Politics and War — and Midterm Elections

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NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says the White House is working hard to keep the public focused on terrorism in these last few days before Congress recesses.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Matters of U.S. intelligence, the wisdom of the war in Iraq and the threat of terrorism against the United States, those issues are at the heart of the debate over an intelligence report leaked over the weekend and then declassified in part yesterday. The National Intelligence Estimates said the Iraq war was fuelling a global jihadist movement and it was increasing resentment toward the U.S. and the Muslim world. President Bush pushed back yesterday at the White House.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The only way to protect this country is to stay on the offense, is to deal with threats before they fully materialize and in the long term, help democracy succeed like Afghanistan and Iraq and Lebanon in a Palestinian state. And there is a difference of opinion, it will come clear during this campaign where people will say get out, leave before the job is done. Those are good, decent patriotic people who believe that way. I just happen to believe they're absolutely wrong.

BLOCK: Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr saw politics at work.

DANIEL SCHORR: A recent Gallup poll reveals an interesting dichotomy in the voting population. Among those who say the war in Iraq is their most important issue, 60 to 23 percent believe that Democrats are better able than Republicans to deal with it. Among those who think terrorism is the main issue, 68 to 17 percent think the Republicans can do a better job than the Democrats in dealing with it.

This may help to explain why the Bush administration is working with such great zeal to keep a focus on terrorism. When parts of a classified national estimate leaked saying the Iraqi War may have helped to spawn a new generation of terrorists, the White House promptly responded by declassifying other portions of the document emphasizing the successes of counterterrorist efforts. The Intelligence report said counterterrorism has seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qaida and disrupted its operations.

The administration has also managed to keep the nose of Congress to the terrorism grindstone. In the final days before leaving this weekend for the election, vital issues like immigration, tax breaks, even appropriations to run the government are left hanging while Congress remains focused on terrorism related matters like warrantless wire tapping and interrogation of detainees.

The Congressional Republican leadership is a little sensitive about this gridlock. Second ranking Senate Republican Mitch McConnell says this session of Congress is not over. What we are going to do on Friday or Saturday is to take a time out. Time out, that is, for the election campaign in which the Republicans will proclaim themselves the anti-terrorism party. The Democrats will likely try to label them the Iraq War party.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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