Political Pulse July 2005

The Same War?

The attack in London is likely to intensify the debate over the war in Iraq.
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The Bush administration has long held that Iraq and the war on terror are the same war against the same enemy. Critics argue that the war in Iraq has not made the United States or the rest of the world safer from terrorism. Both sides now cite the July 7 bombings in London to bolster their contentions.

When President Bush addressed the nation on June 28, he framed the Iraq conflict in larger terms. "The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror," he said. Bush gave specific examples. Terrorists "have continued to kill—in Madrid, Istanbul, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Bali, and elsewhere." Now there's one more place, London. "The war on terror goes on," Bush said on July 7.

In his June 28 speech, Bush once again linked Iraq to 9/11, saying, "They are trying to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried to shake our will on September 11, 2001." He drew criticism for his repeated references to 9/11. An editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed Bush as King Kong climbing a World Trade Tower labeled "9-11" while a spectator commented, "He climbs it whenever he's threatened."

What threatened Bush was declining public confidence in his Iraq policy. British Prime Minister Tony Blair had already paid a price for Iraq at the polls on May 5. "It was a decision. I took it. I have to live with the consequences of it. And I don't regret it," Blair said of his support for the Iraq war a week before he saw his majority in Parliament slashed by more than half.

Even more threatening to Bush was the fact that problems in Iraq have hurt the American public's confidence in his conduct of the war on terror. The percentage who think that the United States and its allies are winning the war on terror started dropping after the major fighting in Iraq ended in 2003—falling from 65 percent in April 2003 to 42 percent in October 2003, according to a Gallup Poll.

That percentage rose, briefly, to 51 in January 2004, after the capture of Saddam Hussein. But as the insurgency in Iraq has continued, optimism about the war on terror has again declined. In late June 2005, only 36 percent thought that the United States and its allies were winning.

Bush tried to boost support for his Iraq policy by linking it to the war on terror. "Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror," Bush said on June 28, adding, "Among the terrorists, there is no debate."

His critics were quick to respond. Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., said the next day, "The president is right that Al Qaeda now views Iraq as the central place to battle Americans. That's because he provided them with the target."

On July 7, a group calling itself the Secret Organization of Al Qaeda in Europe, whose connection to the London attacks has not been confirmed, posted a statement on an Islamist Web site that said, "In response to the massacres committed by Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mujahedeen ... have launched [an] ... attack in London.... We still warn the governments of Denmark and Italy and all the crusader governments that they will receive the same punishment if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan."

The terrorist attack on London had the immediate effect of drawing together the leaders who were meeting at the G-8 summit in Scotland. French President Jacques Chirac "expressed the total solidarity of France and the French people," his spokesman said. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a statement, "What happened today again testifies to the fact that all of us are doing too little to unite our forces effectively in the struggle against terrorism." Bush said, "I was most impressed by the resolve of all the leaders in the room. Their resolve is as strong as my resolve."

But the attacks in London are likely to intensify the debate in the United States and Britain over the war in Iraq—and whether that war has made the world safer. A Gallup poll taken for CNN the night of the bombings asked Americans whether they thought the terrorists attacked London "mostly because Great Britain supports the United States in the war in Iraq, or mostly for other reasons?" A majority of Americans, 56 percent, said it was mostly because of Iraq. Republicans and Democrats alike shared that view.

Robin Cook, Blair's former foreign secretary, wrote in The Guardian, a left-wing British newspaper, "Whatever else can be said in defense of the war in Iraq today, it cannot be claimed that it has protected us from terrorism on our soil." After interviewing U.S. anti-terrorism experts, London's Financial Times reported that the Bush administration's argument that "America and the world are safer because of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its anti-terror strategy ... may have been finally buried" by the bombings in London.

The immediate result of the bombings was a show of unity and resolve in both countries. Blair found his Churchillian voice: "When they try to intimidate us, we will not be intimidated.... When they try to divide our people or weaken our resolve, we will not be divided and our resolve will hold firm."

Unity against terror, division over Iraq: The balancing act is becoming more difficult.

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William Schneider is the Cable News Network's senior political analyst. He is also a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and The Atlantic Monthly. His column appears every week in National Journal, a weekly magazine covering politics and government published in Washington, D.C.

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