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Tuesday, May 25

Analysis: Bush tries to broaden focus on Iraq war, dispel concerns about his leadership

By Chuck Raasch | GNS

WASHINGTON - In a springtime of sorrow and second guessing, President Bush on Monday sought to attack the doubts that threaten his presidency by portraying Iraq as a pivotal point in the war on terrorism, and a crossroads in history.

The world, Bush said in stark and stern tones, is either moving ``toward hope'' or ``toward tragedy.'' And the days ahead, he warned, may be even more ``brutal'' and ``chaotic'' in Iraq.

Bush attempted to broaden focus far beyond the daily headlines of terrorist bombings, insurgent uprisings, and American military missteps that have shaken Iraq's stability. Citing steady progress in education, government and business, Bush asserted that ``beyond the violence, a civil society is emerging.''

Bush spoke to the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., taking the presidential bully pulpit to a decidedly military setting. Bush said he believed that Iraq had become the vanguard of freedom's fight in the troubled Middle East.

``Our terrorist enemies have a vision that guides and explains all their varied acts of murder,'' Bush said in a nationally televised address, the first of several in coming weeks designed to address growing doubts about the war in Iraq.

``Our actions, too, are guided by a vision. We believe that freedom can advance and change lives in the Greater Middle East, as it has advanced and changed lives in Asia, and Latin America, and Eastern Europe and Africa.''

He added: ``These two visions have now met in Iraq, and are contending for the future of that country.''

Despite the broadened focus, Bush offered few new initiatives beyond a plan that had evolved, piecemeal, over the last several months. He tied together a five-point plan for freedom that starts with a promise to hand over authority to an Iraqi interim government in just five weeks. Bush said the United States would also help stabilize and secure the country, continue building its infrastructure, encourage more allies to join the stabilization effort and prod the new country to free elections.

Bush also announced that he'd like to see the demolition of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, once home to some of Saddam Hussein's alleged atrocities, but most recently where Iraqi prisoners were mistreated by U.S. guards.

Concurrently, the United States and Great Britain announced a tentative United Nations resolution Monday that would endorse the June 30 transfer of power, encourage other U.N. members to contribute troops and plan elections in early 2005.

By restating his goals on a global stage, Bush further intertwines his presidency with Iraq's fate. Five months before an election that could be Bush's to win or lose, he has laid down markers on which his friends, foes and American voters will now judge him.

Intertwined, too, are Iraq's fate and that of the American military. Bush said at least 138,000 American troops would remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

Even as economic trend lines favor the incumbent president, the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq - not long ago seen as Bush's strong suits - have suddenly become his most precarious re-election planks.

Democrats, including likely presidential nominee John Kerry, have increasingly criticized Bush for assembling an inadequate coalition to drive Saddam from power, and for not preparing for the intense terrorist, nationalist and religious opposition to American occupation that has ensued in the nearly 14 months since Saddam was toppled.

Others have criticized Bush for having too much of a go-it-alone strategy - something he is now attempting to address in the U.N. resolution. Hours before he spoke, Howard Dean, the anti-war Democrat who shook up his party's presidential primaries this year, was on CNN accusing Bush of ``ignoring and humiliating'' potential allies.

Bush's speech came after weeks of relentlessly bad news out of Iraq. Insurgent uprisings have led to bloody battles with fundamentalist militias and suspected terrorists in several major cities. That's produced a relatively small but steady stream of U.S. casualties. The scandal at Abu Ghraib stirred up Arab countries.

Two Republican senators with foreign policy expertise - Richard Lugar of Indiana and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska - recently criticized Bush for focusing too much on military solutions, ignoring other aspects in the war on terror and souring the American image abroad.

In a Gallup Poll released Monday, 57 percent of respondents said the war in Iraq was going very badly or moderately badly. That was slightly better than in November, but worse than in a March poll.

But in the new poll, taken May 21-23, Bush's job approval was 47 percent, compared with 60 percent at the beginning of the year. And a majority of respondents - 52 percent - said it was not worth going to war in Iraq, compared with 45 percent who said it was.