When George W. Bush goes before the cameras Wednesday night, he'll be facing a nation overwhelmingly opposed to the way he's handled the war so far -- and nearly as opposed to the "way forward" he's going to describe.
In a USA Today/Gallup poll taken over the weekend, just 26 percent of Americans said they approved of the way Bush is handling the war in Iraq. When told that Bush is considering a "temporary but significant increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to help stabilize the situation there," only 36 percent of the poll's respondents said they'd support such a move. Sixty-one percent said they wouldn't.
Of course, the question Gallup asked was loaded pretty strongly in the pro-surge direction -- a "temporary" surge to "help stabilize the situation" -- and was attached to the president's name, which still must mean something good for the small minority of the public that approves of the way he's handling the war. How does support for a surge look without those thumbs on the scale? When Gallup asked respondents to say which of four possible plans for Iraq they preferred, "send more troops" was the pick of only 12 percent. "Withdraw immediately" drew 15 percent, "withdraw in 12 months' time" drew 39 percent, and "withdraw -- take as many years as needed" drew 31 percent.
The White House is spinning hard, trying to set up the argument that because Americans don't support an immediate withdrawal, they must somehow support an increase in troops. And even before getting the latest poll results, Tony Snow was trying to downplay the public's desire to withdraw from Iraq, suggesting Monday that November's election results were more about corruption than they were about the war.
Can Bush and Karl Rove -- who is said to be bullish on the war still -- find a way to turn the public around? Snow hinted that the White House has a plan, and you can probably guess what it is: Snow said it will be "important" for the president to "share" with the people Wednesday night "a little bit of what he sees and how he thinks ... because, fortunately, Americans have not been confronted since Sept.11, 2001, with direct evidence that terrorists are trying to kill us."