Iraq as an Election Issue
Jude Wanniski
September 17, 2004


A public opinion poll of 34,300 people in 35 countries reported that Senator Kerry was favored by 46% to 20% over the President’s re-election, with Mr. Bush winning only the Philippines, Nigeria and Poland. Kerry was strongly preferred among all of America`s traditional allies, including Norway (74 percent compared with Bush`s seven percent), Germany (74 percent to 10 percent), France (64 percent to five percent), the Netherlands (63 percent to six percent), Italy (58 percent to 14 percent) and Spain (45 percent to seven percent). In Britain, where Prime Minister Tony Blair is Bush`s closest ally in the war on terror, Kerry beat the incumbent 47 percent to 16 percent.

So what? It is the voting in the U.S. that counts, and depending upon which poll we see, Kerry and Bush are still in a dead heat. It is of course no surprise to see Kerry winning abroad, even though he is unknown. The numbers roughly match polls showing clear opposition to the President’s pre-emptive war in Iraq. I hear conservative commentators saying it would be a mistake for Kerry to bring this up in his debates with Mr. Bush, but this is really what the Iraqi issue is all about in the presidential race. That is, how will either man deal with the deteriorating conditions in Iraq unless the rest of the world (ROW) supports his efforts? It is obvious by now that Mr. Bush cannot count on financial or military help from the ROW no matter what kinds of bargains he offers foreign governments. The political leaders in foreign capitals can’t budge in that direction without fear of losing the support of their own electorates.

In a broader sense, the global electorate is not so much expressing an opinion about Iraq, but of the USA’s management of the world. It is in that sense that the ROW is taking a greater interest in this election than it has in our lifetimes. In a unipolar world, after all, the President of the United States is the father of the entire family of nations. What Mr. Bush did 18 months ago was ignore the United Nations, the ROW’s only legal framework for the adjudication of “family problems.” Whether we like it or not, our President is thus viewed as a threat to the world, not a leader who works to make the world a better, safer, more prosperous place. We now have UN General Secretary Kofi Annan so exasperated with the continued moves of the Bush administration in Iraq, and in other world trouble spots, that he is willing to label the Iraq invasion an “illegal” act.

Of course, it would be different if working relationships between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda had been discovered, or stockpiles of WMD had been found, or even active WMD programs located by the 1200 U.S. inspectors who have been prowling Iraq for a year and a half. But we learn today that a final report of the Iraq Survey Group provides only the teeniest fig leaf for the administration. It asserts that while nothing has been found, there is some evidence that if the sanctions had been lifted against Iraq, Saddam had known intentions to resume his quest for WMD. Even this fig leaf is transparent, as the intelligence community is aware that sanctions would not have been lifted without Baghdad agreeing to perpetual, intrusive inspections. With these weights added to the continuing problems of the handpicked interim government in Iraq and the likelihood there will be no elections come January, we now hear that even Tony Blair is rooting for Kerry.

Mr. Bush continues to insist things are getting better all the time, even though the latest National Intelligence Estimate says things are getting worse. The administration line is that the escalating violence in Iraq will continue to November 2, as if the insurgents are keyed on that date. It’s now beginning to look as if the population as a whole is uniting across religious lines in a nationalist opposition to the U.S. presence, along with opposition to the elections being planned by the Allawi government. Where it had been assumed the election process would be open, it now seems only parties and players who have been screened by P.M. Iyad Allawi and U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte will get on the ballots. I’m finding it impossible to get reliable information on what’s happening on that account, and here it is only four months to January. If the process were open, we would expect that an elected assembly would invite the occupying force to leave, which is probably why efforts are being made to assure a hospitable government.

The Bush campaign continues to criticize Senator Kerry for changing his position on Iraq from the hawkish statements he’s made over the last few years. With U.S. troops now unable to get control of several cities in the Sunni triangle and increasing evidence that they have lost control of the supposedly safe “green zone” in Baghdad, we’re hearing the first rumblings that total departure might be the only answer, i.e., “cut and run.” The one argument remaining that prevents Kerry from endorsing that idea is the administration warning that it would lead to a civil war between the religious and ethnic groups. On the other hand, there are Iraqi experts who believe there already is a civil war between the Iraqi nationalists and the Allawi regime of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds -- many of whom lived in exile, generally supporting the Iranians during the Iran/Iraq war and the ambitions of Ahmed Chalabi in particular. Once the U.S. is gone, not before, it may be these nationalist forces could come together and produce a secular government within some sort of democratic framework.

There are several other serious global issues creeping up on the Bush administration that could have negative effects on his re-election prospects, all related to the unilateralist tactics of his neo-con team. Iran and North Korea are at least getting media attention. It is the Chechnya situation that is amazing. It turns out the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, the Chechen lobby in Washington, is not only run by Richard Perle and the neo-cons, but has a number of high-ranking officials of the Bush administration on its membership list. The most prominent is Elliott Abrams, a deputy to Condi Rice at the National Security Council. The European press is now speculating that the ACPC may have been specifically set up to destabilize Russia.

A transcript of a Sept. 6 interview Russian President Vladimir Putin gave to western journalists clearly indicates he is aware of what is going on. In his column today at, Joe Rothstein brought it up:

“As a result of the criticism leveled against him, Putin gathered western journalists together to muse publicly why western sources were so anxious to lay the blame for Beslan on him. He asked the press how leaders in the U.S., UK and elsewhere might react if he criticized them for provoking a vicious terrorist attack on their soil. And then he said he had the names of ‘individuals who as official members of the security community in those countries still maintain contact with the people who fight with arms in their hands against us.’

My sense is that several of these kinds of issues are now in the process of ripening, and will in fact surface before November 2, obviously to the detriment of the President. He will still have the economy working to his benefit, we think, but Kerry could help his chances by raising major doubts about how much more trouble the President could buy in a second term with this national security team still in place.