Lebanon, Iraq Shaping U.S. Politics

News Analyst Cokie Roberts talks to Don Gonyea about how the Bush administration is handling the crisis in the Middle East. The administration appears to be changing direction by looking to the United Nations to help forge an end to the conflict.

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DON GONYEA, host:

President Bush has renewed his call for a sustainable peace in the Middle East saying America mourns the loss of innocent life.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States is resolved to work with members of the United Nations Security Council to develop a resolution that will enable the region to have a sustainable peace.

GONYEA: The president spoke yesterday afternoon as he left the White House for a visit to Florida. Joining me for some analysis is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Don.

GONYEA: So, Cokie, the Bush administration's approach to the situation in Lebanon is very different from where it was just last week, isn't it?

ROBERTS: It is because the situation on the ground is not what they anticipated. When this whole battle started, Lebanon and other countries in the region were calling on Secretary Rice to go to the region and she seemed to be taking her time, to let Israel a chance to disable Hezbollah.

But since then she's been there twice and not able to achieve any kind of real cease-fire or any kind of - what the administration keeps talking about, sustainable peace. And this weekend she was unable to go to Lebanon, either dis-invited or decided not to go, depending on whom you're listening to, because of the Israeli bombing of Qana.

So she's now headed home, and as you heard her say earlier, she will work with the United Nations for a Security Council resolution. This is different from that go it alone attitude the United States seemed to be taking at the beginning of this conflict.

Now, the United Nations Security Council tried for a resolution yesterday. The United States objected to it, and there will be a lot of difficulty finding the consensus in the United Nations now that the United States has decided it wants one.

GONYEA: Well, the battle between Israel and Hezbollah has largely pushed Iraq off the front pages, but there have been significant changes on that front as well.

ROBERTS: Indeed, and ones that would've been very much noticed were it not for what's going on between Israel and Lebanon. More troops are called for not only in Baghdad, but in Iraq. And that is exactly the opposite of what a lot of members of Congress particularly, but American policymakers were hoping for at this point in this year when they expected to hear about troop drawdowns.

That becomes a big problem for the president because it makes his goal of a new Middle East, a broader Middle East of peace and democracy seem more elusive. So it becomes a policy problem for him, but it's also a political problem, particularly for the Republicans running for reelection this fall where Iraq is the number one issue on the minds of many, many voters.

GONYEA: You mentioned it being a problem for Republicans seeking reelection. It's also bad news for a certain Democratic Senator in a tough primary race, isn't it? Joe Lieberman.

ROBERTS: Joe Lieberman in Connecticut whose primary is next week. And he has got a Democratic opponent who is running almost entirely on the issue of the war and Lieberman's support for the war and support for President Bush. Yesterday, a blow for the Lieberman campaign when The New York Times endorsed Ned Lamont, the businessman running against Lieberman.

And Lieberman now understands that he's in real trouble. He's brought in some Democratic top guns, including former President Clinton. But this is going to have a very strong effect not only on Lieberman, but on members running in both parties.

Because any attempt they now see to move away from the base of the party, move to the middle, is going to be punished. And that not only has an effect on people running for office, it has an effect on what they do between now and November in terms of trying to get anything accomplished in the Congress. And that's going to be very difficult indeed.

GONYEA: Thanks very much. NPR's senior news analyst Cokie Roberts.

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