President Bush at City Club: Stay the Course in Iraq

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The President made a bit of a gamble yesterday appearing in Cleveland - a Democratic party stronghold - to defend what is becoming an ever more unpopular war. He acknowledged that Americans do have some reason for skepticism.

President Bush: The situation on the ground remains tense. And in the face of continued reports about killings and reprisals I can understand how some Americans have had their confidence shaken. Others look at the violence they see each night on their television screens and they wonder how I can remain so optimistic about the prospects of success in Iraq. They wonder what I see that they don't.

What Bush sees is success. The President used the example of a city north of Baghdad, where he said Iraqi and coalition forces have driven out terrorist insurgents and residents have begun to pick up their lives again. The President said that by helping Iraqis defeat terrorism in their own country, Americans are safer at home.

President Bush: Freedom will prevail in Iraq. Freedom will prevail in the Middle East. And as the hope of freedom spreads to nations that have not known it, these countries will become allies in the name of peace.

But the President made it clear there will be no immediate withdrawals of American troops.

President Bush: The United States will not abandon Iraq. We will not leave that country to the terrorists who attacked American and want to attack us again. We will leave Iraq, but when we do it will be from a position of strength, not weakness.

After his speech the President fielded unscripted and unscreened questions from the audience for nearly an hour, unprecedented in the usual scope of City Club speeches. A student wanted to know how America can fight this war and still help young people pay for college. Another questioner wanted to know how the public can trust what the President says about Iraq given that he was wrong about so many things at the start of the war.

Throughout the President maintained a sense of humor, once turning the tables and asking a question of the media, saying he sometimes liked to reverse roles. Afterwards, Ohio Republican Party chairman Bob Bennett said he was pleased with the President's message.

Bob Bennett: What resonated was the President laying out that this was an ongoing war against terrorism and that it was going to be fought over there and not over here.

Even Democrats like Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones said they were impressed by the President's response to questioners, but not that impressed.

Peter Lawson Jones: I'm sure he won some converters today, but it's retail politics. So he's going to have make a lot of these kind of speeches throughout the country to win more people over to his perspective and restore his own credibility and the approach that he's taken to the war on terror and to stabilizing the democracy in Iraq.

About 100 protestors demonstrated outside the hotel where President Bush made his speech. While many of those who heard him agreed the President handled himself well, most were not convinced that a successful end to the war in Iraq will diminish the threat of terrorism at home. Karen Schaefer, 90.3.

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