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War on Terrorism Shapes up as a Major Issue for 2006 US Elections

Jim MaloneKathy Scarrah

President Bush continues his push 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 Democratic Party members are not backing away from criticizing the president's handling of Iraq and the war on terror. VOA's Jim Malone takes a closer look.

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.

In recent days, Mr. Bush has 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."

Opposition Democrats are somewhat split on what to do about Iraq.  A group that includes Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi favors a  withdrawal of U.S. troops over the next 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.

And many Democrats are not shy about criticizing the president's overall handling of the war on terror. 

Democratic Senator Joe Biden sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  He spoke on ABC's This Week program. "The president made a speech four years ago about the axis of evil.   What's happened, George? Korea has four times more nuclear capability than it had before. Iran's on the brink of nuclear capability. Iraq is somewhat in chaos and with Iran's influence growing. They've gotten failing grades from the 9/11 Commission for not protecting our ports, our roads, our highways, and our air lanes."

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. "We cannot 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."

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

Amy Walter is the Senior Editor of The Cook Political Report, a non-partisan publication, which provides analysis of American politics.  "For Republicans and for the President, this is an issue in which they continue to have positive ratings for voters.  In fact, when you look at the whole litany of issues out there that voters are interested in, terrorism is basically the one issue in which Republicans have an advantage over Democrats." 

Miss Walter says since the Vietnam War, when Democrats were associated with the anti-war movement, the Republican Party has been strongly associated with defense and national security issues.

She says Democrats will attempt to find a delicate political balance in advance of the November congressional elections, and the 2008 presidential campaign.

"They want to go up against whoever the Republican nominee is as strong as possible on national security issues, to be credentialed on those issues.  Basically, to say that this is not something that only Republicans can talk about."

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, saying 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.

Miss Walter agrees. "This is the first midterm election where it looks like we have the traditional makings of a change election, a referendum election. "

One-third of the U.S. Senate and all 435 representatives will be on the November ballot.

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