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Jewish World Review April 25, 2002 / 13 Iyar, 5762

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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It's the war, stupid | Iraq is developing a nuclear bomb. Saddam Hussein's laboratories are turning out weapons of mass destruction. State-sponsored terrorism could generate a disaster that will dwarf 9/11.

Week after week, we've heard these messages from President Bush as he leads the nation in the battle against terror. We're listening - but is he?

After these warnings, we are, in effect, put on hold. Where is the war on terror? Are we winning the race against Saddam's nuclear capabilities?

In all of April, Bush has spoken out on terrorism once. The rest of the month has been consumed with a futile Middle East initiative and with a daily, trivial, bite-sized message on domestic policy each day - volunteerism, Head Start teacher training, charitable tax deductions and the like. Small-bore issues are fine in peacetime. But we are at war.

Bush is losing his momentum and his ratings as his focus wanders from the urgent mission Americans want him to pursue. As his approval ratings drop below 80 percent for the first time since 9/11, he is breaking his concentration and seems off-message and off-stride.

The CBS/New York Times poll of April 15-18 and the Fox News poll of April 16-17 both have his job approval down to 76 percent. Stratospheric still, but the drop is ominous.

As Bush flirts with the absurd idea of a moral equivalency between Arab killers and Israelis trying to stop the terror, you can only shake your head and wonder: How did he lose his way?

Was he seduced by the diplomats? After he met with Tony Blair, he must have become convinced that America would not get the requisite backing from our European and moderate Arab allies for his invasion of Iraq unless he did his bit for global peace by seeking a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Why do Europeans care so much about the Middle East? With their huge domestic Arab populations, they worry that instability on the West Bank could mean violence in Paris, London and Rome.

Why did the moderate Arab regimes care? One suspects because they wanted to divert America from using the momentum of Afghanistan to invade Iraq.

Facing the cowboy image of U.S. military power so popular in Euro-society salons, Bush sent Powell to the Middle East to show that he was a good global team player. Finessed by the diplomats like his father was at the end of the Gulf War, when he spared Saddam, he was lured into losing his way.

But part of the reason for Bush's loss of focus is political. His advisers are concerned that, while he has popular support in the war on terror, he's losing the domestic traction he needs to win Congress in 2002. So every day Bush trots out a new domestic-policy initiative - mimicking Clinton's strategy of an issue a day.

By trying to gild the lily and lift Bush's domestic relevance, his handlers are distracting attention from their own key mission: the war on terror.

Our president has, in effect, told us that the clock is ticking while evil regimes labor to acquire weapons of mass destruction with which to destroy us - then he's left us to wait while he diverts his attention from the approaching possibility of catastrophe.

He cannot play with the emotions of the American people. We expect action and we expect it with the same sense of urgency the president himself generated in his own speeches.

JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.


04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
03/15/02: Europe doesn't have a clue
03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
03/01/02: Will America be forced to chase its tail in its war on terrorism?
02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
02/11/02: U.S. 'unilateralism'? The Europeans don't have a case
02/06/02: WAR: What women want
02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2001, Dick Morris