The White House Looks To Improve Iraq News

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Bush speaks on the war on terrorism with Rumsfeld and Cheney at the White House last week

The White House is embarking on a new effort to try to leaven the bleak accounts emerging from Iraq. Administration officials tell TIME that Steve Schmidt, counselor to Vice President Cheney and one of the White House's most aggressive strategists, will leave for Baghdad early this week to spend up to a month assessing media relations in the war zone. Back home, Cheney and President Bush will give major speeches this week on Iraq's Oct. 15 constitutional referendum. Administration officials say the addresses aim to define the terrorist insurgency as an enemy with a clear strategy, and to portray dire consequences if the U.S. were to withdraw. Vice President Cheney flies to Camp Lejeune, N.C., for a Monday rally with Marines, while President Bush motorcades to the Ronald Reagan Building on Thursday.

One of Schmidt's missions, administration officials say, is to determine whether the White House can take any logistical steps to help American reporters and other journalists to gather news at a time when it is often too dangerous for them to leave their compounds. The officials say Schmidt's trip is at the request of the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad, but is supported at the highest levels of the White House. "We want to see if there's a disconnect between what people in the United States are seeing on their televisions and in their newspapers, and the reality on the ground," a senior administration official said.

For a preview of the tone of Bush's war speech, a top aide pointed to a statement last week by Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, who said as he was sworn in as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "This moment in history is one where we have an enemy whose stated public intent is to destroy our way of life; 2.4 million American men and women in uniform say, 'Not on our watch.' '' The question gnawing at White House officials is whether they can do anything more to convince everyday Americans, bombarded with discouraging news from 6,000 miles away, that it's their watch, too.

Schmidt's Second Preps For a Supreme Court Nominee

Schmidt's most recent project was running the White House communications operation supporting the nomination of John G. Roberts, who will have the President on hand Monday at the Supreme Court for an investiture ceremony as chief justice. Administration officials say that in Schmidt's absence, the slack will be taken up by Jim Dyke, who was Republican National Committee (RNC) communications director during the reelection campaign and now runs a consulting firm, Jim Dyke & Associates, in Charleston, S.C. Aides tell TIME that the confirmation team for Harriet Miers, Bush's second nominee, will not include Fred Thompson, the Law and Order actor and former senator from Tennessee, who served as adviser/shepherd to Roberts. Thompson's schedule does not allow it, the aides said. Ed Gillespie, the lobbyist and former RNC chairman, will take on some of those duties but will leave his full-time status as a "special government employee" (albeit a volunteer) to help prep Miers.