WASHINGTON: Determined to change the tone of the national debate over Iraq, the White House and Republicans in Congress launched a tightly coordinated effort last week to begin providing the media with stories of American progress in the still-turbulent country.
The effort began with President Bush's Sunday-evening address to the nation on September 7, in which he requested $87 billion from Congress to rebuild and stabilize the country. It continued last week with the launch of regular strategy sessions between Capitol Hill and the White House, as well as a number of GOP press events.
"Members of Congress came back [from the August recess] with this sense of frustration that the positive stories weren't being told, or at least weren't being heard," said Roy Blunt, communications director to House majority leader Tom Delay (R-TX). "On the House side, you have 229 Republican members who can be a very powerful megaphone that hasn't been utilized."
While flagging public support for the US presence in Iraq was cited as a major impetus for the push, the more immediate objective is the passage of Bush's request for $87 billion in funding.
In the days after Bush's address, the White House began meeting periodically with the leaders of several "relevant" congressional committees to discuss communications strategy. White House communications director Dan Bartlett was due on the Hill last Thursday to meet with GOP message leaders to discuss new tactics, and a portion of the weekly conference call between the Republican leadership and senior White House aides has now been set aside to deal specifically with the issue.
Evidence of the push could be seen on the Hill last week, as reporters were invited to an open roundtable meeting featuring about a dozen members who had been to Iraq, sharing examples of US progress and Iraqi appreciation. One such example was a letter signed by 3,000 Iraqi farmers thanking American forces for repairing their long-suffering irrigation system.
"Not to be Pollyannaish about what's going on - there are some things that are horrible, and that's what happens when you're at war," said Blunt. "But there has been some great progress made by the coalition that just hasn't been shared."
The White House took steps to support its cause as well. National security advisor Condoleezza Rice was dispatched to the Foreign Press Center on Wednesday to highlight accomplishments in Iraq, including the number of Iraqis now participating in the patrolling of their own country.