Tue, Jan 16, 2007 - Page 9 News List

The tough job of changing public opinion on Iraq

Bush's new Iraq strategy is not only a difficult sell, but a race against time

By Jim Rutenberg  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

"You've heard the president say before that, as commander in chief, one of his most important responsibilities is informing the public about the course of the war," said Kevin Sullivan, White House communications director. "You'll see an ongoing effort to do that."

Bush stopped short of calling for great national sacrifice in his address, something allies had suggested he do to prepare the public for rough days ahead.

But he did warn: "Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering. Yet over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents."

But for now, Bush's decision to add troops -- despite election results widely interpreted as a "no" vote on the war -- has been taken as another sign that he is stubbornly going his own way against the public mood, a perception the White House was prepared for, senior administration officials said.

Gambling metaphors were hard to escape this week in the news coverage of the plan, but they applied. The White House calculated that it had to promise a major change to get the public to give its latest new plan a hearing. But it raised the stakes for the administration.

"It's a tremendous gamble -- the administration opens itself up to losing control of the policy if it isn't judged as succeeding," said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former State Department official. "There's a sense now that, with this, we will have done everything we can."

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