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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Iraq and Terrorism

I’ve been arguing lately that, while the horse race may have been dancing around a bit, the most politically salient change has been the huge doubts that have been raised about Bush’s approach to Iraq in particular and to the war on terror in general. Here are some findings from Ipsos-AP that suggest just how serious this damage has been.
First, consider the question of whether the Iraq war was a mistake. You know when more people than not starting thinking a war was a mistake (remember Vietnam!), the incumbent administration is in real trouble. And Ipsos now has the first example of this. They asked the question: “All in all, thinking about how things have gone in Iraq since the United States went to war there in March 2003, do you think the Bush administration made the right decision in going to war in Iraq or made a mistake in going to war in Iraq?” The response: 49 percent mistake/48 percent right decision. When Ipsos asked the same question four months ago, however, they got a lopsidedly positive reply: 67 percent right decision/29 percent mistake. Quite a change.
Note that this question specifically mentions “the Bush administration”; they also asked the same question with “United States” substituted for Bush administration. That question returns a more positive reply: 57 percent right decision/40 percent mistake. Interesting how the specific mention of the Bush administration apparently moves people toward the “mistake” judgement.
Now consider whether the war with Iraq has increased or decreased the threat of terrorism. That one’s been headed south for a while, but these are most negative findings I’ve seen yet. First, the poll finds that 47 percent say the military action in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism in the world, compared to just 25 percent who say it’s decreased that threat–almost 2:1 (25 percent say there’s been no effect). Four months ago, the increased terrorism and decreased terrorism camps were exactly equal in size (38/38).
But here’s the real mind-blower. Given a straight-up choice between whether “in the long term…..there will be more or less terrorism in the United States because the U.S. went to war in Iraq?”, the public believes, by 54 percent to 37 percent, that the war will produce more, not less, terrrorism in our country.
In other words, not only has the war in Iraq become a big mess which gets more US soldiers killed every day, but we’re actually less safe at home now because of it. No wonder more and more of the public thinks the war was a mistake. And I wouldn’t be suprised if that thought has crossed Karl Rove’s mind as well.

16 comments on “Iraq and Terrorism

  1. spencer on

    one question has anyone ran against a war and won.
    Ike is the answer & others have talked about IKes I will go to Korea.
    Can Kerry do something similiar?
    Argue that Bush has lost all credibility with the people of Iraq and as long as Bush is Pesident
    the people of Iraq will not accept anything he proposes.
    Say he will go to Iraq as the new president and work out an acceptable solution that the Iraqi
    people willl accept — something
    Bush is not doing.

  2. Maxcat on

    shrubush is running anti Kerry ads spending millions, the Iraq war is on a downword spiral, the so called coalition is desolving, the world is turning more an more against the US efforts in Iraq, even England is questioning now. So why should Kerry get involved anymore than he is? All of these things don’t cost him a dime and they are all in his favor. shrubush and the neocons are self destructing. Why there is a God after all.

  3. Marcus Lindroos on

    > Part of his success, in addition to the substance
    > of his message, was stylistic. He came across as
    > energetic, resolute, and firm. He projected
    > optimism and idealism.
    Kerry will never be a major player in the “style” department, alas. Fortunately, his somber demeanor might be more appropriate if most voters feel the country is on the wrong path in November…
    > Fareed Zakaria said in his Newsweek column last
    > week that he is not sure that the US right now is
    > effectively fighting the war of ideas.
    What ideas? *grin* Heck — this Administration often doesn’t even bother to woo its GOP supporters in Congress! Their natural instinct is to run roughshod over everybody.
    I try to keep an eye on what the American Enterprise Institute neocons are writing in THE WEEKLY STANDARD et al, and they all come across as arrogant but naive idealists to me. For example, see Paul Wolfowitz’ testimony in the Senate from March 2003 about how wonderful and easy the liberation of Iraq would be.
    So where is the opening for Kerry? Hard to say, but one possibly shrewd move would be to market himself as a “uniter”. After all, “Shrub” has proved to be a miserable failure in this regard. He doesn’t have single true ally in Europe besides Tony Blair and he is loathed in the Arab world as well. At home, opinion polls indicate he is less popular among the opposition than Clinton was — at the height of the impeachment process!! Can the nation and the “free world” really rally against such a divisive character?
    To be a “uniter”, he will have to make concessions. Persuading his good buddy John McCain to join the ticket as VP might not be such a good thing even if it were a realistic possibility (it isn’t). McCain might be another “Shrub” hater (what sane person isn’t, these days?) but he would undermine his own credibility if he defected from the GOP. So Kerry needs something else. How about proposing to finally end the juridical nominations battle, by promising to consult with left- *and* right wing activist groups?
    As for wooing non-Democrats, I think his best shot might be disgruntled libertarians. Kerry’s current emphasis on deficit reduction is a good first step.

  4. bt on

    Marcus, re your point about the 1960 election I see some parallels. At that time the nation felt very threatened by Sputnik and the Soviet threat although we were not at war (at Cold War). I’m not sure if the public feels more or less threatened by al qaeda or Islamic radicalism now as it did by the Soviets then.
    As was the case with Kennedy, Kerry is facing an opponent who will exploit any opportunity to portray him as soft (even though then, as now, the Democrat served with distinction in combat while his Republican opponent did not). The missile gap Kennedy alleged turned out to be fictional. His strategy was successful in keeping the red-baiting Nixon from portraying him as soft. Part of his success, in addition to the substance of his message, was stylistic. He came across as energetic, resolute, and firm. He projected optimism and idealism.
    Kennedy did not hesitate to describe the struggle as one between the forces of freedom and the forces of tyranny. He understood that in part it was a struggle of ideas and that the US needed an offensive strategy to counter the Soviet’s own offensive ideological strategy.
    Fareed Zakaria said in his Newsweek column last week that he is not sure that the US right now is effectively fighting the war of ideas. I think that is an understatement. In his NYT op-ed piece yesterday, Richard Clarke acknowledged the difficulty of this task while asserting its critical importance.
    Re AS’s points, in the 1968 election Senator Gene McCarthy challenged LBJ in the Democratic primaries and scored an enormous upset when he pulled over 40% in New Hampshire, to LBJ’s 47 or 48 percent, I believe. But polls there showed that the voters thought McCarthy was to Johnson’s right on the Vietnam War issue! The Democrats had a disastrous convention yet VP Humphrey, whose position on the war was indistinct, closed fast and came within a whisker of defeating Nixon in a three-person race where the arch-segregationist George Wallace polled well into double digits.
    Kerry can and should–some might say must–run to Bush’s right on combating al qaeda. This will help him gain a hearing on economic or other domestic issues he chooses to emphasize. At the same time, it will position him so as to leave him with a chance to win the election on foreign policy if that turns out to be what he must do.

  5. Marcus Lindroos on

    AS wrote:
    > What about this war makes you think bad news
    > will work against the incumbent, for the first time
    > (maybe) ever?
    “AS” posts a good but depressing analysis, sigh.
    I guess the best one can hope for is another election like 1960, when the Democratic challenger was proposing to fight a _SMARTER_, savvier war than the GOP incumbent. JFK was accusing Eisenhower/Nixon of neglecting the “missile gap”, saying he would boost U.S. defense in case he got elected.
    Clearly, another McGovern-type politician will never win no matter how bad things are in Iraq. Kerry might have a small chance if he somehow can propose a tough but compelling/attractive alternative to the current Administration’s policies.

  6. AS on

    I’m not really sure about your analysis, Ruy. Maybe 5 months out it looks that way in the polls. But answer this one question: Has there ever been a president elected on a theme of criticizing the government’s policies during wartime? Especially a challenger defeating an incumbent. In our 220 some-odd years as a nation, I’m not sure it has ever happened. Lefties compare Iraq to Vietnam. I react to that by saying I sure hope it’s not the same, because as we all recall the winners of the presidential elections between 1960 and 1972 were all big supporters of the war. In 1968 and 1972, when the war was front and center, to put it mildly, it wasn’t even close.
    What about this war makes you think bad news will work against the incumbent, for the first time (maybe) ever?
    It’s still the economy, stupid, and maybe a few other issues like the environment, choice, and corporate scandals. Protecting the country against another terrorist attack could be huge, too, if Kerry can figure out a way to bring it up. But Iraq … I just don’t know.

  7. Lynnell on

    I love your optimism and could always use more. But how do you explain the ubeat stuff from Ipsos-AP with the depressing poll results from Sunday’s Washington Post article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A39836-2004Apr24.html) that says 60 percent of Americans continue to believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And 57 percent believe Iraq gave substantial support to al Queda or was directly involved in the Sept. 11th attack?
    The Washington Post article says that even though Bush’s statements that Iraq had WMDs and supported al Qaeda are “debatabbe and highly disputed, ” that much of the public appears to have accepted Bush’s views and therefore tunes out any evidence to the contrary.
    Juan Cole, a Middle East expert who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, comments today about this same poll on his website, http://www.juancole.com/. Cole says that rather than accept the reality that the President is lying to them, (and therefore fooling them) it appears that the majority of people would simply rather believe the lie—and all other testimony or facts be damned. Cole concludes, “If nearly half the country cannot even see that things are going badly wrong in Iraq, one despairs that anyone will work up the political will to try to fix the problems before it’s too late.”
    Have we reached a level of insanity in this country where half the population is impervious to facts, and will believe whatever they’re told? If so, then what do we do?
    Got any hopeful comments?

  8. Joe Zainea on

    I’ve said it here before and I have to say it again. The deteriorating situation in Iraq is hurting John Kerry more than George Bush.
    Its hurting Kerry because the really hard core opposition to the war is on the left. That hard core opposition wants the US forces out now….and that’s what Ralph Nader is saying. The worse things get in Fallugha and Najaf, the more support Nader will drain from Kerry.
    Kerry can’t move left without losing the middle. He might as well move to the right with a clear message that he will fight (here’s the nuance) Al Quaeda with a greater ferocity than Bush could ever dream of. Only then can he criticize Bush on his handling of Iraq.
    He needs to first establish his bona fides on fighting an international terror organization before he can be credible on how he would handle Bush’s mess in Iraq.

  9. Marcus Lindroos on

    > A really good vulnerability for Bush, right now, is the
    > U.N. complaint, that Iraqi nuclear material is being
    >allowed to walk off. Go after that!
    : OK, so more of us think that the mess in Iraq
    : increases the odds of a terrorist attack here.
    Right. Another anti-Bush bomb that’s constantly ticking is his confident campaign statement that “America is now safer because we have removed Saddam Hussein from power.” But without credible evidence of WMDs or Saddam/Al Qaeda ties, there is at best only an indirect connection.
    If Iraq and the war against terrorism are in any way related to each other, it’s because Islamic extremists living in the West might be so enraged they do “a Tim McVeight” by blowing up hundreds of innocent people in Madrid, Oklahoma City or wherever. So, one wonders what will happen to the President’s approval ratings if there is a Madrid-type attack on U.S. soil and if it turns out Iraq wasn’t involved in any way, except the terrorists add the invasion to their list of grievances…
    The Democrats’ real problem is they cannot point out things which are basically common sense to any normally intelligent person, without immediately being accused of being “appeasers”, “soft on terrorism”, “unpatriotic” etc.. As if there were only two alternatives when fighting terrorism: all-out war or total appeasement. Sigh. That is certainly how “Shrub” likes to portray things. This is a guy who stubbornly preaches the same old sermon time after time. He doesn’t try to persuade the other side (Demos, other NATO countries etc.). He doesn’t like to listen. He just keeps pursuing the same policies no matter what happens in Iraq and elsewhere. Maybe Kerry’s ambivalence and nuances will turn out to be an asset after all, *IF* Iraq is going down the drain?
    I don’t know if Iraq is a lost case or not. NRO, THE WEEKLY STANDARD and neoconservative bloggers sound somewhat rattled, but they nonetheless keep repeating the mantra that everything is “really” OK, fewer people are being killed than in major American cities, the vast majority of Iraqis absolutely love freedom, democracy, American values etc., Basra/Fallujah is a mere aberration created in part by the anti-American press etc.. On the other hand, everyone from Siemens to Spain seems to be leaving the country since they regard the place as way to dangerous. I also read an article in WaPo (yeah, anti-American biased left wing journalists again:-) which stated that the Iraqi reconstruction is basically on hold right now because of it. This strikes me as really bad news, since the Iraqis will embrace democracy etc. only if they feel things are improving. What happens if power outages etc. are still very common when the hot summer months begin?
    All things considered, I suspect Iraq will be a much bigger problem than the American economy six months from now… In that respect, it was probably a good thing that Kerry won the primaries — Edwards would not have been able to capitalize on this.

  10. Sara on

    Look — the Iraq War question is dynamic, and people are changing their minds about the policy without Kerry offering an alternative right now. Since we can’t preduct what precisely will happen in the next few months — better for Kerry to be less than specific, so he is not tied to policy that could be irrelevant by fall. Let Bush knock his own numbers down as far as possible with his own policy decisions (for which he is totally responsible) and then unveil the alternative at the convention when the spotlight is on Kerry. Think about the model of the 1952 election where Ike made plain his general disagreement with Truman’s policy in Korea, and then late in the campaign unrolled his plan for a trip to Korea to set things right, if he was elected. Kerry doesn’t need to follow the model exactly, but he should not position himself to “share” in any of the negatives of Bush Policy.
    Kerry is better off doing what he will do next week — bus trip through W. Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and PA on the jobs and economy issues — perhaps taking a few questions on Iraq as they are raised by the folk along the bus trip highway. People need to know he can talk about Iraq, and knows the subject in depth — but right now he is focused on beans and pork chops in the states that matter. Depending on the news of the day — that bus trip will get lots of free local media where we need it right now.
    If you live along the bus route — or anywhere near it, make a big homemade sign boosting Kerry, and get friends together, find a good place with a view and vista, and make a scene worthy of TV. (Ask Local Dem’s the best place for a roadside booster group.) (and check with the local cops too). Make it attractive and interesting — and take pictures and post them to the net.

  11. Brian Wilder on

    Kerry and other Democrats need to find a position on the Iraq War, which presents an alternative to the Bush course, which is also appealing to the male, red State Bush base. Kerry needs to stop talking about involving the U.N. and NATO. I don’t mean that that is actually bad policy; only, that it appears to male, Red State types as mealy-mouthed. Because it is.
    Kerry needs to talk about how Bush has made the situation worse, by not being realistic about what it would take to pacify Iraq, a heavily armed, chaotic country.
    A really good vulnerability for Bush, right now, is the U.N. complaint, that Iraqi nuclear material is being allowed to walk off. Go after that!

  12. Marcus Lindroos on

    It is frustrating that Kerry’s arms are tied both by his previous voting record as well the conflicting needs of having to appeal to centrist voters as well as the (relatively-) anti war Democratic base. Any ideas about how he should address the problem?
    Off the top of my hat —
    1) He could promise to be 100% committed to keeping U.S. troops in Iraq through (for example-) 2005, while promising to recall them after that. An uneasy compromise between the pro- and anti-war fractions, if you like. If Iraq still hasn’t calmed down 1.5 years from now, there is probably not that much the Americans can do about it anyway. Besides, it is their country and they have to assume responsibility sooner or later.
    2) He could sell himself as having more realistic/pragmatic views on the Middle East while challenging the naive ideals of the neoconservatives. For example, rather than talking about bringing “democracy” and “freedom” at every turn, it would be better to first focus on addressing basic security and material needs. Rather than threaten the House of Saud & co. with “democratic imperialism”, why not make a stronger effort to reform the moribund Arab economies? Augusto Pinochet’s Chile might not be the best of role models (particularly not to left wing pacifists!), but a fairly strong argument can be made for first raising standards of living before implementing democratic reforms. Besides, wary Arabs presumably prefer the “Coke/Hollywood” aspect of America to the more controversial political/social aspects of Western culture the neoconservatives now are trying to ram down the throats of Iraqis at gunpoint.
    3) Beefing up the United Nations. I don’t know how realistic this idea is, but a few years ago Britain’s THE ECONOMIST suggested that the U.N. set up a French foreign legion-type fighting force to better deal with troubled spots such as Rwanda & Iraq. According to the proposal, the rich Western nations would contribute funding, equipment as well training/command personnel. The soldiers would be drafted from Third World countries, however. These troops would be more capable than current U.N. peacekeeping forces, and they would presumably stay in places like Afghanistan & Iraq after the United States has removed the previous “axis of evil” government from power. Assuming these U.N. soldiers were largely picked from Arabic speaking nations (or the Arab enclaves of Western Europe & the U.S.), they might actually be better prepared for dealing with ordinary Iraqis.
    I think point (3) could pass the “big, exciting idea” test at least. Recently, “Shrub” has reluctantly started to woo the U.N. despite the fact the Republican base really hates the organization. Kerry, on the other hand, is an internationalist. He could propose to strengthen the U.N.’s executive powers in the hope that it would reduce the need for putting American soldiers in harm’s way, at least for peacekeeping missions. He’s got a long, proud Democratic tradition to fall back on in this respect, e.g. Harry Truman’s post WW II policies of creating international institutions. “Shrub” and the neocons would really hate this, but they are weakened because of Iraq.

  13. Paul C on

    I think that is why Kerry is playing his war hero record for all it is worth. Think we will hear again and again about how fearless he was in combat and what good judgement he used while under fire? I quote from today’s Boston Globe “In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action, Lieutenant, j.g. Kerry was unsurpassed.” It goes on to mention that “the GOP has pressured Kerry of ‘full disclosure.'” Brilliant play by Kerry. Now we need Schrum to give this story legs.

  14. Rob on

    I think people are probably moving in the direction of holding Bush accountable. Ruy mentioned that there are different numbers when the right/wrong decision question uses “Bush Administration” as opposed to “U.S.” The concern isn’t so much whether they hold Bush accountable or not. People are having doubts about W. The question is whether or not Kerry can transform those doubts about Bush into Kerry votes. I’m worried that people will think “this guy Bush really screwed things up, but I still think he’ll keep us safer than Kerry will. Kerry’s a Mass. liberal.” The question I have is, can Kerry transcend the cliche that if you have a D next to your name you’re a wimp?

  15. Julie Whitcomb on

    OK, so more of us think that the mess in Iraq increases the odds of a terrorist attack here. The next salient question is, but do our fellow Americans hold Bush accountable for that dynamic? An unbelievably large number of Americans still think that Saddam had WMD, for god’s sake. They may not like what is going in Iraq, but I wonder if they don’t think at the same time that the mess was unavoidable, just the way things go in this messy war on terrorism, and that no president could prevent another attack on American soil (aka : the Homeland, thank you Adolf).


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