Mon, Jul 28, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Bush's fortunes turn with deaths

By Richard Stevenson  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

With the deaths of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's sons on Tuesday in Iraq, a bad political month for President George W. Bush got palpably better.

Suddenly the big summer story was no longer whether Bush had misled the nation in his State of the Union address. The prospect that American troops in Iraq might face prolonged guerrilla warfare seemed diminished. The Democratic presidential field had to temper and qualify its increasingly aggressive attacks on the White House's postwar foreign and military policies.

Speaking in the Rose Garden Wednesday morning, Bush devoted only a few sentences to the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein, saying that "more than ever, all Iraqis can know that the former regime is gone and will not be coming back."

But privately, advisers to the White House said the development marked an important turn of fortune that will help Bush frame the political debate for the rest of the summer and into the fall on terms more favorable to him.

"He's not going to do a victory death dance -- that's not appropriate for the president," said one Republican who works closely on strategy with the White House.

"But the death of the Hussein brothers has a tactical political meaning because it changes the subject from the 16 words in the State of the Union," he said, referring to Bush's use of what the White House later acknowledged was unreliable evidence suggesting that Iraq had been trying to acquire uranium in Africa for nuclear weapons.

Democrats said Bush would not easily wipe away the questions about his credibility or escape doubts among some voters about whether his economic and foreign policy was succeeding.

And there is lingering concern within the president's party. Only a few days ago, Republican strategists, including some with close ties to the administration, were acknowledging that Bush was going through his worst stretch in political terms since the early months of his presidency.

The rise in the unemployment rate and the surge in the federal budget deficit undermined his assurances that his tax cuts would nurse the economy back to robust health.

The steady if relatively small loss of American life in Iraq and the acknowledgment by the American commander in the region that US forces there faced a classic guerrilla campaign conjured up all kinds of unwelcome associations.

And the White House's fumbling efforts to explain how possibly flawed intelligence about Iraq's nuclear program got into the State of the Union speech had shown Bush's top aides to be uncharacteristically willing to indulge in finger pointing.

"This is one of the worst weeks Bush has had because everyone is challenging, Republicans and Democrats, the credibility and integrity of the White House," one prominent Republican said late last week.

But the mood among Republicans changed once the military officials confirmed that they had found and killed Saddam's sons.

Republicans said they would be happy to debate Democrats on the handling of Iraq and the war on terrorism and readied a push to claim credit for what they expect to be a gradual economic improvement.

In a sign that the White House is still on the political offensive, Bush will travel on Thursday to Pennsylvania and Michigan, two states that he lost to Al Gore in 2000. In Pennsylvania, Bush will visit the government printing plant sending tax rebate checks of up to US$400 per child to 25 million middle-income families.

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