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Inside Politics

The candor of George Bush

President's speeches on Iraq signal new realistic tone

By Bill Schneider
CNN Washington Bureau



George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- All in all, President Bush has had a bad year. But this week was a good one for him. Good enough to claim this week's political Play of the Week.

This week, President Bush did something unusual for him. He acknowledged mistakes in Iraq.

In a speech Wednesday, Bush took responsibility for "wrong" intelligence that led to the war, but he said removing Saddam Hussein was still necessary.

"It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong," Bush said. "As president I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that."

"My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision," the president said. "Saddam was a threat and the American people, and the world is better off because he is no longer in power." (Full story)

Bush's recent so-called "victory" speeches on Iraq also have been marked by a tone we haven't heard much from this president -- realism.

"We can expect violence to continue," he said Wednesday, and two days earlier he even acknowledged the human cost.

"I would say 30,000 [Iraqis] more or less have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis. We've lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq," he said in response to a question from a member of the audience after a speech Monday. (Full story)

All the national polls show the president's approval rating going up during the past month.

In the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Tuesday, his rating was 42 percent -- up 4 percentage points from November. (Full story)

In the same poll, 48 percent of respondents said they thought it was a mistake to send U.S. troops to Iraq, down from 54 percent of those polled last month. Fifty percent said it was not a mistake, compared to 45 percent last month.

The payoff for Bush came when Iraqis went to the polls Thursday to choose their first constitutional government -- elections relatively free from insurgent violence. (Full story)

Iraqis around the world were in a mood to celebrate. Singing and dancing on their way to the polls, shouting and applauding every vote.

Here's what one Iraqi expatriate teacher had to say as she celebrated in London, England: "I feel so happy. It represents the beginning of our new life."

She wasn't the only one who was happy.

"There's a lot of joy as far as I'm concerned in seeing the Iraqi people accomplish this major milestone in the march to democracy," Bush said after the voting.

This time Sunni Iraqis, who boycotted the elections in January, voted in large numbers -- embracing politics as an alternative to violence.

Iraqis held up ink-stained purple fingers for photographers as they went to the polls -- symbolizing their triumph over adversity. And President Bush's political Play of the Week.

Last week, we gave Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona the political Play of the Week when he got Congress to support his amendment banning the torture of U.S. detainees.

This week, McCain got Bush to reverse course and sign on to the ban.

The president refused to treat it as a defeat.

"We've been happy to work with him to achieve a common objective," Bush said.

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