WASHINGTON - Facing growing doubts at home about the wisdom of attacking Iraq, President Bush on Wednesday will launch a campaign to defend the U.S. invasion and cite progress being made even as U.S. troops face almost daily attacks.
The attempt to gain control of the Iraq debate comes as Bush's job approval ratings have been falling and the White House has been on the defensive over a leak investigation and failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Two senior administration officials said on Tuesday the campaign will begin with a Chicago speech by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. It was to continue on Thursday in speeches by Bush in New Hampshire and Kentucky. And on Friday Vice President Dick Cheney will deliver a speech in Washington.
The campaign coincides with the six-month anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein, a period marked by daily guerrilla attacks on U.S. forces and complaints from Iraqis about the slow transition to Iraqi self-rule from U.S. control.
Washington in the next six weeks will send several Cabinet secretaries on high-profile visits to Iraq to highlight various progress being made, such as the new Iraqi currency coming on line in coming days.
In addition, Bush will give interviews to regional news outlets next Monday and will devote his radio address to the subject every Saturday this month.
"What this will be is a sustained effort to show the American people firsthand the benefits of our commitment as a country, our commitment as a coalition, and our dedication as a people who appreciate liberty and appreciate the work of our soldiers," said White House communications director Dan Bartlett.
Rice's speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Chicago will be a key to the campaign. She will seek to combat the impression that CIA weapons hunter David Kay came up empty in his search for Iraqi weapons.
Kay's team found no actual weapons but determined that Iraq's weapons programs spanned more than two decades, involved thousands of people and billions of dollars and were shielded by security and deception.
A senior official said Rice will go into detail about what Kay found and "she will pointedly confront those who question the wisdom of removing Saddam Hussein based upon the findings of this report."
She will remind Americans about how Saddam refused to comply with U.N. Security Council resolution 1441 declaring that he give up all weapons programs.
In New Hampshire and Kentucky, Bush will focus his speeches on how he sees his economic policies having helped people in those states and how U.S. military personnel from those areas have contributed to the Iraq war and war on terrorism.
The Iraq war aftermath, with almost daily deaths of U.S. forces, poses a political threat to the president 13 months before Election Day.
A CBS-New York Times last week found growing doubts about whether the Iraq war was worth the costs. Only 41 percent said it was, while 53 percent said it was not, although about half said it was worth removing Saddam from power.
Bush's campaign comes as he works to bolster support in the U.S. Congress for an $87 billion spending request that includes $20 billion for reconstruction that some members of Congress would like to reduce or have in the form of loan guarantees. Administration officials said they are confident they will get an adequate funding level.
In addition, he is attempting to gain U.N. backing for a new resolution creating a multinational force for Iraq to take some of the strain off U.S. forces but the resolution is bogged down in diplomatic negotiations.
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