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Before Speeches, a Bush Strategy to Regain Edge
By DAVID E. SANGER and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
Published: September 9, 2006
WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 — When President Bush and his top aides gathered in July to sketch out a strategy for the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, it was clear to all that they had to try to reset the clock — back to a time, before Iraq, when portraying Mr. Bush as a steely commander in chief was a far simpler task, and before Hurricane Katrina, when questions about the administration’s competence did not weigh so heavily.
From those discussions emerged the speeches Mr. Bush has delivered over the last week, the leading edge of a remarkably intensive and aggressive campaign in which he has tried to regain ground he has lost for more than two years, by turning the conversation away from Iraq and back toward the broader war on terror.
It is a carefully calibrated strategy that will continue in coming days, first with an appearance Sunday morning by Vice President Dick Cheney on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the vehicle he used to advantage at key moments after Sept. 11 and then Mr. Bush’s appearance that night at ground zero in New York and a prayer service at St. Paul’s Chapel.
On Monday, for the first time since the first anniversary, in 2002, Mr. Bush will visit all three sites of the attack that remade his presidency — New York, Shanksville, Pa. and the Pentagon. Then he will cap the day and bring to a close this phase of his effort to portray himself and his party on his terms with a nationally televised speech from the Oval Office.
It is bound to be reminiscent of his speech from the same seat exactly five years before, when, after a shaky day, he first pronounced the “Bush doctrine” that led to the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan and ultimately became the heart of the administration’s justification for invading Iraq.
“You can never turn back the clock,” Dan Bartlett, the counselor to the president, said on Friday when asked about the strategy. “But we knew that news organizations and everyone else would be using this moment to define where we were five years later, and the president wanted to articulate his view, too.”
“He’s not trying to ignore Iraq — he wouldn’t, he doesn’t want to,” Mr. Bartlett added. “But he had to explain that even if we have a debate here about whether Iraq’s part of the war on terror, the enemy believes it is.”
Mr. Bartlett, like Mr. Bush two weeks ago, said this was a moment of remembrance and a reminder of national resolve, not a moment for politics. But nine weeks before a midterm election that many Republicans fear they may lose, it is impossible to separate remembrance and politics.
In interviews, Republican strategists who are aware of the closely held White House plans for this week say the critical question is whether Mr. Bush still holds the power to alter the course of national conversation away from the Iraq war and back to the theme that has worked for them before, countering direct threats to the United States.
But there is another, related question as well: whether Republicans can succeed again in convincing the nation that Democrats cannot be trusted with keeping it safe. The political strategy pursued by Mr. Bush’s strategist, Karl Rove, has always been to frame elections as choices and to work to make the other side an unappealing alternative.
Even 9/11 isn't safe ground for him. The local papers in NY ripped Whitman to shreds and it's only a matter of time before Giuliani is next. The unsafe air over ground zero, along with Washington playing down Osama's safe harbor will not go down well.
The thing is that we may have a war on terror, but after five years of Republican failure, it's time to try someone else. I think people are tired of being scared for no reason, tired of the losing war in Iraq, tired of Osama being free. Bush has no successes to show for his war. And even if Osama landed in his lap, Katrina ended any faith in his leadership.
posted by Steve @ 12:10:00 AM