Bush riding a wave of popularity

Posted: Apr 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Coming off the worst week of his presidency - a week that included renewed violence in Iraq, claims by former terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke that the administration rushed to war in Iraq and intense scrutiny at home from the 9-11 commission - President Bush's poll numbers remain steady.

So says a recent news poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, which reported that the president's approval rating remained at 51 percent, unchanged from five weeks ago. The poll revealed eroding support for Democratic challenger John Kerry, as well as overwhelming faith in the president's ability to rebuild Iraq and lead the war on terror - twin issues that half of the respondents ranked as the most important going into the election. Two-thirds of the respondents said the United States should remain in Iraq until order is restored and more than 60 percent approved of how the president is handling the war on terror.

The implications are profound. The poll proclaims that Americans are willing to stick it out in Iraq, despite rising casualties. It says they understand that this is an opportunity to change the basic problem of tyranny and poverty in the Middle East. Bush's steady approval rating, while in the midst of the bloodiest month since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003, reinforces the depth of his support and strongly suggests that he's going to be around for a while. Plainly, if a hundred U.S. combat deaths in April can't shake the president's popularity, it is unlikely that anything between now and November will.

That is a good thing. Because the only alternative would be to admit failure and tuck tail and run. That would reinforce the popular view abroad that America is a soft giant, unable or unwilling to defend its own interests. Surely that message would energize an entire generation of terrorists to take the war to us. The bombing in Madrid should be instructive here. Social division at home will only encourage attacks from abroad.

We cannot forget that there has not been a single terrorist attack on U.S. soil since this administration began taking it to the terrorists in earnest. We are winning this war. Building a pluralistic, democratic Iraq will create the sort of strong economic ties that restrain future war. For the first time in 50 years, we have the chance to turn the Middle East into something other than an anti-American incubator of hate.

This is a historic opportunity. So it would be nice if the Democrats who voted for this war would ease off of the Vietnam comparisons. Russia is not funneling funds and soldiers into Iraq. There is no overwhelming groundswell of support for the guerilla fighters. The Iraqi insurgents cannot stalemate indefinitely. They will fall and it will likely be soon. Perhaps Kerry doesn't get that. Thankfully the American people do.

One last note on the topic of popular opinion. More than one columnist has chortled at the president's belief in God. They use his faith as a pretext to suggest that the president spares himself the rigors of closely examining complex issues in Iraq, opting instead to plow blindly - faithfully - forward. This isn't informed comment, its religious prejudice and a shortcut to thinking. The war on terror and the rebuilding of Iraq are serious issues that affect millions. It would be nice if the liberals could contribute something other than anti-religious rhetoric.