IRAQ will be at the forefront of American voters’ minds in the November 7 congressional elections, President Bush has acknowledged. But he insists that the success or failure of his strategy should not be judged by the rising US casualty rate.
He suggested that the latest wave of violence, which has put October on course to be one of the US military’s bloodiest months, was linked to the mid-term elections in America.
Asked in his interview with ABC News if the situation in Iraq now was similar to the Tet offensive in Vietnam almost 40 years ago, the President replied: “Could be right. There’s certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we’re heading into an election.”
He added: “They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause (the) government to withdraw.”
In recent days there have been suggestions that the Republicans are keen to avoid discussing the war, with Mr Bush hoping to focus attention on national security rather than Iraq. At a White House ceremony this week to sign into law a Bill for trying terror suspects, the President mentioned 9/11 half a dozen times, Iraq not once. But the surge in sectarian violence and the sharp spike in US military deaths — there have been 67 so far this month — have made the issue impossible to ignore.
Mr Bush was asked if the rising number of deaths — US forces yesterday reported a 22 per cent increase in attacks during the holy month of Ramadan — showed the Iraq campaign was failing. “If that’s a definition of success or failure — the number of casualties — then you’re right,” he replied, adding: “I define success or failure as to whether we’re seeing a democracy that will grow in the heart of the Middle East.”
He added: “I’ve always found that when a person goes in to vote, they’re going to want to know what that person’s going to do. What is the plan for a candidate on Iraq? What do they believe?” Mr Bush said that he reads “every casualty” and recognised the “difficulty of the task” but insisted: “We won’t cut and run.”
One poll this week found that 64 per cent of Americans believe going to war in Iraq was a mistake. At the same time, a report from the Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker, the former Secretary of State, is expected to set out alternatives from the “stay the course” strategy of the Administration.
The commission has been compared to the “three wise men” who advocated a dramatic change of course after the Tet offensive in Vietnam, which was widely seen as a turning point in the war — a finding which is also thought to have persuaded Lyndon Johnson to pull out of the re-election race.