Impact of Mideast Crisis on Domestic Politics President Bush is on his way back from the latest G-8 summit, where discussion was dominated by the growing crisis in the Middle East. The strife between Hezbollah and Israel is already having an impact on domestic U.S. politics.
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Impact of Mideast Crisis on Domestic Politics

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Impact of Mideast Crisis on Domestic Politics

Impact of Mideast Crisis on Domestic Politics

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up: after 55 years on the bandstand in Clear Lake, Iowa, Ludvig Wangberg sets down the baton.

ADAMS: But first, President Bush has been in Russia for the meeting of the G-8, but returns later today to Washington amid an atmosphere of anxiety over events around the world. Front and center is the fighting in Lebanon and the potential for widening war there. The Capital has already been focused on war: Iraq, Afghanistan, potential confrontations with Iran and North Korea as well. And joining us to talk about all this is NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Welcome Ron.

RON ELVING reporting:

Good to be with you, Noah.

ADAMS: A lot of agendas changed there at the G-8 conference pretty much by the fighting with Lebanon and Israel.

ELVING: Yes, kind of blown out of the water by it, really. They were unable to do much for the time being except talk about perhaps putting together an international peacekeeping force that could move into southern Lebanon at some point. And some of the leaders there wanted to talk about a ceasefire, but President Bush, for his part, made it very clear he wants the pressure to be on the United Nations and others to persuade Syria to rein in Hezbollah.

And he was captured saying as much very pointedly to British Prime Minister Tony Blair while the two of them were having lunch in St. Petersburg before the summit ended. There was an open microphone on a video shot, and so we got to hear a little of that conversation - and by the way, the president uses a vulgarism he does not usually use when he speaks in public.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over.

ADAMS: That is some frank talk by the president there. Ron, the U.S. has support from the U.K. based on the relationship between the president and Tony Blair, but more generally - more generally, who is supporting?

ELVING: More generally, the rest of the world is looking at this situation somewhat differently. And it's not even clear how far our support from the United Kingdom really goes. Blair is sympathetic with our dilemma, but he is not joined at the hip to the Israeli government as Bush is.

ADAMS: Now, how does the tension worldwide affect the president's agenda in Congress? Does it help him or hurt him domestically there?

ELVING: It's a huge distraction. And that in a sense makes it harder for the president to weigh in effectively as he might otherwise on some of these issues. But on the other hand, it does enable the president's surrogates to say to some wavering Congressmen, you've got to be with us on this.

You've got to be with us right now, because the president really needs a united front at home, and especially in his own party. And that argument might be used on say, the treatment of detainee rules, on the National Security Agency's eavesdropping. It might even be used on something like stem cells, even though that's obviously an unrelated issue.

ADAMS: And the war in Iraq - there's kind of a test vote coming up this summer concerning the war in Iraq.

ELVING: Yes, back in Connecticut, there's a primary there where Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman is trying to get nominated for a fourth term. And in August - just three weeks away - he's got a very tough primary there, and a lot of the people in his own party have been ready to punish him for his backing the Iraqi war. But now with this war going on, I think there'll be a rally around, in effect, for him. Lieberman's loyalty to Israel is legendary, and that could affect some Jewish voters and some other voters as well in that primary.

ADAMS: And let's look down the road just a bit to November this year.

ELVING: Huge question. You know, Republicans are committed to embracing the mission in Iraq and to a strategy of elevating national security above everything again this fall, just as in 2002 and in 2004 when it worked for them.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has been in the media in the last several days telling people the Republicans ought to say the struggles all around the world right now amount to a third world war. He says once you've got everybody talking about a third world war, you can ask the question who do you want to win such a war? Us or them?

ADAMS: Yeah, I mean, he's talking about possibly running. What are the Democrats saying?

ELVING: Well, Democrats are, in some cases, pretty impressed with the national security argument, especially after watching their ranks dwindle over the last two elections. But others are asking whether this forward posture of the United States on all these fronts around the world - North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, now with the situation in the other part of the Middle East where Israel's fighting on two fronts - is really where the country ought to be, needs to be, wants to be. And they're asking whether invading Iraq has really stabilized the Middle East as we were promised, or has it done the opposite? Have we really settled matters?

ADAMS: Right, right. Could it indeed be considered part of the war on terror?

ELVING: Well, that would be the Republicans' rejoinder, Noah. The president's argument is that all of these policies - foreign and domestic, by the way - are necessary extensions of our response to 9/11. And the question for the voters becomes does that follow? Have we really settled matters in Afghanistan, or is the situation deteriorating there as in Iraq? Are we a little overwhelmed, a little overexposed, or are we responding in the most effective way?

ADAMS: NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Thank you, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Noah.

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