- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Members of Congress returned from a short recess yesterday. The news they are bringing from their districts back to Washington is all positive. Many Republican voters are displeased with what they perceive to be unpersuasive justifications for the war in Iraq. In general, these voters support the war, but think a better case needs be made. When Republican congressional staffers are asked what they and their bosses think about White House leaks regarding a CIA agent’s identity, the typical reaction has been a histrionic rolling of eyes. This mood conveys a warning that the White House must reassert the nobility of the cause.

Overthrowing a dictator, stabilizing a chaotic country, trying to resuscitate an economy and installing a new civilian government is difficult. Democratic institutions cannot be built in the snap of a finger. Criticism from the media voices and politicians, that the rebuilding process is taking too long, is transparently partisan. Nevertheless, many Republican congressmen have been told by their constituents that successes in the war on terror have not been articulated well, and that this failure damages the White House’s credibility.

It’s worthwhile for the administration to listen to voices on the Hill. They support the president, working especially to enact appropriations for Iraq. They have fingers on the pulse of grass-roots America. Defense and intelligence are bread-and-butter Republican issues. Since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Democrats have been on the defensive about their weak position on defense. The fact that Democrats are now getting some traction in criticizing Republican military policies worries many congressmen — and not just sophomores worried about winning elections, but seasoned veterans with safe seats. One leadership aide says: “Obviously, Democrats are considering a general [Wesley Clark] as a presidential candidate because they think we might be vulnerable on defense issues next year.”

The most recent polls show that President Bush’s approval ratings are beginning to climb again. This suggests that the Bush foreign policy team’s renewed efforts to explain its policies are resonating throughout the country. Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell have considerable credibility with the public. That credibility should be put to use.

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