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Greenfield: Bush trying to turn the table on Dems

Campaign-style rhetoric comes during eroding support for Iraq war

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President Bush says many current critics had initially echoed his rationale for invading Iraq.

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Jeff Greenfield

(CNN) -- President Bush has gone on the offensive, stepping up his political rhetoric in the face of the Iraq war's growing unpopularity.

In an address Monday at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, President Bush accused war critics of "playing politics with this issue and ... sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy."

CNN Senior Analyst Jeff Greenfield talked with anchor Wolf Blitzer after the speech, analyzing the Bush administration's fresh strategy to target opponents of his Iraq policies.

JEFF GREENFIELD: I think the point here is for the president to try to make the case that there's an undermining going on.

Those are very strong words the president used, that it sends mixed signals to the enemy and mixed signals to the troops. [That] is a way of saying, if you now go back and say that I, the president of the United States, misled or lied us into a war, you're encouraging our enemies and you are discouraging the troops.

That is always the strongest card that any president has to play when public support for combat diminishes -- as every poll shows it has been [for the Iraq war].

I think the idea is to say, look: [Critics] were saying the same things I was about Saddam Hussein. And for them now to go and say they were misled is just wrong.

Now, there's going to be a real debate going on, on two levels. One, did the congressional leaders have the same access to intelligence that the administration had? There's a real debate about that one.

And, second, the White House is arguing that commissions have said that there was no twisting of intelligence. That's not exactly what those Intelligence Committees were finding. They found that the administration did not pressure intelligence operatives to change the intelligence. What they did with that intelligence, those committees have said, was not in their purview.

But, clearly, in Pennsylvania and again [in Alaska], the president is really trying to turn the tables and say, it's you Democrats who are partly responsible for the uncertainty out in the land.

I think, by the way, it's also a way to say, that that's why my poll numbers are going down. It's because Democrats are misleading people about the history.

WOLF BLITZER: It sounds like some of the campaign rhetoric that we heard last year, going into the election. It's still a year away from the midterm elections. But it certainly has that ringing give-and-take, that back-and-forth.

GREENFIELD: You may remember [this] was a line much quoted at the [2004] Republican Convention. And, obviously, it's overstated, as journalists are wont to do.

But one journalist, Roger Simon, said that the message of the Republican Convention was, vote for Bush or die. His satirical point [was that Republicans] were trying to make the case that, if John Kerry were put in the White House, his uncertainty would weaken the United States.

What you're getting now, almost a year to the day after the reelection of the president, is an argument from the White House saying: We know things ... are tough. We just heard the president acknowledge that. But if you Democrats try to re-fight the basis for going into this war, you're misleading the people.

And that, I believe, is what the White House wants people to focus on. They read these poll numbers. I don't care what any politician says. They know what the poll numbers say. And they are trying to change those numbers.

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