President Bush will give a speech tonight from Fort Bragg to revive American support for the extended effort needed to secure Iraq and establish a major base for the expansion of democracy in the Middle East. With unrelenting negative coverage coming from Baghdad, Bush hopes to use his prime-time address with a presumably enthusiastic Fort Bragg audience to highlight the mission’s successes and the progress made towards democracy. Bush hopes to bolster the national morale and secure a mandate for our continued work in that effort.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, that may not be as tough a sale as first predicted. Despite some skepticism about our efforts to reduce the insurgency so far, a majority of Americans already reject the cut-and-run option:
As President Bush prepares to address the nation about Iraq tonight, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that most Americans do not believe the administration’s claims that impressive gains are being made against the insurgency, but a clear majority is willing to keep U.S. forces there for an extended time to stabilize the country.
The survey found that only one in eight Americans currently favors an immediate pullout of U.S. forces, while a solid majority continues to agree with Bush that the United States must remain in Iraq until civil order is restored — a goal that most of those surveyed acknowledge is, at best, several years away.
Amid broad skepticism about Bush’s credibility and whether the war was worth the cost, there were some encouraging signs for the president. A narrow majority — 52 percent — believes that the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States, a five-point increase from earlier this month.
I had suspected that the supposedly plummeting numbers supporting the war effort and establishment of democracy in Iraq had been overstated, and this appears to confirm those suspicions. The numbers are even more striking when considering the sample, a pool of adults rather than registered voters, which usually tilts such surveys away from Bush and the GOP. In fact, despite the media coverage that focuses almost exclusively on terrorist attacks in Iraq, optimism about Iraq’s future has increased nine points since December, showing that the elections gave Americans a clear idea of the commitment Iraqis have to a democratic future.
Not all of the numbers give Bush much reason to cheer. Majorities fault him for misleading the country into war, his administration of the Iraq phase of the war on terror, and feel that the US has become “bogged down” in Iraq and that we cannot effectively fight elsewhere as a result. Bush has to address those perceptions in his speech tonight to succeed. He has to show that far from being bogged down, American and Coalition troops have accelerated training for Iraqi security forces, that the latter have taken on a larger role in providing security, and that we retain enough global flexibility to address other security risks, such as Syria, Iran, or North Korea.
For his primary goal — extending support for the immediate mission of securing Iraq as a democratic state — the President has a nation waiting to be affirmed in that desire. All he needs to do is to present his case about our many successes in specifics, and he can rally the nation behind him again.
NOTE: I will live blog the speech tonight, which begins at 7 PM CDT.