Bush speaks on economy, War in Iraq in Cleveland

Andrew Hampp

President George W. Bush arrives yesterday afternoon at the I-X Jet Center at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Bush was in Cleveland for the afternoon to present the Presidential Volunteer Service Award to Garfield Heights resident Lois Hagood and speak at the

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

President Bush addressed concerns regarding the Iraq war in an open forum at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel yesterday afternoon. The event, hosted by the Cleveland City Club, provided Cleveland residents and students the opportunity to ask the president questions on any topic without prior authorization.

Bush’s appearance came just one day after the third anniversary of the War in Iraq.

In a speech prior to the question-and-answer session, President Bush addressed the conflicting views many Americans have had on Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“In the face of continued reports about killings and reprisals, I understand how some Americans have had their confidence shaken,” Bush told the audience. “Others look at the violence they see each night on their television screens and they wonder how I can remain so optimistic about the prospects of success in Iraq. They wonder what I see that they don’t.”

Bush also discussed the positive effects of U.S. occupation of Iraq, including increased voter registration and participation in recent elections in Baghdad.

“I feel very confident when I see so many people voting,” Bush told the crowd. “You see the city coming back to life. The Iraqi coalition forces helped build the political support needed to make the political movement (in Iraq) a success.”

After his speech, Bush began to call on individual audience members for questions. The first came from a woman who asked if the War in Iraq and the increase in terrorism were signs of the apocalypse.

“I haven’t really thought of it that way,” he said, starting to laugh. “I guess I’m more of a practical fella in that I seek comfort and not think of this global war on terror as a global war on terror. I’ve told the American people, we will find the terrorists and bring justice. My most important job is to protect you.”

Several questions later, a young man cited a statistic that the War in Iraq costs $19,600 per U.S. household and asked the president how he expects college students to be able to afford tuition at a time such as this.

“When you grow in your economy, you have the opportunity to protect yourselves and provide more Pell Grants and increase student loan activity,” Bush said of his administration’s response to education funding. “It’s essential to go to college, and we have a robust program to help people do just that. It’s also essential to keep things in place, to keep the economy growing and keep taxes low to keep the economy moving.”

Hours before Bush listened to concerns from the audience inside the hotel, more than 100 protesters voiced theirs across the street from the Renaissance. Crowds shouted chants such as “One, two, three, four! We don’t want your bloody war!”

One woman, clad in a bright orange jumpsuit with the word “Guantanamo” printed on the back, held a megaphone to her mouth and shouted out abortion statistics .

That woman was Eliska Dali, student youth organizer for an anti-Bush organization called World Can’t Wait, who said it is important for college students to make themselves more politically involved, particularly those at Kent State.

“We as students need to be at the forefront of things,” she said. “It’s getting to be like it was back in the ’60s, when Kent was at the forefront of the political movement. Kent State needs to be at the center of the resistance movement again.”

Upon overhearing Dali’s comments on his alma mater, Kent alumnus Ted Nickarz, who was participating in the protest, shared his story of being in class at Satterfield Hall at the time of the May 4 shootings. He said the experience had a profound effect on his political beliefs.

“I was apathetic until May 4, but I became a pacifist afterward,” he said. “This brings back memories. It’s like being in college all over again.”

But not everyone holding a sign among the boisterous crowd was protesting Bush’s appearance in Cleveland yesterday. Several conservatives stood a little farther to the left of the anti-war protesters.

Lakewood resident Julianna Finney said she was representing mainstream America by holding a sign that read “Democracy isn’t for everyone” alongside her mother and her friend Becky.

“We knew there would be a huge anti-Bush, anti-war rally,” Finney said. “We wanted to put a fair and balanced opinion out there. We’re conservatives by definition, and they don’t exactly express their opinions.

“Even though there’s three of us, we are representing hopefully thousands of people that aren’t able to get out and support the capitalist community.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact public affairs reporter Andrew Hampp at [email protected]