September 23, 2004
WASHINGTON - Iraq's visiting prime minister, Ayad Allawi, says he shares a hopeful view with President Bush that things are getting better in Allawi's tumultuous nation, a conviction the president is putting on full display to persuade doubting U.S. voters.
Allawi, embarking on a two-day, whirlwind trip through Washington, was making a high-stakes appearance with Bush on Thursday, where the two leaders were to assert from the White House Rose Garden that progress is being made and the future is bright in Iraq.
Allawi also was to address a joint meeting of Congress.
Allawi's visit comes as troop casualties and civilian kidnappings in Iraq have increased, large parts of the country have come under the control of insurgents and doubts have surfaced at the United Nations that democratic elections can be held in January as planned.
An assessment of Iraq's future put together recently by U.S. intelligence officials spoke of possibilities ranging from tenuous stability to civil war, and even some GOP senators have said there is a need for more candid talk from the White House.
Gen. John Abizaid said Wednesday it was possible that more U.S. troops would be needed to secure Iraq's elections, but that Iraqi and perhaps international troops may be able to do the job instead.
"I think we will need more troops than we currently have," Abizaid, commander of U.S. troops in the region, said after briefing the House.
Bush has made clear that the importance of Allawi's visit lies largely in the opportunity for the Iraqi leader to reinforce for Americans the president's own confident assessment of Iraq.
"The American people have seen horrible scenes on our TV screens," the president said Tuesday when the two leaders appeared together at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York. "And the prime minister will be able to say to them that in spite of the sacrifices being made, in spite of the fact that Iraqis are dying and U.S. troops are dying, as well, that there is a will amongst the Iraqi people to succeed."
Allawi's visit marked his debut in Washington as prime minister, a post the skilled politician, who returned to Iraq last year after 30 years in exile, was appointed to by a U.N. envoy with strong U.S. backing. It was also the highlight of a weeklong Bush administration effort to showcase what is going right in Iraq.
Bush continues to speak of the Iraq invasion primarily as a success story that is improving the lives of Iraqis and making the world safer, if only America does not shrink from the task.
"Freedom is finding a way in Iraq," he said in an address at the United Nations this week. "The proper response to difficulty is not to retreat, it is to prevail."
Allawi, too, has remained on message.
"It's very important for the people of the world really to know that we are winning, we are making progress in Iraq," he said in New York. "Unfortunately, the media have not been covering these significant gains."
Polls show that most voters think Bush made the right decision in using military force in Iraq and agree that the United States should stay as long as it takes to rebuild the nation.
But they also show a growing number alarmed by the casualties and nearly 60 percent are doubtful that Bush has a clear plan for resolving the crisis. That has Bush's Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, lobbing increasingly sharp attacks the president's way on the topic - and is sowing some worry in Bush campaign headquarters.
Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, suggested that the administration should spend less time staging an attractive photo opportunity and more adopting a realistic view of the challenges ahead.
"As Prime Minister Allawi comes here, we need real accomplishments and real progress and honest measures of capability, not sound bites of rhetoric which are not substantiated by the figures being issued in detail by the United States government," he said.
And even as Allawi may prove useful to Bush, the appearance could hurt the Iraqi leader at home, where the surgeon-turned-politician is perceived as America's puppet who has no real power base because of his time in exile.
"The reality is he is connected to the U.S. But it's the character of the meeting that's important," said Daniel Goure, a former Pentagon official who is a vice president of the Lexington Institute, a military policy group based in Arlington, Va. "If the meeting is seen as between equals, and if the president says we're there to help him, we're there to help the Iraqis, and if he says force protection is our job, but otherwise they're calling the major shots, then it's good (for Allawi)."