Accessibility links

Breaking News

US Election Results Could Impact Iraq Policy

Some opposition Democrats believe that Republican losses in the November 7 midterm congressional elections would boost the prospects for change in U.S. policy toward Iraq.

In a recent conference call with reporters, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, an influential voice on foreign policy, called for fellow Democrats to make the upcoming congressional elections a referendum on the Iraq war.

"I think Iraq is about at the breaking point here and we do not have much time left, in my view, to make some very important decisions to salvage the situation," said Mr. Biden.

Biden says a Democratic takeover of one or both houses of Congress would open the way for a new bipartisan effort to force changes in the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq.

"If the Democrats make significant gains in the United States Senate and take control of the House, we will be able to forge a bipartisan consensus for change in Iraq, on Iraqi policy, and put significant pressure on the president to do just that," he added. "But if the Republicans hold on and there are no significant gains on the part of Democrats, I think President Bush and [Vice President Dick] Cheney and [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld will take that as a sign to continue to stay the course."

Biden says several Republican colleagues have expressed interest in a new approach on Iraq, but he declined to identify them.

White House spokesman Tony Snow says the Bush administration is moving away from the 'stay the course' approach on Iraq and is constantly adjusting its tactics to meet challenges on the ground.

President Bush spoke about the issue during a recent news conference.

"Stay the course is about a quarter right," he said. "Stay the course means keep doing what you are doing. My attitude is, do not do what you are doing if it is not working, change. Stay the course also means do not leave before the job is done and we are going to get the job done in Iraq."

Democrats have put some Republican candidates on the defensive over the Iraq issue and even some Republicans have expressed frustration with the situation there in recent weeks.

Among them is Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. Graham told the Associated Press that Iraq is on the verge of chaos and that the current plan is not working.

Recent public-opinion polls indicate Americans disapprove of the president's handling of Iraq by about a two-to-one ratio with the election less than two weeks away.

The latest survey by The Washington Post and ABC News indicates independent voters now prefer Democratic candidates to Republicans by a wide margin, in large part because of the Iraq issue.

Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute is a longtime observer of public opinion on Iraq.

"Americans never thought this was going to be a cakewalk [easy]," she said. "They always expected it to be a very, very long conflict. But I think they are being worn down by the fact that the situation does not seem to be improving."

The president and many of his Republican allies continue to cast Iraq as the central front in the overall war on terror, an approach that was successful during the 2004 election.

Ohio State University professor John Mueller is an expert on war and public opinion.

"Bush's effort to try to blend those two together is very wise, from his standpoint, if he can demonstrate that [the war on terror] is part of the issue of dealing with Iraq, as he has already found out in a couple of elections," he noted.

Midterm congressional elections often revolve around local candidates and local issues. But this year may be different.

Stephen Hess is a political analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"It may well be that because of Iraq and other forces this is one of those nationalizing elections. We shall see," said Mr. Hess.

Democrats need to gain 15 seats in the House of Representatives and six seats in the Senate to regain control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994.