican strategy for the midterm elections.

“I thought linking together the different elements of this ideological movement was important to do, and was effective,’’ Mr. Mehlman said.

Anne E. Kornblut reported from Salt Lake City for this article, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington.