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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 March, 2003, 20:28 GMT
The war president emerges

By Steve Schifferes
BBC News Online in Washington

US President George W Bush
George W Bush: Preaching the morality of the war

US President George W Bush has moved to mobilise Americans to support the war.

In his first public appearance since the war began, the president has flown to Tampa, Florida, the headquarters of the central command which is in charge of military operations in Iraq.

Mr Bush's trip - his first since 20 February - is intended both to boost morale of the troops, and to rally the public behind his cause after a weekend of apparent setbacks for US forces.

The path we are taking is not easy, and it may be long
President George W Bush

And later, Mr Bush will meet his closest ally, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, to discuss the future conduct of the war - and the peace.

Mr Bush needs to show the public that the US is not acting alone, and also to demonstrate that American motives in waging war are idealistic - to set the Iraqis free - and not materialistic, as war opponents charge.

The US war strategy was changed to make this point, when troops were sent in to secure the oil fields before the air campaign began.

But Mr Bush also needs to manage expectations about a quick and bloodless war, expectations which have taken a blow in the last few days as Iraqi resistance has stiffened.

Managing expectations

Mr Bush told the troops that "the day of reckoning" for the Iraqi regime was drawing near, but he also warned that "the path we are taking is not easy, and it may be long."

"We will stay on that path, all the way to Baghdad, and all the way to victory," he added.

Mr Bush warned that there would be more work to be done after the war was over.

"We have to help the Iraqi people to find the benefits and assume the duties of self-government," he said.

But the president deleted a portion of his speech that was to have said that the invasion of Iraq was ahead of schedule.

Styles of leadership

Mr Bush has been careful not to be seen as the person running the war, preferring a more detached approach to leadership.

George W Bush (c) in meeting with US Vice President Dick Cheney (l), CIA Director George Tenet (second left) and Chief of Staff Andy Card (right)
A relaxed style of leadership

He spent the first weekend of the war at the Camp David retreat in Maryland, consulting his war council in the morning but finding time for his normal routine of relaxation and exercise.

His press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said the president believed that the running of the war was best left to the experts.

But he later issued a clarification after telling reporters that Mr Bush did not watch pictures of the war on television.

Presidents who become too closely associated with the fate of the war may suffer from political fall-out - in the l960s Lyndon Johnson became so closely involved with day-to-day operations that he decided not to seek a second term when the Vietnam war was seen as going badly.

Mr Bush is also aware of the need not to appear too detached, and to make the broader case for America's mission.

His public appearances this week are designed to make the moral case for the war.

And it is that certainty of moral conviction that makes the president seem so partisan to his political opponents.

Preaching on the war

On Tuesday, in presenting his war budget to Congress, he was careful to emphasise the importance of humanitarian aid in the package - even if his category of humanitarian aid included foreign assistance to other Middle Eastern countries.

Mr Bush feels deeply about the moral significance of the war and the campaign for freedom.

Again in Tampa, he said that "the liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity."

With American opinion still strongly backing the President, he believes that his strongest card is US support for the troops going into battle.

The president began this war with less public support than his father, and significant dissent.

But he firmly believes that not just victory, but also the way America conducts the war, will enhance his stature and, ultimately, America's prestige in the world.

And ultimately, more than any other, this war has centred on the battle of public opinion, both worldwide and at home.




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