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U.K. media keeps pressure on Bush


Edward M. Gomez, special to SF Gate, www.sfgate.com
Tuesday, June 28, 2005

As President Bush gets ready to deliver another carefully stage-managed televised speech to the nation from an army base in North Carolina tonight, commentators and news analysts in the British press are cutting through the White House's rhetoric to ask, in language that often sounds much stronger than that of their counterparts in the United States, some hard questions about the Republicans' Iraq-war policy and the future of the post-Saddam crisis.

"U.S. public opinion on the Iraq war dips with every dead soldier and plummets at the first sniff of defeat," commentator Gary Younge writes in The Guardian. Citing a recent Gallup poll of Americans, Younge notes that "[m]ore than half [of those surveyed] believe the war has not made them safer, and 40 percent believe it has striking similarities to the experience in Vietnam." (A separate CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted June 16-19 shows that 59 percent of adult Americans nationwide are now opposed to the war. (PollingReport.com))

"The word 'quagmire' has returned to the debate ..." about Iraq, a news report in The Independent noted with alarm. It added, "More serious is a decline in public support for the war, which proved fatal to the Vietnam enterprise three decades ago."

An analysis in The Observer pointed out that Bush, who "is starting to sound desperate" as he "watches as support ebbs away," already "seems a lame duck." The British weekly warned that "[t]he talk in Washington is of the dreaded 'tipping point,'" that is, a crucial point at which "Iraq's insurgency deepens into uncontrollable crisis at the same time as American public opinion collapses. That could spell the unthinkable: American defeat."

It was the sober Times, however, that really lowered the boom, dismissing Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's recent feel-good pronouncements about what is obviously a fast-deteriorating situation as "weasel words on Iraq."

Under that headline, the paper's editorial reaffirmed that "[t]he liberation of Iraq from the murderous dictatorship of Saddam Hussein" was a "good deed in a sorry world." But citing the "daily horrors" occurring in occupied Iraq today, it added that it has become indefensible "to argue," as Bush has done, "that every course [of action] that followed [since Saddam's ouster] has been right."

Citing its own ground-breaking reporting on the Downing Street Memo, The Times noted that Bush and Blair's governments "were less than frank with the people in the countdown to war." At this point in the Iraq crisis, it proposed, "it is counterproductive to respond with Panglossian assurances that everything in Iraq is now for the best in the best of all possible worlds. The cameras and the documents may not show the whole picture, but they do not lie." (Times)

The generally centrist-to-conservative British daily even advised Bush to follow a page from Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt's leadership playbook and level with the American people. Its editorial reminded the current U.S. president that in February 1942, FDR addressed his countrymen and said, "Your government has unmistakable confidence in your ability to hear the worst, without flinching or losing heart. You must, in turn, have complete confidence that your government is keeping nothing from you except information that will help the enemy in his attempt to destroy us."

However, as the latest polls indicate, many Americans have not bought the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld line on the war they started in Iraq, so Bush's team might not be able to obtain the "complete confidence" of many Americans now. In the president's speech tonight, The Guardian's Younge predicts, Bush will tell his U.S. Army audience and his television viewers "that America needs 'resolve.'" For the White House right now, Younge added, "Iraq has become the latest faith-based initiative."

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