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'Setting Expectations Tour' is Bush's segue into September

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  • President Bush compared Iraq war to Vietnam war in speech to veterans group
  • Bush argues a withdrawal from Iraq would create chaos like Vietnam withdrawal
  • Administration preparing to release report September on current Iraq strategy
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By Ed Henry
CNN White House Correspondent
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KANSAS CITY, Missouri -- Kansas City was the first stop on what you might call the "Setting Expectations Tour."

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President Bush addresses the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention Wednesday.

The president delivered a speech in Kansas City, Missouri, Wednesday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, where he kicks off the process of preparing the nation for the progress report on Iraq that he and his administration will present next month.

The message for September is already taking shape now: The surge is working, so Gen. David Petraeus needs more time to translate those early successes into victory.

"Our troops are seeing this progress on the ground," the president said. "And as they take the initiative from the enemy, they have a question: Will their elected leaders in Washington pull the rug out from under them just as they are gaining momentum and changing the dynamic on the ground in Iraq?

"My answer is clear: We will support our troops, we will support our commanders, and we will give them everything they need to succeed," Bush told the veterans. Video Watch Democrats repsond to Bush's speech »

The second stop on the Setting Expectations Tour is next Tuesday, when the president addresses the American Legion convention in Reno, Nevada.

Choosing these friendly audiences gives the president a clear political opportunity to rally support for a struggling war with emotional pleas to veterans of the Korean War and World War II.

"Prevailing in this struggle is essential to our future as a nation," Mr. Bush said. "The question now before us comes down to this: Will today's generation of Americans resist the deceptive allure of retreat -- and do in the Middle East what veterans in this room did in Asia?"

But the president stepped on his own message a bit the day before this speech when he backed away from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Expressing frustration with the pace of progress toward political reconciliation, the president declared that if the Iraqi government doesn't "respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government."

That sentiment was not received well in Baghdad, especially coming so closely on the heels of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, calling for Maliki's outright ouster. Maliki lashed out today at Levin in particular, declaring that such comments are "irresponsible" and "overstep the bounds of diplomatic and political courtesy."

All of this sent the traveling White House in Kansas City scrambling on Wednesday morning to deny there's any daylight between the president and prime minister.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said some words of support for Maliki were added to the VFW speech because the media had misreported the president's alleged coolness. Johndroe claimed the president was "clear, but the message did not come through."

Of course, any U.S. interference in the Iraqi government would undermine the president's oft-stated boast that the war brought freedom and democracy to Iraq. Johndroe correctly pointed out that the president on Tuesday did say that it's "up to the Iraqis" -- not American politicians -- to make any changes to their government.

But the White House is walking a fine line on that point after the president gave a tepid endorsement of Maliki on Tuesday, the same day U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker again publicly called Maliki out by saying, "We do expect results, as do the Iraqi people, and our support is not a blank check."

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Another challenge for the president is that after running from comparisons between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, he's now trying to make an analogy himself, saying in the VFW speech that a quick "retreat" from Iraq would lead to the same type of slaughter of innocent civilians that came after the U.S. left Vietnam.

Of course, critics argue there's another important similarity between Vietnam and Iraq. Vietnam was a quagmire. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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