WASHINGTON – President Bush arrived in Fort Bragg, N.C., on Tuesday afternoon to deliver his evening address to the nation about his commitment to help create a free, democratic and safe Iraq (search).
On the first anniversary of Iraq's sovereignty, Bush planned to outline what his administration said is a winning strategy against the violent conflict that has cost the lives of more than 1,740 U.S. troops.
"The work in Iraq is difficult and dangerous. Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying — and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country," Bush is prepared to say, according to excerpts released ahead of his speech.
Bush planned to address the nation from the home of the Army's elite 82nd Airborne Division (search). By afternoon, ABC was the only broadcast network planning live coverage. CBS, FOX and NBC had announced no decision. FOX News and the other two national 24-hour cable news networks planned to carry the president's remarks.
Watch President Bush's prime-time speech on the FOX News Channel at 8 p.m. EDT and get full coverage on FOXNews.com.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) said Tuesday that Bush will stress the need for patience as Iraq moves toward establishing a permanent democratic government.
"The American people have always come together and I think they are coming together when the stakes are the highest and the stakes in Iraq are very high because we're talking about a change in the Middle East," Rice told FOX News.
While acknowledging that the new Iraqi government and coalition forces have experienced relentless fighting and homicide bombers, Bush said the terrorists are failing because they are assaulting U.S. troops who defend a nation that remembers the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11 ... if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like Bin Laden," reads Bush's speech. "The terrorists do not understand America. The American people do not falter under threat and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins."
In spite of or perhaps because of the daily attacks, the Bush administration is fighting public apathy toward the war effort. A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll showed public doubts about the war have reached a high point — with more than half saying invading Iraq was a mistake.
A FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken earlier this month found that Iraq was by far the issue Americans considered the most important for the federal government to address. In the poll, 25 percent cited Iraq and Saddam Hussein as the top issue; the number two issue was the economy with 13 percent listing it as the most important.
In the poll, Bush had the approval of 48 percent of Americans while 43 percent disapproved of his job performance.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the American people have "heightened expectations" and those expectations haven't been met "probably because [the administration] has not emphasized how hard and how difficult the task is. I'm confident the president will do that tonight. ... The consequences of failure have to be emphasized."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (search) said Bush should present the country with a strategy for success. "We simply have not had that," the California Democrat told reporters outside the White House after the president met with congressional leaders over breakfast. She said Bush should set benchmarks for training Iraqi troops, restoring electrical power and dealing with other problems.
The president is expected to argue that to change course in Iraq is not needed despite the upsetting images produced by daily insurgent attacks. He was expected to provide Americans with a broader, strategic understanding of the stakes there and why he's optimistic about future success.
"We have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America's resolve. We are fighting against men with blind hatred and armed with lethal weapons who are capable of any atrocity. They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality. They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras," Bush will say.
Although attacks frequently take the lives of American troops, Bush has said they will not leave until Iraqi security forces are trained and equipped to keep the peace. He has refused to give a timetable for troop withdrawal, even though some Democrats and a few Republicans in Congress are supporting a resolution that calls for Bush to start bringing them home by Oct. 1, 2006.
"The key to success in Iraq is for the Iraqis to be able and capable of defending their democracy against terrorists," Bush said Monday, then turned to what has been the signature achievement of the conflict that began in Baghdad more than two years ago. "Parallel with the security track is a political track. Obviously, the political track has made progress this year when 8 million people went to the polls and voted."
Bush's 2004 Democratic presidential opponent, Sen. John Kerry (search), urged the president to "tell the truth to the American people."
"Happy talk about the insurgency being in 'the last throes' leads to frustrated expectations at home," Kerry, D-Mass., said in an op-ed piece that appeared in Tuesday's editions of The New York Times.
"The president must also announce immediately that the United States will not have a permanent military presence in Iraq," Kerry wrote. "Erasing suspicions that the occupation is indefinite is critical to eroding support for the insurgency."
Sen Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Bush needs to give "more than a pep rally" on Iraq when he speaks. In a letter delivered Monday to the president from Reid as well as Democratic Sens. Biden, Levin and Rockefeller, the president was urged to "level with the American people ... acknowledge the mistakes ... and set forth a realistic picture" as well as engage Congress and assure the troops they have full support.
The administration appears to be shifting its strategy subtly, focusing more on political solutions to the insurgency. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) has confirmed that talks have taken place with some insurgent leaders, and the U.S. commander of the multinational coalition in Iraq has said the conflict will ultimately be resolved in a political process.
Tapping into Americans emotions over terrorists attacks in the United States, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush will talk about insurgents killing innocent people and how stopping the violence "will be a major blow to the ambitions of the terrorists."
"This is a time of testing," McClellan said. "It is a critical moment in Iraq. The terrorists are seeking to shake our will and weaken our resolve. They know that they cannot win unless we abandon the mission before it is complete."
Bush also scheduled two and a half hours to meet with families of soldiers who have died, as he usually does when he visits military bases. Outside the base, opponents of the war planned protests.
"There's a groundswell against this war,'" said Bill Dobbs, spokesman United For Peace and Justice (search), an anti-war coalition of more than 1,300 local and national groups. "You can see it in Congress, you can see it in newspaper editorials and what young people are saying to military recruiters: 'No.'"
Bush's speech is part of a new public-relations campaign from the White House to try to calm anxieties about the war. It comes after several conflicting or perplexing messages about the nature and duration of the conflict.
Vice President Dick Cheney made headlines last month with his assertion that the insurgency in Iraq was "in its last throes." He was later contradicted by the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, and by Rumsfeld, who said the insurgency could drag on for years.
Rumsfeld also told an interviewer this month that Iraq is "statistically" no safer today than it was before the ouster of Saddam Hussein, although he maintains progress is being made.
FOX News' Julie Asher and The Associated Press contributed to this report.