Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Analysis: Speech aimed to persuade 3 audiences

By Chuck Raasch
Gannett News Service

        President Bush spoke to three distinct audiences Monday night, three important spheres of influence that sit in judgment of the showdown he wants with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

        In a speech aimed at answering “why Iraq, why now” questions that have grown both here and abroad, Mr. Bush attempted to narrow the focus of his controversial “axis of evil” speech to Congress nine months ago. Speaking in Cincinnati, the axis Mr. Bush described Monday revolved solely around Saddam Hussein as a “murderous tyrant” who “gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place.”

        Mr. Bush did not even mention Iran or North Korea, the other two countries of his earlier axis of evil. Instead, he argued a new domino theory of the terrorist age with Iraq being the first domino. The United States, he said, “must not ignore the threat gathering against us.”

        One of Mr. Bush's intended audiences, Congress, this week debates a resolution to support the use of force to oust Saddam, if necessary.

        Mr. Bush's second audience was the American people, who will hold congressional elections in less than a month amid growing concerns about the economy and the need to confront Saddam now.

        His third audience was potential foreign allies, including the Iraqi people. He sought to calm Arab fears by portraying U.S. foreign policy as one of liberation, not domination.

        “America is a friend to the people of Iraq,” Mr. Bush said. “Our demands are directed only at the regime that enslaves them and threatens us.”

        Whether he was successful in answering questions was far less certain than his grim-faced, deliberate delivery. Much of the Arab world does not routinely hear a U.S. president's speeches; or if it does, it often hears them through anti-American prisms.

        After the solidarity during the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, there is more fear among potential allies that Mr. Bush is overstepping.

        Mr. Bush, speaking on the one-year anniversary of the opening of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, sought to calm those fears by arguing that because of Saddam's “past and present actions, by its technological capabilities, by the merciless nature of its regime, Iraq is unique.”

        All three of Mr. Bush's audiences are intertwined. Without overwhelming support from the American people, comparisons to Vietnam would be inevitable. Without a strong resolution of support from Congress, the case to the United Nations will be harder. Without some semblance of a strong international coalition around him, Mr. Bush risks taking U.S. foreign policy on a unilateralist track that could result in dangerous isolation in its global war on terrorism.

        In his 29-minute speech, Mr. Bush made clear he knew the stakes of this week's debate in Congress.

        “The resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and is determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean something,” he said.

        Mr. Bush went to Ohio - a cornerstone of his narrow 2000 presidential campaign victory - with a 67 percent approval rating in the latest USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll released Monday. The poll, taken Thursday through Sunday, also forecast an extremely close fight for control of Congress in elections four weeks away.

        The poll also contained several political warnings for Mr. Bush and fellow Republicans. Only 46 percent of the respondents said they felt all diplomatic alternatives to war with Iraq have been exhausted. And support for sending ground troops to Iraq to remove Saddam eroded slightly from 58 percent a month ago to 53 percent. The USA Today-CNN survey also showed the public's assessment of the economy has continued to sour, a trend that normally hurts the party in the White House.

        The poll of 1,502 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

        While Mr. Bush prepared for his Cincinnati speech on Monday, even generally supportive Democrats sniped at his overall foreign policy. Two senators with presidential aspirations whacked Mr. Bush from different directions.

        Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., complained that Mr. Bush has squandered the “solidarity” against terrorism that existed right after last year's terrorist attacks.

        Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said that worries about rebuilding Iraq are misplaced, but warned that the United States must do a better job in Iraq than it has done so far in Afghanistan.


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