In a televised speech last night, President Bush said his "surge" strategy has produced positive results, which will allow the US to cut the number of troops in Iraq. The Washington Post say on the front page that Bush coined a new slogan to describe his latest strategy, 'Return on Success,' meaning that further progress will enable further withdrawals." However, Bush's remarks, in which he endorsed the recommendations of Gen. David Petraeus, are receiving generally skeptical coverage. The Washington Post says Bush "made a case for progress in Iraq by citing facts and statistics that at times contradicted recent government reports or his own words." On MSNBC, Chris Matthews said, "The idea we're one of 36 countries fighting the war I think is ludicrous and why the President would throw that out there, I think it only opens him up to ridicule."
TV critic Tom Shales writes in the Washington Post that the speech was "delivered in a stern, stony manner, something like a high-school disciplinarian getting tough, or rather staying tough, with a class of unruly students." Noting the "Return on Success" phrase, the Los Angeles Times says on its front page the word "victory" has "quietly disappeared from the president's vocabulary," replaced "by a more ambiguous goal: 'Success.'" Another front page Los Angeles Times story, however, reports that in his remarks, Bush used "much the same argument he has since the first year of the war -- that terrorists fighting in Iraq are, ultimately, seeking to attack the United States." In an analysis piece, the New York Times also says that "Return on Success," as a "goal," is "very different from the 'victory' Mr. Bush was touting less than two years ago." Also negative is the assessment of the Financial Times, which reports Bush "defied calls for a dramatic change of course, saying the US military role would stretch 'way beyond' his presidency."
The Washington Post reports that if the "prime targets of...Bush's appeal for patience last night were moderates in his own party, his speech may have fallen flat." Republican lawmakers, "facing tough reelection bids in the midst of an ongoing war, reacted with grave concern to the president's call for only modest troop reductions and no dramatic change of mission in Iraq."
USA Today reports Bush's plan would "leave about 130,000 American troops in Iraq -- roughly the same number there when Bush ordered the temporary boost eight months ago." In fact, the New York Times reports "the White House said troop totals may not return to exactly 133,000, the number deployed before the so-called surge began early this year, because of the need to keep in place specialized units, like the military police and helicopter squadrons." McClatchy says the speech left Bush's "war strategy effectively unchanged."
The Wall Street Journal, on its front page, cast Bush's announcement of troop cutbacks as a result of this "political reality": The President "needs to hold the support of only 34 senators, the number required to sustain a presidential veto of any unwanted mandates." The AP reports, "With no dramatic change in course, Bush's decision sets the stage for a fiery political debate in Congress and on the 2008 presidential campaign trail." Democrats "said Bush's modest approach was unacceptable." Meanwhile, says the New York Times, "some Republican strategists...expressed concern that Mr. Bush even gave Thursday night's speech, suggesting" that it "would have been better to let the general have the last word."
Pundits Say Bush Has "Upper Hand" Some analysts, meanwhile, see a new subtext in the Iraq debate: Bush now appears to have the "upper hand" in his dealings with Congress. After the speech, Tim Russert said on MSNBC the Democrats have a "dilemma," adding, "The President, I believe tonight, was speaking as someone who had the upper hand and basically said to the Democrats, "it's the Petraeus proposal. It's now my plan. Your move.'" USA Today reports Bush "is getting what he wants on Iraq: More time." The Washington Times says "congressional testimony this week by...Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker appeared to sway key swing Republicans on Capitol Hill, some of whom had signaled over the summer that they might break with the White House in the fall."
Bob Shiefer, who attended a White House lunch Bush held yesterday for political commentators, said on CBS News, "The Republicans who were supporting the President, who were wavering in their support, it appears the President is going to be able to keep all of them on his side. So this policy is going to go through. They have not been able to change it, the Democrats haven't."
Reluctantly, WPost Endorses Bush Plan Under the headline "The Least Bad Plan," the Washington Post editorializes that Bush's plan "offers, at least, the prospect of extending recent gains against al-Qaeda in Iraq, preventing full-scale sectarian war and allowing Iraqis more time to begin moving toward a new political order. For that reason, it is preferable to a more rapid withdrawal."
Report: Iraqis Not Meeting "Benchmarks" The AP says a "new White House report on Iraq shows slim progress, moving just one more political and security goal into the satisfactory column: efforts to let former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to rejoin the political process, a senior administration official told The Associated Press." The "latest conclusions, to be released Friday, largely track a comparable poor assessment in July on 18 benchmarks."
Some Officers Say Plan Strains Military The New York Times says Bush's stance on troop levels "remains deeply unpopular to some current and retired officers, who say the White House and its battlefield commander are continuing to strain the troops, with little prospect of long-term success." It is "the second time in 10 months that Mr. Bush has opted for higher troop levels in Iraq than are favored by some of his senior military advisers."
Iraq Seen As Part Of War On Terror The Wall Street Journal reports in its "Washington Wire" section that according to a recent WSJournal poll, "a majority accepts Bush's link between Iraq and antiterror war. Some 55% of independents and 82% of Republicans say Iraq war is part of broader struggle against terrorism; 60% of Democrats disagree."
In contrast to the Republican candidates, the Democratic presidential field yesterday was highly critical of President Bush's speech. Sen. Barack Obama said on CNN, "I think we knew the direction the President was going in before the speech, and he reconfirmed, I think, that he is bound to this same failed course that we have seen for the last several years. There are a couple of key points that I just think everybody has to understand. This is not a significant withdrawal of troops. What this is is that we have run out of troops. We can't sustain the surge, and we are now going back to the same levels of troops that we had nine months ago."
Sen. Joseph Biden said on MSNBC, "Before my committee, both Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker acknowledged that there was no real political movement on what the problem is. Ninety-five percent of the problem is a civil war, Sunnis killing Shia. I sat there next to that sheikh who got blown up today. I sat with him for three hours. The idea that they are telling us that Anbar province is all squared away and Fallujah and Ramadi and all these places are in good shape is bizarre. And so, look, by the President's own standards, this whole policy has been a failure."
John Edwards took his criticism one step farther buying ad time for the slot just after Bush's speech to give his rebuttal. The AP reports Edwards "criticized President Bush in a televised response Thursday for failing to pull out of Iraq, but also spread some of the blame to the Democratic-led Congress." Edwards' "dual criticisms came in a unique two-minute ad that he paid for on MSNBC and that aired after Bush addressed the nation." Edwards "said Congress has the power to end the war by withholding funding that isn't contingent on a timeline for withdrawal." Edwards said, "Our troops are stuck between a president without a plan to succeed and a Congress without the courage to bring them home."
Edwards added in an interview on CNN, "The only thing he said that I could support is what he said about the brave men and women who have sacrificed on behalf of the United States of America wearing the uniform of our country in Iraq. I think the rest of it was a sales job. It's a continuation in a series of PR jobs where the President is trying to convince the American people that the surge is working, we're making progress in Iraq. Not addressing the absolutely fundamental underlying question, which is, has there been any serious political progress between the Sunni and Shia? The answer to that question is no, and the President doesn't focus on that. That's the reason America needs to be leaving Iraq."
Compared to the other Democratic candidates, there was little coverage today of Sen. Clinton's response to Bush's Speech. USA Today reports Sen. Clinton, "a leading Democratic presidential contender, dismissed Bush's plan as 'too little, too late and unacceptable.'"
Obama Says Troop Deployment Limits Best Way To End War The AP reports, "Despite the Iraq war's unpopularity," Obama "said Thursday that Congress lacks the votes to force a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops and will focus instead on putting a ceiling on the number deployed." Noting the Senate is "about 15 votes short" of overriding a likely veto by President Bush, Obama "said the most likely scenario would be to grant troops more time at home between deployments, a politically popular step that's difficult to oppose and one that would have a practical impact."
Gen. David Petraeus' report to Congress this week may have given a boost to congressional Republicans -- identified with the war in Iraq by voters. In particular, Petraeus has given Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign new life. The Financial Times says Petraeus's "assurance that security was improving has at least given fresh vigour to Republican attempts to defend an unpopular war and challenge perceptions of US failure in Iraq." The Washington Times, meanwhile, reports President Bush's "embrace" of Petraeus' plan "to bring upward of 30,000 troops home from Iraq will give Republicans new momentum in the 2008 elections, political and defense strategists said yesterday."
The AP, meanwhile, reports Petraeus' "high-profile report on Iraq is pumping new life into Sen. John McCain's presidential bid, his backers say, making the Arizona Republican appear prescient and courageous on the campaign's most vital issue." McCain is "wooing voters with a sense of momentum not seen since he drastically reduced his staff and spending two months ago." The Christian Science Monitor says perhaps the "candidate who gained the most this week is Senator McCain, whose once-high-flying campaign went into free fall earlier this summer and is now starting to come back."
In her Wall Street Journal column, Kimberly Strassel says, "There's a lesson here for Republicans, in particular those most worried about how Iraq will play in next year's elections: Good military policy is good politics." The "most obvious winners are congressional Republicans."
MoveOn Ad Seen As Major "Blunder" The Politico reports the "solidifying Beltway consensus is that" MoveOn.org's full-page ad in The New York Times "which refers to Army Gen. David Petraeus as 'General Betray Us,' was a blunder of the highest order, uniting Republicans and distracting Democrats at a time when the party could instead be pressing for an end to the war." However, MoveOn "welcomes the controversy."
Pro-Bush Group Targets MoveOn Ad The AP reports Freedom's Watch, a "political group supporting President Bush's Iraq war strategy with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign is airing a new TV ad denouncing" MoveOn's "sharp criticism of Gen. David Petraeus." Freedom's Watch "also plans to respond to MoveOn with a print ad in The New York Times, and has demanded the same $65,000 rate that the liberal group paid for its full-page ad."
MoveOn Reportedly Got Discount Of Over $116,000 The New York Post reported yesterday that the New York Times "dramatically slashed its normal rates for a full-page advertisement for MoveOn.org's ad questioning the integrity" of Petraeus. MoveOn.org "confirmed to The Post that the liberal activist group had paid only $65,000 for the ad - a reduction of more than $116,000 from the stated rate." Claiming the "shared liberal bent of the group and the Times, one Republican aide on Capitol Hill speculated that it was the 'family discount.'"
Giuliani Attacks NYTimes, MoveOn The New York Times reports the New York Times "came under attack Thursday by Rudolph W. Giuliani and a group of conservative Republicans for what they said was favoritism in the rate charged to" MoveOn.org for the Petraeus ad. Giuliani "sought - and received - space in Friday editions of the newspaper for an advertisement in which he praises General Petraeus."
The Washington Post reports that in the ad, Giuliani "accuses Democrats of 'orchestrated attacks on General Petraeus' and says that Clinton's comment about needing to suspend disbelief to accept the general's arguments was a 'character attack' on Petraeus."
However, this morning, David Saltonstall writes in the New York Daily News that Giuliani's "facts were challenged. Any advocacy group seeking to place a single, full-page, black-and-white ad in The Times on 'standby' over a seven-day period -- the paper picks the day -- pays what MoveOn.org did, $64,575, sources said. The New York Post reported The Times charges a higher rate, $181,692, setting up erroneous charges MoveOn got a 'lefty' discount. But the higher price is for ads guaranteed to run on a specific day, said Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis. All of which were details-schmetails to Team Giuliani, which leaped at the chance to hit three of the right's top liberal demons."
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GOP Race Tighter The AP reports that the latest Associated Press-Ipsos national telephone survey shows Sen. Hillary Clinton leading the Democratic presidential field with 34%, followed by Sen. Barack Obama with 20% and John Edwards with 10%; 12% were undecided. On the GOP side, the poll shows Rudy Giuliani leading with 24%, followed by Fred Thompson with 19%, Sen. John McCain with 15% and Mitt Romney with 7%. The AP notes that "highlighting how up for grabs the GOP race is, fully 22 percent of Republicans did not back a candidate. And when the handful of GOP voters backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who has not said he is running, are distributed to their second choices, they divide about evenly among Giuliani, Thompson and McCain. 'People haven't coalesced around a particular candidate, or even one or two candidates, which is why this race is so wide open and why the winner will be determined by events that haven't happened yet,' Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster unaffiliated with any candidate" said.
FOX News reported on its website that an Opinion Dynamics national poll of 900 registered voters shows Clinton leading the Democratic field with 43%, followed by Obama with 24% and Edwards with 13%. On the GOP side, Giuliani leads with 32%, followed by Thompson with 21%, McCain with 15% and Romney with 8%.
Survey Indicates Voters Favor Giuliani Over Clinton If US Were To Be Hit With Terror Attack In its report,FOX News also notes that its "poll shows that if the United States were hit with a terrorist attack, by a 50 percent to 36 percent margin, Americans would rather have Giuliani in charge than Clinton, including 28 percent of Democrats and an overwhelming 80 percent of Republicans. Independents split in Giuliani's favor 47 percent to Clinton's 28 percent."
WSJ/NBC Poll Shows Clinton Leads Foes "On Presidential Qualifications" In a "Washington Wire" report in the Wall Street Journal, John Harwood reports that the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that Clinton "outpaces all rivals on presidential qualifications. Some 46% of Americans express confidence in her 'skills and ability necessary to be president,' compared with 36% who say that about" Giuliani. And "Democrats by 3 to 1 call her more electable than" Obama. Meanwhile, "Republicans divide more evenly: 39% call" Giuliani "most electable, while 26% name" Thompson.
Virginia is set to be a major Senate battleground for the second consecutive cycle, one that may give the Democrats a good chance to pick up a second Senate seat in the state. The Washington Post reports that former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) entered the race to replace retiring Sen. John Warner (D) yesterday. With his entry, the GOP "stepped up efforts Thursday to figure out a strategy to defeat the popular Democrat." Warner "kicked off his campaign Thursday in an online video in which he said he has the experience, record and temperament to reach across party lines and bring bipartisan reforms to Washington." Minutes after Warner unveiled his video, "the National Republican Senatorial Committee fired back with its own video on a website, www. dontmarkwarner.com, that accused Warner of breaking a 2001 campaign promise not to raise taxes. With help from Republicans, Warner pushed through a $1.4 billion tax increase in 2004 to close a budget shortfall." In an interview, Warner called the committee "Washington attack dogs."
The Washington Post, in an editorial, writes, "Warner is the presumed favorite. It is worth remembering, though, that his short-lived exploratory campaign for the presidency last year exposed some of his shortcomings, ones he will need to address. Although he spoke confidently in his travels around the country about domestic policy and the achievements of what he called the 'Virginia story,' Mr. Warner was much more halting when it came to foreign policy and defense." His challenge "will be to demonstrate a mastery of issues beyond those that preoccupied him in Richmond and to show Virginians that he would make a worthy successor to the retiring incumbent, Republican Sen. John W. Warner."
The competitive race appears to compound GOP problems nationally. The AP reports, "Overall, the political landscape appears to favor Democrats, given public opposition to the war in Iraq, President Bush's poor approval ratings and the fact that Republicans must defend 22 of the 34 seats on the ballot next year." Aside from "open seats in Virginia and Nebraska," Republicans "face a struggle for the seat of Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard, who is retiring. Sununu and at least three other incumbents face potentially strong challenges. They include Sen. Norm Coleman in Minnesota, Gordon Smith in Oregon and Susan Collins in Maine."
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Jay Leno: "Actually, things are not going that well for bin Laden. Not only do most intelligence experts say he's lost much of his power over al Qaeda, but it turns out he got one of those subprime loans a couple of years ago. He could lose the cave. That's what they're saying."
Jay Leno: "Well, earlier tonight, President Bush gave a historic speech on the war in Iraq. Of course, most Americans are going, 'Never mind that. Did you see Britney? Oh, my God.'"
Jay Leno: "Well, this week, General Petraeus has been testifying before Congress. And today, a number of senators accused General Petraeus of lying. And you can understand why they're upset. I mean, if you're going to try to deceive the American people, you do it the right way, you run for Congress."
David Letterman: "Earlier today, President Bush announced to the nation that he promised to have Lindsay Lohan out of rehab by next summer. That will be good."
Conan O'Brien: "In an interview, former President Bill Clinton says that most people don't know that Hillary has the world's best laugh. ... Bill added, 'I get to hear it every time she pushes me down the stairs.'"
Conan O'Brien: "Earlier tonight," President Bush "gave his eighth speech to the nation about Iraq. ... In it, President Bush promised to have the troops home by speech number 73."
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