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Bush endorses Iraqi prime minister, seeking to show he has not abandoned him

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. — President Bush, scrambling to show he has not abandoned Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, offered a fresh endorsement on Wednesday.
    ‘‘Prime Minister Maliki’s a good guy, good man with a difficult job and I support him,’’ Bush said in a speech to military veterans.
    ‘‘And it’s not up to the politicians in Washington, D.C., to say whether he will remain in his position,’’ Bush said. ‘‘It is up to the Iraqi people who now live in a democracy and not a dictatorship.’’
    The president’s comment was intended to dispel the impression he left on Tuesday that he was distancing himself from al-Maliki in advance of a new assessment of the war and political conditions in Iraq.
    On Tuesday, Bush had offered a tepid endorsement of the Iraqi government, expressing frustration at the lack of progress and saying it was up to the Iraqi people to decide whether to replace those in power. The remark brought an angry response from al-Maliki who said, ‘‘No one has the right to place timetables on the Iraq government. It was elected by its people.’’
    The White House set out to reframe Bush’s comment and the way it was interpreted.
    National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the president’s words were not intended to signal a withdrawal of support for al-Maliki. As a result of the heavy media coverage of his remarks at the North American summit in Canada, Bush decided to insert a direct line of support for al-Maliki in his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference.
    ‘‘Prime Minister Maliki knows where the president stands,’’ Johndroe told reporters ahead of Bush’s speech. The spokesman said that after Bush’s comments in Canada, the White House had tried to make clear Bush was not distancing himself from Maliki.
    Bush’s expression of support for al-Maliki came in a speech arguing the case for remaining in Iraq despite doubts and frustrations.
    ‘‘As long as I am commander in chief we will fight to win,’’ Bush said to heavy applause from the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference. ‘‘I’m confident that we will prevail.’’
    ‘‘Our troops are seeing the progress that is being made on the ground,’’ Bush 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?’ Here’s my answer: We’ll support our troops, we’ll support our commanders, and we will give them everything they need to succeed.
    When they met in Jordan last November, the president called al-Maliki ‘‘the right guy for Iraq.’’ Now, he continually prods al-Maliki to do more to forge political reconciliation before the temporary military buildup ends.
    The Iraqi was chafing over this Wednesday,
    ‘‘Those who make such statements are bothered by our visit to Syria. We will pay no attention. We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere,’’ al-Maliki said.
    The flap over al-Maliki stole the spotlight from Bush’s attempt to compare the war in Iraq to U.S. involvements in Asia that lost popular backing but which he argues eventually proved their worth and led to lasting peace.
    ‘‘We are still in the early hours of the current ideological struggle, but we know how the others ended, and that knowledge helps guide our efforts today,’’ the president said.
    ‘‘The ideals and interests that led America to help the Japanese turn defeat into democracy are the same that lead us to remain engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq,’’ Bush said. ‘‘The defense strategy that refused to hand the South Koreans over to a totalitarian neighbor helped raise up an Asian Tiger that is a model for developing countries across the world, including the Middle East.
    ‘‘The result of American sacrifice and perseverance in Asia,’’ he said, ‘‘is a freer, more prosperous and stable continent whose people want to live in peace with America not attack America.’’
    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., quickly dismissed Bush’s position.
    ‘‘President Bush’s attempt to compare the war in Iraq to past military conflicts in East Asia ignores the fundamental difference between the two,’’ he said. ‘‘Our nation was misled by the Bush administration in an effort to gain support for the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, leading to one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our history.’’
    Bush’s speech at the VFW is the first in a planned two-punch combo.
    After comparing the current war against extremists with the militarists of Japan and the communists in Korea and Vietnam in Wednesday’s speech, he plans to discuss the war in Iraq in the context of its implications for the broader Middle East in a speech next Tuesday at the annual American Legion convention in Reno, Nev.

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