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Iraq, 9-11 Continue to Dominate US Political Debate


George W. Bush
Concern over the situation in Iraq and renewed political divisions over the 2001 terrorist attacks dominated the Washington political debate this past week.

In the wake of several national public opinion polls that show waning support for the U.S. effort in Iraq, President Bush and other administration officials are waging a vigorous campaign to convince Americans that they are on the right track, despite continuing violence by insurgents.

"They figure, if they can shake our will and affect public opinion, then politicians will give up on the mission," said George W. Bush. "I am not giving up on the mission."

President Bush will deliver a nationally televised address on Tuesday to mark the one-year anniversary of the transfer of Iraqi sovereignty.

The president's supporters in Congress hope the speech will reassure Americans, after a week of criticism from opposition Democrats on Iraq, including Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

"We are now in a seemingly intractable quagmire," said Ted Kennedy. "Our troops are dying and there really is no end in sight."

It is not only Democrats who are concerned. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that public unease over Iraq is growing in his home state.

"People are beginning to question, and I do not think it is a blip on the radar screen [insignificant]," said Lindsey Graham. "I think we have a chronic problem on our hands."

Secretary Rumsfeld says Iraq has made enormous progress since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, but acknowledges that much more remains to be done.

"Any [people] who say that we have lost this war, or that we are losing this war, are wrong," said Donald Rumsfeld. "We are not."

Even as Democrats put the administration on the defensive over Iraq, another political debate was ignited over comments from a senior Bush aide, Karl Rove.

He spoke in New York this past week about what he saw as the different political responses to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9-11 and the attacks, and prepared for war," said Karl Rove. " Liberals saw the savagery of the 9-11 attacks, and wanted to prepare [legal] indictments and offer [psychological] therapy and understanding to our attackers."

Those comments sparked outrage from a host of Democrats, including Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts, Hillary Clinton of New York and Charles Schumer, also from New York.

"To say that right after 9-11 people of one political stripe wanted to fight terror and the other sided with the terrorists, or sympathized with the terrorists, is beyond the pale [unacceptable], " said Charles Schumer.

The controversy over the Rove comments came only days after Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin apologized to fellow senators for comparing the interrogation techniques of suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay naval base with those used by the Nazis and the Soviets in their gulags. Those comments sparked outrage from the White House and Republicans in Congress.

Political analysts see these latest controversies as the most recent examples of a sharp partisan political divide in the United States that became especially intense following the disputed 2000 presidential election.

Charles Cook is a non-partisan analyst who publishes the Cook Political Report.

"We are in a very polarized country, with emotions on both sides, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, just incredibly intense," said Charles Cook.

Those partisan feelings could intensify further, if President Bush gets an opportunity to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice William Rehnquist has been battling thyroid cancer.

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