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Bush, Terrorism & Iraq

Posted By Barry Ritholtz On June 19, 2004 @ 11:50 am In Politics,War/Defense | Comments Disabled


The Wall Street Journal [1] discusses the negative consequences of the recent 9/11 commission finding no evidence of any connection between Al-Qaeda and Iraq.

“The 9/11 Commission [2]‘s declaration that there was no solid link between Iraq and al Qaeda [3] spells new trouble for President Bush in a political campaign in which credibility [4] is growing as an issue.

The bipartisan commission’s declaration that it found no credible evidence of a “collaborative relationship” between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the al Qaeda terror network knocked down a principal justification President Bush offered for going to war in Iraq. A second pillar of the case for war, the argument that the U.S. had to seize Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, already has been undercut by the failure to find such weapons.

The timing of the commission’s statement was particularly frustrating for the president’s team. After months of bad news, Mr. Bush seemed finally to be gaining some traction on the Iraq issue, after successfully using last week’s Group of Eight [5] summit in Sea Island, Ga. [6], to secure international recognition for a new Iraqi government scheduled to take over June 30.”

What I found intriguing — if not a bit confusing a first glance — was the following polling data points, as reported by the Pew Research Center [7]:

For the first time, more people think the war in Iraq has hurt the war on terror, rather than helped it. Back in December 2003, nearly 60% of those polled believed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a net positive in the war against Al-Qaeda. That number has slipped to ~42%. At the same time, the percentage of people who thought the war in Iraq was hurting the war on terror nearly doubled, from the low 20s to ~43%.


What’s most significant about any long term measure such as this is the overall trend: The numbers of people who believe the War in Iraq is helping the War-on-Terrorism has been steadily declining; Not surprisingly, those who believe it is hurting has been going steadily higher for the past 7 months.

What’s somewhat perplexing is that 56% of those polled still give Bush high marks for handling of Terrorism. That appears somewhat incongruous with the data cited below; But it represents a significant drop much higher levels.

The WSJ [1] further clarifies why some confusion remains:

“The political impact is accentuated by the fact that a majority of Americans has continued to believe that there was a link between Iraq and al Qaeda. That belief has bolstered enduring support for the war, even as American control over events in Iraq has seemed to slip. A recent poll by the University of Maryland [8]‘s Program on International Policy Attitudes [9], for example, showed 57% of Americans thought Iraq “was substantially supporting al Qaeda or was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks.” Among those who held that belief, 70% said going to war with Iraq “was the right decision.”

Now those views could shift. In any case, attention has moved back to basic doubts about the president’s strategy toward Iraq. Yesterday the panel added questions, reporting widespread confusion in the government on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror strikes. “He’d really seemed to have stabilized his political problems, and now this hits him,” said Charles Cook, editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report [10]. “It is a black eye in a really close race.”

I suspect the bulk of the impact of this has yet to be felt: 57% of Americans still erroneously link 9/11 and Iraq (or Iraq and al Qaeda). Other polls have shown the numbers of Americans who believed that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 has been well over 50% for a long, long time.

As the reality that of this false meme is revealed — as it works its way through the rank and file electorate — the impact on the incumbent is likely to be significant.

The “truth” about Iraq’s lack of involvement in 9/11 is a net negative for the incumbent. Thus, you can see why the linkage between Iraq and Al Qaeda keeps getting brought up by the White House political machinary: Cheney, Rove, etc. But what is so surprising to me is seeing President Bush making the connection himself. He should probably let others muddy the Iraq – 9/11 connection; Doing so himself runs very different risks, with potentially severe political consequences.

Remember, a re-election campaign is all about the incumbent, and rarely ever about the challenger.

Sept. 11 Panel Deals Bush a Blow on Iraq [1]
In Dismissing al Qaeda Link, Commission Undercuts President’s Credibility on Going to War
By Greg Hitt and Jacob Schlesinger
Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2004; Page A4


Public Support for War Resilient [11]
Bush’s Standing Improves
Released: June 17, 2004


Article printed from The Big Picture: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog

URL to article: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2004/06/bush-terrorism-iraq/

URLs in this post:

[1] Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB108751419861541014,00.html

[2] 9/11 Commission: http://www.9-11commission.gov/

[3] no solid link between Iraq and al Qaeda: http://www.9-11commission.gov/hearings/hearing12/staff_statement_15.pdf

[4] credibility: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3816963.stm/

[5] Group of Eight: http://www.go8.edu.au/

[6] Sea Island, Ga.: http://www.seaisland.com/Content/ContentCT.asp?P=584

[7] Pew Research Center: http://people-press.org//

[8] University of Maryland: http://www.umd.edu/

[9] Program on International Policy Attitudes: http://www.pipa.org/

[10] Cook Political Report: http://www.cookpolitical.com/

[11] Public Support for War Resilient: http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=216

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