3 major crises face Bush on return to Washington

Published: Sunday, August 13, 2006, 19:31 [IST]
 

CRAWFORD, Texas, Aug 13: President George W Bush faced major security challenges on three fronts today as he prepared to return to Washington after a 10-day working vacation at his ranch.

The fighting in southern Lebanon, concerns about whether there are still suspects at large in the British terror plot and the ongoing war in Iraq represented formidable issues facing the president.

White House officials were under no illusions that a UN Security Council resolution reached on Friday night would bring a swift end to the month-old Israeli-Hizbollah conflict, as Israeli forces pushed deeper into Lebanon.

On the British terror plot, two dozen suspects were under arrest, but Bush was concerned that more people involved in the plot remained at large and could represent a threat.

''We believe that this week's arrests have significantly disrupted the threat. Yet we cannot be sure that the threat has been eliminated,'' he said in his weekly radio address.

Bush puts down his summer reading -- including Albert Camus' ''The Stranger,'' and two books on Civil War President Abraham Lincoln -- in favor of presidential briefing books.

And he is back in his limousine after days of riding ranch trails on his mountain bike, once running over an armadillo and another time crashing while trying to negotiate a steep hill.

Bush will hold meetings at the Pentagon and the State Department tomorrow, including a lunch with Iraq experts likely to discuss sectarian violence in Baghdad. He meets his counterterrorism team on Tuesday on the threat to domestic security.

These high-profile sessions come as he starts to rev up White House efforts to help Republicans retain control of both houses of Congress in November elections. First lady Laura Bush is on the road most of this week working for candidates in several states and Bush goes to Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

Bush's popularity remains in the danger zone -- around 40 per cent -- heading into the election campaign, and the Iraq war could complicate the White House's hopes of US troop withdrawals from Iraq later this year.

Democrats want to make the election a referendum on Bush's stewardship of the Iraq war. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas said the administration's ''poor management'' in Iraq ''has created a rallying cry for international terrorists'' and ''diverted our focus, our military and more than 0 billion from the war on terrorism.'' White House officials believe the importance of pursuing the war on terrorism, an issue brought to the fore by the British terror plot, plays to their favor and they plan to talk about it on the campaign trail.

''The issue's going to be discussed in the fall. ... Are you saying if the Democrats talk about the war, we shouldn't? ...We'll talk about the war, and we will talk about the consequences of the policies advocated by the Democrats,'' a senior Bush administration official said.

Vice President Dick Cheney has already accused Democrats of being soft on national security, prompting Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada to accuse Bush of trying to use the British terror plot for partisan gain.

Although he is expected to return to Crawford later this month, Bush has limited his longest stretch here to 10 days this year.

Officials cited the need for campaigning, but there were also concerns that Bush might be seen as out of touch if he stayed the full month, criticism that came up a year ago when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

REUTERS


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