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U.S. Politics Play in the War on Terrorism


President Bush continued his push this week to rally domestic support for the U.S.-led effort in Iraq and the overall war on terrorism. But with congressional elections looming in November, opposition Democrats are not backing away from criticizing the president's handling of Iraq and the war on terror.

The president's effort to buttress public support for the situation in Iraq and the overall war on terror began late in 2005 amid opinion polls that showed dwindling public confidence in his handling of both issues.

On Thursday, Mr. Bush remained on the offensive as he described one of the guiding principles of his presidency, “September 11th, 2001, our nation saw that vast oceans and great distances could no longer keep us safe. I made a decision that day that America will not wait to be attacked again."

Earlier in the week, the president ran into criticism at an unlikely venue, the funeral for Coretta Scott King, widow of the late civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.

With Mr. Bush in attendance, civil rights leader and Reverend Joseph Lowery made a reference to the lack of weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, a key rationale for the U.S. led invasion, "We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there (Iraq). But Coretta (Scott King) knew and we knew that there were weapons of misdirection right down here (U.S.)."

Republicans Strong On Security

Opposition Democrats are somewhat split on what to do about Iraq. A group that includes Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi favors a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops over several months. But many Democrats in Congress believe U.S. forces will have to stay much longer in order to help bring stability to Iraq.

Polls continue to show more Americans trust the president and Republicans on the issue of national security than the Democrats. But that has not stopped Democrats from trying to find other ways to criticize the president's record on national security.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid spoke Thursday to a group of displaced residents from New Orleans who came to Washington to protest the government's much criticized response to Hurricane Katrina last August, "Events in New Orleans proved that President Bush did not learn from the disaster of 9/11. He did not do everything he could to protect our cities and our states from disasters."

The president's Republican supporters point to the fact that there have been no further attacks on the U.S. mainland since the 9/11 attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Mr. Bush says the war on terrorism has produced success against al-Qaida. But he is also quick to warn Americans not to become complacent.

"And because of these efforts, the terrorists are weakened and fractured. Yet they are still lethal. We can not let the fact that America has not been attacked in four and one-half years since September 11th lull us into an illusion that the threats to our nation have disappeared. They have not," said President Bush.

Protecting Civil Rights

Another point of Democratic criticism is that the administration has jeopardized some civil liberties, especially in the case of the president authorizing domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency without first obtaining a court warrant.

Mr. Bush says the program is designed to find out who in the United States is talking to al-Qaida members overseas and that he has the authority as president to protect the country. But many Democrats say the president's decision to bypass a 1978 law that regulates domestic eavesdropping is a violation of the law.

Political experts believe the president is right to continue to rally support both for Iraq and the war on terrorism.

Stuart Rothenberg is an independent analyst based in Washington. "By narrow majorities in November of 2004, Americans approved of the president's performance, approved of the war and thought that the war was part of a larger war against terrorism. And now, there has been a significant reversal on those numbers. I think that explains, in part, significantly the president's problems, that the cloud of Iraq has settled over the administration," said Stuart Rothenberg.

But analyst Rothenberg also notes that Democrats are struggling to come up with a coherent response to the president, both on Iraq and on the overall war on terrorism.

Iraq is a Priority

University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato told VOA's "Press Conference USA" program that he believes President Bush pays little attention to public opinion polls. "This president, while he does not like to be unpopular, seems to take the long view more than most presidents do", said Sabato, "He convinced himself, rightly or wrongly, that he is going to be judged by what happens in Iraq and he is willing to risk short term unpopularity in order to achieve his policy goals in Iraq."

Republicans have been encouraged by a slight boost in the president's popularity since he began his series of speeches to buttress support for Iraq and the war on terror.

But Democrats believe they have an opportunity to make gains in the November election because they predict that Republicans will be on the defensive over Iraq and domestic issues like the economy, the growing cost of health care and a congressional corruption scandal involving once powerful Republican lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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