- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

George W. Bush began campaigning for his second-term agenda this week with three huge victories behind him: a clear vote of confidence in his presidency and his party, a recovered economy and a big setback for terrorists in Iraq.

One in three would have been enough for any presidency to crow about, but all three coming together at the start of a new term makes for a heady political brew that will surely strengthen Mr. Bush’s hand in the many domestic and foreign policy battles to come.

His re-election alone by a decisive vote margin, plus the net gains by Republicans in Congress, a rare political event in a second-term presidency, would have made him a potent political force on Capitol Hill. Add a tax cut-fueled economy that grew by more than 4 percent last year, surpassing all expectations, and Mr. Bush becomes even stronger.

The only remaining doubts about his presidency were in Iraq, where the forces of freedom and self-government were pitted against the tyranny of terrorism. Those forces clashed on the political battlefield Sunday and the terrorists lost, big time, as Mr. Bush believed and predicted they would.

It was not only a breathtaking national security-foreign policy victory for Mr. Bush, whose Iraq policies were bitterly criticized by Democratic foes, but also for his belief the aroused forces of freedom can face down and ultimately defeat terrorism.

The inspiring sight of millions of Iraqis trooping to the polls to vote for sovereignty, self-government and freedom, in the face of terrorist threats of beheadings and “bathing the streets in blood,” was also a victory for U.S. military forces and the small but determined allied coalition that freed Iraq and put its brave people on the terror-strewn path to Sunday’s historic elections.

All these disparate political forces came together this week at just the right time as Mr. Bush prepared his seminal State of the Union address to Congress and kick off one of the most ambitious, far-reaching reform agenda since the New Deal.

If being newly re-elected, with a resurgent economy, had already made George Bush political powerhouse in the legislative battles to come, his success as a wartime leader planting the seeds of democracy in the Middle East’s terrorist-breeding grounds elevates his presidency and his political influence to an even higher power, both at home and abroad.

Thus, the prospects have improved dramatically for enacting some version of his personal Social Security investment accounts. So have the chances for meaningful tax reform and curbs on class-action lawsuits.

Most of his Democratic critics this week were reduced to offering only grudging praise for the successful Iraqi elections. Yet John Kerry who had predicted nothing but failure in Iraq under Mr. Bush, remained as clinically defeatist as ever. When asked by Tim Russert on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” if Iraq was now less of a terrorist threat than two years ago, Mr. Kerry said: “No, it’s more. And, in fact, I believe the world is less safe than it was 2 years ago.” Tell that to the men and women who ventured out on the streets of Iraq to cast their vote and proudly showed their ink-stained fingers as badges of courage.

But there were other important international and domestic dividends in Sunday’s vote, too.

Praise for the Iraqi elections was nearly universal around the world, with even France and Germany, fierce opponents of Bush’s pre-emptive offensive against terrorist regimes, offering Mr. Bush congratulations on the progress made there. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will enjoy an extra measure of respect when she visits European allies to ask for broader support for Iraq’s reconstruction.

Suddenly, too, there was renewed discussion in world capitals about democracy catching on elsewhere, like in Iran, for instance, or Saudi Arabia or Syria or Egypt. The Internet cyber-lines were humming among pro-democracy groups in these and other countries about Iraq’s elections.

U.S. financial markets had been excessively bearish and pessimistic about the chances for a turnout in Iraq’s elections. But Wall Street responded bullishly Monday to news Iraq passed its first big test in its march toward constitutional government.

None of this would have happened if we had listened to those timid voices who said we had no business toppling terrorist regimes and who now say the world is less safe than before we drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan and imprisoned Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi killers.

Both countries are now headed by pro-Western democratic leaders who have sworn to find and eliminate the terrorists in their midst. That has made us all much safer than before.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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