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Bush seeks to ease Republican worries on Iraq
Updated: 2004-05-14 11:29

U.S. President George W. Bush invoked former President Ronald Reagan and conservative icon Barry Goldwater on Thursday as he sought to reassure Republicans nervous that Iraq could doom his presidency.

Bush cast himself as heir to foreign-policy ideals embodied by the two conservative Republican standard-bearers of the Cold War era. He said despite "tough times" ahead the United States would finish its job in Iraq.

"Conservatives were right that the Cold War was a contest of good and evil, and behind the Iron Curtain people ... awaited liberation," Bush said at a gala event held by the American Conservative Union.

"I am proud to advance these convictions and these principles as I stand for re-election in 2004."

In a rare reference to Goldwater, the unsuccessful 1964 presidential candidate considered the founder of modern conservatism, Bush hailed the conservative union's support for Goldwater's candidacy.

Goldwater, an Arizona senator, drew fire during his campaign for once saying that Vietnamese forests could be defoliated with nuclear weapons, and declaring that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice."

Said Bush, "You knew that the principles he represented + freedom and limited government and national strength + would eventually carry the day."

Reagan, Bush said, "understood the power of ideas to transform our country and to change the world."

Bush's comments came as some conservatives have voiced concern that tumult in post-war Iraq + with an entrenched insurgency and the prisoner-abuse scandal + may be hurting his reelection prospects.

Recent polls suggest the troubles in Iraq are taking a toll on Bush's approval ratings, which have dipped to 44 percent in some surveys, the lowest of his presidency.

Prominent conservative columnist Robert Novak accused the president in a column on Thursday of having a "messianic" foreign policy.


He said Republicans around the country had expressed concern about the "US adventure in Iraq," and the "false forecast of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction," which was Bush's main argument for war.

Sen. John McCain, a Republican party maverick from Goldwater's state of Arizona, cited mistakes "which have led us to a situation which I think is very grave."

In addition, lawmakers in Bush's Republican party have balked at giving the administration the broad leeway it wants in a draft request for a $25 billion reserve fund for Iraq mission.

The president faces a re-election challenge from Democrat John Kerry, who has been aggressively hammering Bush on Iraq in recent days.

In a sign Bush is trying to address some of the Republican concerns, he hosted US House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert and other party members at the White House to discuss Iraq policy.

Bush told the conservative union that there must be no hesitancy in the war against global terrorism, which he said included the Iraq mission.

"There will be tough times ahead ... and America will finish what we have begun," he said.

Earlier on Thursday, Bush traveled to West Virginia, where he said the actions of "a few" in the Iraqi prison scandal did not reflect on the rest of the soldiers who served in Iraq.

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