| George W. Bush in Washington on Sunday
Charleston (West Virginia), July 5 (Reuters): President George W. Bush, buffeted by slumping approval ratings over Iraq, visited the campaign battleground of West Virginia yesterday to deliver an Independence Day message brimming with confidence and optimism about the US role on the world stage.
Speaking from the steps of the West Virginia state capitol, the Republican President told hundreds of cheering, flag-waving supporters that the spirit of freedom wrought by America’s declaration of independence from Britain on July 4, 1776, could transform troubled places — including Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We still believe, on America’s 228th birthday, that freedom has the power to change the world,” Bush said in remarks laced with references to God and the courageous character of the US military.
“We are proud of our founders, but I know that the founders would be proud of America today,” Bush said. “They would see a nation that is the world’s foremost champion of liberty. They would see a nation which stands strong in the face of violent men.”
Bush’s Fourth of July appearance followed a momentous week in Iraq, where US authorities handed over power to an interim government and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein made a defiant court appearance that was televised worldwide.
Favorable developments for the Bush administration were quickly overshadowed by a continued drumbeat of bad news from Iraq, however, including military deaths culminating in the reported beheading of a captured US Marine.
A spate of opinion polls showed Bush’s job approval ratings scraping fresh lows and suggested the public was becoming increasingly sceptical about the value of the Iraq war and the administration’s justification for the March 2003 invasion.
Analysts said the Independence Day appearance gave the President an opportunity to step outside the confines of partisan politics. “People are looking to him with a much less partisan eye on the Fourth of July than they are on most days of the year,” said Calvin Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.
In West Virginia, a state with a large number of military veterans and a conservative culture that shares Bush’s opposition to abortion and gun control, the President made no references to troubled relations with major allies or Arab anger over his plan for democratic reform in West Asia.
He praised the sacrifices of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.