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August 29, 2003 - Image 22

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-08-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

This Week

Washington Watch

Campaign Tightens

The economy and the Middle East are hurting Bush's pre-election image.

JAMES D. BESSER
Washington Correspondent

IV

button, mostly because none of the
current Democratic candidates has
caught on with the public enough to
exploit the mounting foreign policy
crises.
"To defeat Bush, the Democrats will
.
have to have a candidate," said
Benjamin Ginsberg, a Johns Hdpkins
University political scientist. "And so
far, they don't have one."
None of the current crop of
Democrats has been able to gain much
traction on domestic issues, despite the
sagging economy, Ginsberg said, and
none are well positioned to take advan-
tage of the administration's growing
problems in the international realm.

ith its top Mideast prior-
ities in tatters after last
week's terror bombings
in Jerusalem and
Baghdad, administration officials are
working hard to limit the damage to
President George W. Bush's re-election
campaign. That effort could be a plus
for U.S.-Israeli relations, at least in the
short term, Jewish politicos say.
"The more things deteriorate in Iraq,
the less the administration will be will-
ing to pressure Israel," predicted a lead-
ing Jewish Republican. "The last thing
they want is for a big flare-
up with Jewish groups over
Israel policy at the start of
the campaign."
At the same time, the
ongoing attacks against U.S.
troops in Iraq — this week,
the number of American
killed since the official end
of hostilities topped the
number killed during the
brief war — will make it
even more important for the
administration to keep up at
least the appearance of
President Bush reacts to a reporter's question during a
progress in its frayed road
conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in
map.
"They can't afford a com-
Washington on July 30.
plete collapse of the road
map," this source said. "So
Democratic strategists agree; party
their goal now is to keep something
sources
say they are eager to avoid
going on the road map, even if it's just
major
fights
over foreign policy, where
on the surface."
the
incumbent
will retain important
For months, pundits have predicted
advantages even if the Iraq quagmire
that international events would play
deepens and the Mideast road map col-
almost no role in the upcoming presi-
lapses.
dential election, but the administra-
"Bush's strong suit is still the war on
tion's growing Mideast woes could
terrorism,"
said University of Virginia
change that as Democrats search for
issues that will penetrate Bush's effective political scientist Larry Sabato. "While
recent events prove this is not an unal-
political armor.
loyed plus, it is overall still a big advan-
This week, a Newsweek poll showed
Cage for the president."
that for the first time, more registered
Democratic leaders recognize that
voters want Bush denied a second term
reality, and hope to focus most of their
than want him re-elected. And 70 per-
cent fear the war in Iraq will add to the fire on the economy. "Elections are
won or lost based on the economy,"
federal deficit and harm the economy.
The deterioration in the Middle East, said a prominent Jewish Democrat.
"This president has presided over the
political observers say, is compounding
loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs
voter discontent over more than two
and the biggest deficit in history. That's
years of economic decline. But the
where the Democratic candidates have
Republicans aren't hitting the panic

8/29
2003

22

to fight this battle."
Political historian Allan J. Lichtman
said an improving economy could help
the voting public forget Bush's Mideast
problems and blunt any Democratic
attempt to use them as a blunt instru-
ment in 2004. "If the economy was
really tearing along, people would be a
lot more tolerant of these other prob-
lems," he said. "But when the economy
is going poorly, everything gets nega-
tively reverberated against that back-
drop."
Lichtman said the best hope for the
Democrats is the entry of a new, charis-
especially
matic figure in the race
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.,
whose high political nega-
tives could be offset by the
excitement her candidacy
would generate in some
parts of the party.
Clinton is under pressure
from some Democratic lead-
ers to step in to what they
see as a weak field,
Lichtman said. "In national
polls, she blows away the
Democratic competition
and what does she have to
lose?" Lichtman said. "The
nomination looks like it's
worth a lot more than it
news
was six months ago."
But Sen. Clinton has stated
categorically that she is not a
candidate for 2004, and has
told Democratic insiders that she will
not be pressured into making the race.
The deterioration of the Iraq situa-
tion is also bad news for Sen. Joe
Lieberman, D-Conn. Lieberman, who
was the most vocal Democratic sup-
porter of President Bush's war plans,
continues to lead the Democratic field
in national polls, but fares less well
among Democratic Party activists, will
play a disproportionate role in the pri-
maries.
Because of his early support for the
Iraq war, "Lieberman is not in a posi-
tion to take advantage" of Bush's
Mideast problems, said Johns Hopkins'
Ginsberg. "You'd have to say he took an
honest position rather than a politic
one on Iraq. That may increase the
esteem one might have for him, but it
doesn't enhance his chances of getting
elected."

Choking Hamas

Jewish leaders were quick to praise last
week's administration action blocking
the assets of six Hamas leaders and sev-
eral international charities that support
the Islamic group, but said that defang-
ing Hamas, which claimed responsibili-
ty for last week's Jerusalem bus bomb-
ing, will require strong, sustained
action by U.S. officials and a change of
heart by European leaders, many of
whom continue to make excuses for the
terror group.
Last week's actions were "an impor-
tant first step," said Abraham Foxman,
national director of the Anti-
Defamation League. "You can't con-
vince the Europeans to take a stand on
terrorist groups until you do it your-
self."
While the administration action will
have little impact in this country, "it
has symbolic value," Foxman said.
"Once you do it, you have greater abili-
ty to convince others do to it as well."
But some European leaders apparent-
ly didn't get the message. Early this
week, a top foreign policy advisor to
French President Jacques Chirac told
Israel's ambassador to France that his
country still sees no evidence Hamas
and Islamic Jihad are terror groups
"opposed to peace." That statement by
Maurice Gourdault-Montagne was
reported in the Israeli newspaper Yediot

Acharonot.
"The administration action sends a
message to the EU that we match
words with action, and we expect no
less from them," said David Harris,
executive director of the American
Jewish Committee. "It's clear that
Europe remains an important source of
funding for Hamas; an EU decision to
follow the U.S. lead would help tighten
the noose on Hamas."
The decision also "helps rebalance
the scales" after recent comments by
Secretary of State Colin Powell suggest-
ing that Washington might be willing
to make a distinction between the
Hamas military and social wings, said
Shoshana Bryen, special projects direc-
tor for the Jewish Institute for National
Security Affairs. European leaders con-
tinue to reject U.S. charges that money
given to Hamas for social projects often
ends up in the hands of the terrorists.
"The president has made it clear
there are no wings; this isn't a chicken,"
she said. "In this action, he simply said
funding of Hamas is unacceptable."
Getting that message across to the
Europeans, she said, will be critical
because "a lot of money goes through
Europe. This is one more way of beat-
ing on the Europeans to stop it."

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