Bush, Iraq and the credibility gap

The president offers his vision of Iraq. Most Americans see things differently.

Published March 14, 2006 7:44PM (EST)

George W. Bush gave another one of those speeches Monday in which he explains the war in Iraq, but it's not so clear whether anyone is still listening. According to a new CBS News poll, 66 percent of the public believes that the president describes conditions in Iraq as better than they really are. Only 31 percent of the public approves of the way Bush is handling Iraq; an astounding 70 percent now say that the war hasn't been worth the cost.

If Americans did tune into Bush's speech Monday, they would have heard a laundry list of statements that conflict with the way they view the situation in Iraq. Here's some of what the president said in his speech at George Washington University -- and what Americans told the CBS pollsters on the same points.

The president: "Our strategy to protect America is based on a clear premise: The security of our nation depends on the advance of liberty in other nations."

The public: When asked to say, in their own words, why Bush decided to invade Iraq, only 3 percent of those polled said it was to free Iraqis or spread democracy. Among the motivations mentioned more often: to protect the United States from terrorism or weapons of mass destruction (21 percent); to protect U.S. oil interests or otherwise make money (19 percent); to finish the job his father left undone in the first Gulf War (11 percent); to remove Saddam Hussein (9 percent); to follow the recommendations of others in his administration (8 percent); and to respond to the attacks of 9/11 (7 percent).

The president: The terrorists' "only hope is to try and provoke a civil war. So they attacked one of Shia Islam's holiest sites ... Immediately after the attack, I said that Iraq faced a moment of choosing -- and in the days that followed, the Iraqi people made their choice. They looked into the abyss and did not like what they saw."

The public: Seventy-one percent say that Iraq is already in the midst of a civil war; an additional 13 percent say that a civil war hasn't started yet but will soon.

The president: "We will not lose our nerve. We will help the Iraqi people succeed. Our goal in Iraq is victory ..."

The public: Only 15 percent say that the United States is "very likely" to succeed in Iraq. Thirty-six percent say success is "somewhat likely"; 47 percent say it is "not very likely" or "not likely at all" -- a dramatic, 12-point increase in the grim view over the past two months.

The president: "When I reported on the progress of the Iraqi security forces last year, I said that there were over 120 Iraqi and police combat battalions in the fight against the enemy -- and 40 of those were taking the lead in the fight. Today the number of battalions in the fight has increased to more than 130 -- with more than 60 taking the lead ... This is real progress, but there is more work to be done this year."

The public: Only 41 percent say the United States is making at least "some progress" in training Iraqi security forces; 24 percent say the U.S. is making little or no progress, and 35 percent say they don't know one way or the other.

The president: "The terrorists are losing on the field of battle, so they are fighting this war through the pictures we see on television and in the newspapers every day."

The public: Fifty-three percent say that neither side is winning Iraq. Twelve percent say the insurgents are winning; 29 percent say the United States is.

The president: "We will leave behind a democracy that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself."

The public: Fifty-four percent say that Iraq will "never" become a stable democracy. Only 5 percent say that Iraq will become a stable democracy within the next year or two.

The president: "And a free Iraq, in the heart of the Middle East, will make the American people more secure for generations to come."

The public: Sixty-four percent say that the creation of a stable democracy in Iraq won't make any difference in keeping Americans safe from terrorism. Five percent say it will make Americans less safe.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

George W. Bush Iraq Iraq War Middle East War Room