By MARC SANDALOW
San Francisco Chronicle
September 09, 2006
"Oh, I know the news is full with terrible suiciders, and it shakes our will. I know that," Bush said, delivering a boilerplate fund-raising appeal for Senate candidate Bob Corker. "But when you really think about it, amazing progress has been made."
That was last week's message.
The new message, contained in a four-speech series that concluded Thursday in Atlanta, is a much darker warning about the dangers that confront America if it does not follow the president's policies.
"9/11 lifted the veil on a threat that is far broader and more dangerous than we saw that morning - an enemy that was not sated by the destruction inflicted that day and is determined to strike again," Bush said in his latest speech, which was accompanied by the release of a 20-page booklet outlining administration efforts to protect Americans.
"To answer this threat and protect our people, we need more than retaliation; we need more than a reaction to the last attack; we need to do everything in our power to stop the next attack. And so America has gone on the offense across the world," the president said.
There was little in the four speeches that would surprise those who have listened carefully to Bush's words since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The war in Iraq, the president insists, is the central front in a larger war on terror that he calls "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century."
Yet the menacing language - Bush compared Osama bin Laden to Lenin and Hitler and described Islamic totalitarians as hateful, cunning and evil - illuminates the way his administration is trying to frame the conflict on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary and 60 days before an election in which the Republican Party is in danger of losing its congressional majority.
During 170 minutes of speeches containing more than 20,000 words, Bush did not once repeat the phrase "amazing progress," and made only fleeting reference to the Iraqi elections, the unity government and the advances in security that had been the mainstay of his previous addresses.
Instead, the president spoke in dire terms about the dangers to Americans should we leave Iraq, weaken the Patriot Act, reject his plan to prosecute suspected terrorists being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and otherwise stray from his strategy to fight terrorism.
"Nearly five years have passed since those initial days of shock and sadness, and we are thankful that the terrorists have not succeeded in launching another attack on our soil," Bush said Wednesday from the White House.
"This is not for the lack of desire or determination on the part of the enemy. As the recently foiled plot in London shows, the terrorists are still active, and they're still trying to strike America, and they're still trying to kill our people."
As Democrats protest that Bush is playing the fear card in advance of the coming election, analysts say the president is returning to a strategy that worked in the 2002 and 2004 campaigns, and one that may be his only choice as the violence continues unabated in Iraq.
"Even his own base, whose support he's been losing in chunks, knows that there is no 'amazing progress' being made," said independent pollster John Zogby.
Zogby's polls show that Democratic voters overwhelmingly disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq and terrorism, while Republicans largely approve of it. He views Bush's strong language as an effort to rally his core supporters and win back some of the support that made him such a popular president in the first years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
As polls suggest that most Americans are less anxious about an attack than they were in the days after 9/11, Bush repeatedly warned in his recent speeches against growing complacent.
Democrats, who remained mostly silent as Bush used similarly strong language in the first election after 9/11, have been quick to denounce the tone as politically motivated.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada called it "straight from his election-year playbook: Distract, distort, divide and frighten America."
"There was not one new idea to change the course in Iraq, but plenty of rhetoric to scare the American people in advance of the midterm elections," Reid said.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, rejected Bush's contention that the war in Iraq is part of a war on terror, calling it a "war of choice" for which the administration was unprepared.
She pledged that if Democrats win the House in November, the chamber will pass the recommendations of the independent 9/11 Commission - which include items such as enhanced port security - on their "first day" in power.
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