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Analysts: Iraqi Election Success Critical for Bush's Second Term

The outcome of Sunday's elections in Iraq could have an impact on U.S. public opinion, which in recent weeks has grown increasingly skeptical about the situation there. 

In several recent newspaper and television interviews, the president continues to promote the idea that successful elections in Iraq could have far-reaching consequences, both in the Middle East and at home.

He recently spoke with NBC News.

"This is just step one of a series of important steps toward the emergence of a democratic Iraq,” said Mr. Bush.  “And I believe it is going to happen and when it happens, America will be more secure for the long run."

The president has also said that he sees his re-election victory in November as validation of his policy on Iraq.

Henry Nau is a political science professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  He told VOA's 'Encounter' program that the president is confident about moving ahead in Iraq in the wake of his re-election.

"And half of the American people supported him and I think strongly support him at this point,” said Mr. Nau.  “And therefore, he moves into his second term with a substantial reinforcement of the directions in which he has been going [on foreign policy]."

But recent public-opinion polls suggest a growing number of Americans have doubts about the situation in Iraq.  A recent USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll found that 59 percent of those surveyed said things are going badly for the United States in Iraq.  Other recent polls showed that a majority of those asked now believe that the Iraq war was not worth the cost.

Despite the president's re-election, Democrats like Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy continue to hammer away at the administration's handling of Iraq.

"But I do not retreat from the view that Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam,” said Mr. Kennedy.  “At the critical moment in the war on terrorism, the administration turned away from pursuing Osama bin Laden and made the catastrophic choice that bogged down America in an endless quagmire in Iraq."

Political analysts say the Iraqi elections could have a major impact on U.S. domestic opinion and could affect the president's domestic agenda in Congress.  Larry Sabato is a political expert at the University of Virginia.

"If he can begin to turn this very dangerous and unhappy situation in Iraq around, then he will have a reasonable chance to get some of his other second term agenda items passed,” said Mr. Sabato.  “If he does not, it is easy to see how Iraq will become the quagmire that Vietnam was."

George Washington University professor Henry Nau says Iraq looms as the president's top leadership challenge in his second term.

"I think he is committed to staying the course in Iraq,” added Mr. Nau.  “There was a lot of controversy about that particular conflict, not so much about Afghanistan.  But it is clear that we are there and that we are now pursuing policies that have a chance of providing for a stable, modestly democratic government in that country and I think George Bush will stay that course."

Although the elections are an important step in Iraq's transition to democracy, many analysts say much of the American public is more concerned about the continuing U.S. casualties in Iraq and the extensive tours of duty for U.S. soldiers there.

Michael O'Hanlon is a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution, a public policy research organization in Washington.

"And I think for most American citizens, the level of violence against our own troops and, of course, Iraqis against each other is probably a more important barometer of how well things are going inside of Iraq than the march of a political process," noted Mr. O’Hanlon.

As that political process moves forward, a number of analysts say they expect increasing pressure from the American public to speed the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and turn over security responsibilities to the Iraqis themselves.

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