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Bush Appears to be Winning Support for Tough Stance Against Iraq - 2002-09-20

One year after the launch of a global war on terrorism, official Washington is now consumed with the prospect of another war against Iraq. After some initial missteps, the Bush administration appears to be winning U.S. public and congressional support for its tough stance against Saddam Hussein.

Opinion polls indicate that President Bush has had some success in convincing the American public that Iraq poses an imminent threat against the United States.

The polls also show that Americans like the fact that the president went before the United Nations to make his case. That is in line with surveys indicating most Americans want any action against Iraq to be undertaken in concert with the United Nations and U.S. allies.

In recent days, the president has been relentless in keeping the pressure on the United Nations to act to deny Iraq weapons of mass destruction. "And the United Nations Security Council must show backbone, must step up and hold this regime to account," said President Bush. "Otherwise, the United States and some of our friends will do so."

The domestic debate over Iraq has been somewhat muted, complicated by the November congressional elections where control of both the Senate and House of Representatives hangs in the balance.

Democrats say they are generally supportive of giving the president a congressional resolution that would authorize the use of force against Iraq if necessary. But many would prefer that Mr. Bush exhaust all options through the United Nations before resorting to military action.

This is Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. "There is absolutely no difference of opinion with regard to the threat that Saddam Hussein poses and the need to address that threat in a multitude of ways, preferably through an international coalition and the United Nations," he said.

Most Republicans have been supportive of the president all along. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley voted against the use of military force prior to the 1991 Gulf War. But he told NBC's Today program that he supports the president's tough line against Saddam Hussein. "I'm going to support a resolution that is based on the proposition that the U.N. sanctions have been violated and that he is a threat to the peace and stability of the area," he said.

Democratic criticism of the president's stance on Iraq seemed to dissipate after his speech to the United Nations. But some members of Congress from both parties continue to caution the White House that their dealings with constituents indicate as much ambivalence as support for the president's approach toward Iraq.

Democratic Congressman Nick Rahall was a guest on VOA TV's Newsline program this week. He says the voters in his West Virginia district are asking a lot of questions. "What is this war going to cost? Is it going to detract from our domestic needs and problems that we have and need to solve here at home?," he asked.

Many political analysts have concluded that the Democrats now see no benefit to outright opposing the president on Iraq, fearing that could hurt their chances of retaining control of the Senate and winning back the House in the November elections.

"It has now gotten to be such sensitive politics that the Democrats, on the whole, don't want to look as thought they are, in any way, tying the president's hands with respect to Iraq," says commentator Joseph Fromm, a guest on this week's Issues in the News program here on VOA. "So I think that the Democrats will support him strongly and pretty quickly because they want to get Iraq off the election agenda and get back to talk about [domestic issues like] Medicare and economics."

A congressional vote on the president's request for authority to use military force against Iraq if necessary is expected within the next few weeks and lawmakers from both parties expect the president will prevail.