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Political Roundup with Juan Williams: Abramoff Indicted

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Iraq was on President Bush's mind when he spoke yesterday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. He dismissed as rumors and speculation recent statements by top American generals that some soldiers could be withdrawn from Iraq as early as next spring. Meanwhile, about 100 anti-war protestors have gathered near the presidential ranch. They're led by a woman whose son, a soldier, was killed in Iraq last year. Joining us from Washington is NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams, a regular Friday guest for discussions about politics.

Juan, hello again. And what about this? Is it dispute really about the possibility of withdrawing troops from Iraq?

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

I think it's a different set of responses given the fact that there's declining support for the war even among Republicans, among the president's most die-hard supporters, Alex. And as a response, I think you've seen from General Casey in Iraq the idea that we are preparing to pull some of those troops out. General Casey thought that as many as 30,000 of the 138,000 troops there now could be pulled out by next spring.

He was, of course, factoring in the idea that given the administration's pressures on the Iraqis to write their own constitution by next Monday and, therefore, hold elections by December 15th, you would have to ramp up the American military presence to deal with anticipated increases in insurgent violence around the election. But then by the springtime, some of that pull-down could take place.

President Bush, speaking at the ranch in Crawford yesterday, said, you know, all this is rumor and speculation. And he said it's only the case that the US would pull up its military stake in Iraq when the Iraqis are able to defend themselves and no sooner. So I think what you're seeing is varied responses to a political dynamic that is based on the fact of declining support for the war in the American public.

CHADWICK: You know, here's a political dynamic. I have seen a lot of coverage of, `Oh, we're going to be pulling the troops out next spring.' I haven't seen a lot about, `Before we do that, we're going to be sending some more American troops over there in anticipation of these elections.'

WILLIAMS: The idea is that you have about 17 brigades right there now, and so you're going to add about two more, which is another 10,000 troops, for defending Iraq during that election. And the president speaking yesterday talked about doing a better job of dealing with the fact...

CHADWICK: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: ...that you had all these deaths...

CHADWICK: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: ...and that Reservists and the like have to be told how long their deployment is going to be and notified when they're going to change. He is trying to not only keep the American people on his side but keep the American military on his side.

CHADWICK: Let's talk about keeping people on his side. There's the story about this protesting mother, Cindy Sheehan. She wants to meet with the president to express her opposition to the war. Here's what Mr. Bush had to say about her.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, listen, I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan. She feels strongly about her position, and she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America. She has a right to her position.

CHADWICK: The president noted that he had met with Mrs. Sheehan last year. I guess she was part of a delegation of families. But what does this mean for him in terms of politics?

WILLIAMS: Oh, it's not good, Alex. You know, Cindy Sheehan puts a face on anti-war sentiment, and I think there's gathering support for her so that you see that people involved in anticipating coming to Washington to protest IMF/World Bank meetings--they're all creating a coalition around Cindy Sheehan. She's politicized the matter. I think some people who have natural sympathy for any mother who lost a child in war kind of wonder why she's become such a political instrument.

But at the same time, there's no getting away from it. And that's why yesterday, when the president was speaking--his aides had deliberated about this all week, how to deal with her. They're not going to have the president meet with her, but he began his comments yesterday by just speaking in general about anti-war opposition and about how he understood why some people want to pull out, but that it would be the wrong thing to do and that his position as commander in chief requires him to have these thoughts. And then finally, one reporter had to say, `Are you talking about Cindy Sheehan, Mr. President?' and he said, `Oh, yes.' But it's that deep and it's that much of a conflict inside the administration as to how to deal with it, and I think that's indicative of the fact that her protest is being very effective.

CHADWICK: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Juan, thank you.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Alex.

CHADWICK: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Alex Chadwick. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.
Juan Williams
Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a news analyst, appearing regularly on NPR's Morning Edition. Knowledgeable and charismatic, Williams brings insight and depth — hallmarks of NPR programs — to a wide spectrum of issues and ideas.
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