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Bush Aggressively Defends Iraq War

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And as the secretary of State travels in the Middle East, President Bush is in Japan. He's on a weeklong tour of Asia which also includes a summit of Pacific Rim. Yesterday, the president was in Alaska and delivered a speech in an air base which sent a message to his critics. NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA reporting:

A new poll in Newsweek magazine shows that Americans by 2:1 now disapprove of the way the president is handling the war in Iraq. Mr. Bush has begun defending that handling more aggressively. He did so last Friday when he spoke before a military audience in Pennsylvania on Veterans Day and again yesterday in a speech to soldiers at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska.

(Soundbite of applause)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The outcome of this war will affect every single American and that makes it a subject of vital debate, and it's important to be clear about the facts.

GONYEA: He said that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there was bipartisan agreement in the US Congress that threats needed to be confronted before they fully materialized. The president said that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was just such a threat. In Alaska yesterday, he cited the prewar words of unnamed Senate Democrats.

Pres. BUSH: The person I quote: "There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons," end quote. Another senior Democrat leader said, "The war against terrorism will not be finished as long as Saddam Hussein is in power," end quote.

GONYEA: Democrats have more recently argued that the president distorted that threat through selective use of intelligence presented to members of Congress, prompting the kind of statements of support he know cites. In his Alaska speech, the president responded.

Pres. BUSH: Only one person manipulated evidence and misled the world. And that person was Saddam Hussein.

GONYEA: The president knows he has an uphill battle in winning back public support for the war, but for the rest of this week, he will be turning his attention to diplomacy, trying to shrink US trade imbalances with Japan and China at the same time he tries to reduce tensions between those two nations. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.