Thursday, June 30, 2005

ACCORDING TO A WaPo article by Peter Baker and Dan Balz, Pres. Bush's speech on Tuesday night was not a cliche-filled pep talk by a man who is unmoored from reality, but a calculated piece of strategy to regain the support of the American people for the war against Iraq.

When President Bush confidently predicts victory in Iraq and admits no mistakes, admirers see steely resolve and critics see exasperating stubbornness. But the president's full-speed-ahead message articulated in this week's prime-time address also reflects a purposeful strategy based on extensive study of public opinion about how to maintain support for a costly and problem-plagued military mission.

The White House recently brought onto its staff one of the nation's top academic experts on public opinion during wartime, whose studies are now helpingBush craft his message two years into a war with no easy end in sight. Behind the president's speech is a conviction among White House officials that the battle for public opinion on Iraq hinges on their success in convincing Americans that, whatever their views of going to war in the first place, the conflict there must and can be won.

"There's going to be an appetite by some to relitigate past decisions," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett. But the studies consulted by the White House show that in the long run public support for war is "mostly linked to whether you think you can prevail," he added, which is one reason it is important for Bush to explain "why he thinks it's working and why he thinks it'll win."

Just as I thought. George W. Bush and his administration are all about image and political maneuvering, not morality or ethics or principle. All you have to do is convince people we're winning, and they'll accept any number of casualties and overlook any amount of incompetence.

Does anyone else think that when Bush's handlers talk about "an appetite by some to relitigate past decisions," they are using code language for "Downing Street memo"? Clearly, giving this speech at this particular time was about trying to turn around the public's growing uneasiness with the war, and Bush's plummeting approval rating in general. But there may be an extra bit of urgency about it, with the mountains of evidence accumulating that Bush hid his decision to invade Iraq at least nine months before the war began, and that he lied about the evidence that Iraq was a threat to our security to justify the invasion. So he lied. Fine. Now that we're there, the important thing is to win, not to fret over a few itty-bitty fibbers way back in July of 2002.

If that was the strategy behind the speech, it does not seem to be working. Zogby International reports that Bush got no bounce whatsoever from his rah rah team spirit rally.

President Bush’s televised address to the nation produced no noticeable bounce in his approval numbers, with his job approval rating slipping a point from a week ago, to 43%, in the latest Zogby International poll. And, in a sign of continuing polarization, more than two-in-five voters (42%) say they would favor impeachment proceedings if it is found the President misled the nation about his reasons for going to war with Iraq.

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