WASHINGTON,(Reuters) – President George W. Bush is expected on Sunday to tout last week”s Iraq election as a hopeful sign for the U.S. mission there in a prime-time address aimed at quelling Americans” anxiety about the war.
Bush”s televised address from the Oval Office comes as he tries to boost his weak approval ratings ahead of next year”s mid-term elections.
Concern about Iraq, where the U.S. military death toll has climbed above 2,100, helped drive his approval ratings to all-time lows a few weeks ago, but they have since shown signs of stabilizing in the low 40-percent range.
The slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina, worries about high energy costs, and corruption allegations against senior Republican politicians have also sapped his administration.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the United States is "now entering a critical period for our mission in Iraq, and the president will talk about what we”ve accomplished and where we”re headed."
Bush will aim to emphasize the largely peaceful Dec. 15 Iraq election as he tries to make the case for staying to complete the mission, said Joshua Muravchik, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
The election drew broad participation, even from Sunni Muslims who boycotted an election in January.
U.S. officials hope a more inclusive political system will undercut support for the Sunni insurgency and eventually allow a reduction in American troop levels.
Bush and top military officials have already said a troop reduction from the current 150,000 can be expected over the next several weeks because troop levels were bolstered ahead of the elections.
"It”s quite possible that there will be reductions beyond that in coming months," Muravchik said.
But he believed Bush, who has repeatedly rejected calls for a withdrawal timetable, would stop short of making specific promises in that area because he would see it as caving in to his critics.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California has joined Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, a Democrat known for his hawkish views, in calling for a withdrawal at the earliest possible date.
SERIES OF SPEECHES
Bush”s address, which is scheduled for 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday (0100 GMT Monday), follows a series of four speeches he made on Iraq in the run-up to the elections. The White House has asked U.S.
television networks for live coverage.
Sunday”s address comes just a day after Bush delivered a rare live radio address from the White House Roosevelt room to defend and acknowledge for the first time the existence of a secret post-Sept. 11, 2001 program to monitor communications of people in the United States suspected of terrorist links.
He also hit back at the group of mostly Democratic senators blocking renewal of the USA Patriot Act, the centerpiece of Bush”s anti-terrorism agenda.
Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, said the pair of weekend speeches was part of a new, aggressive posture Bush is taking to lift his political standing ahead of the 2006 mid-term elections.
"He is trying to get off the defensive and go on the offense, and he sees an opening for Republicans to paint Democrats as weak on national defense," Sabato said.
Sabato said Bush would need to do more than simply celebrate the Iraq election in order to ease his political woes.
"Without attaching dates, he will have to lay out certain markers that will have to be met" to allow U.S. troops to get out, Sabato said.