- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 10, 2006

Abu Musab Zarqawi’s violent death may help President Bush boost not only his dismal job-approval rating with voters, but bolster his support for holding firm in Iraq, said elected officials and senior analysts in both political parties.

“Politically, killing Zarqawi is a huge confidence builder for the president, and the folks who don’t want to cut and run in Iraq,” says Rep. Tom Feeney, Florida Republican. “John Murtha and Nancy Pelosi had a horrible day — the worst day in a year” for two of the most vociferously anti-war Democrats in the House.

The demise of al Qaeda’s chief operative in Iraq at the hands of the U.S. military Wednesday may even temporarily improve the public’s generally ugly mood regarding the war in Iraq, analysts said.

“In political terms, Zarqawi is a plus for the president, but one of relatively short duration,” said Richard V. Allen, Reagan White House national security adviser. “If there is an outbreak of vengeance in the form of more violence and indiscriminate killing, the death of Zarqawi will easily become a speck in the rearview mirror.”

In the longer term, the consequences of Zarqawi’s death will hinge on several factors, some potentially within the control of the American military forces — and the nascent Iraqi government — and other factors that are simply unpredictable, some of those interviewed argued.

Most agreed the death of the Jordanian-born terrorist leader alone is unlikely to have much, if any, effect on the November elections in this country — and on whether Republicans will slip back into the minority in the House or in the Senate — or both.

Several analysts in both parties said the way Mr. Bush and Republican congressional candidates address Mexicans’ crossing into the United States illegally is likely to trump any other issue, including Iraq, come November.

“If Bush keeps pushing guest-worker programs and amnesty for illegal aliens, nothing will save him,” Mr. Feeney said. “On the other hand, if he will talk about defending marriage and actually spending money on border security and prosecuting the war on terror, I think we can move this in the right direction.”

Just back from a trip to the Middle East, former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder offered a similar assessment from a Democrat’s viewpoint.

“Perception accounts for three-fourths of this new dynamic created by al-Zarqawi’s death,” said Mr. Wilder, now the mayor of Richmond. “It will have a short-term effect on Bush’s approval ratings as well on public support for the war in Iraq, but none on the November elections. Gas prices are still high; interest rates are rising; the insurgency does not seem to be quelled; and the issue of immigration will still dog Bush.”

Some experts suggested the military and the Bush White House seem to be inviting the press to make too much of the killing of Zarqawi.

“Folks will still be asking, ‘Why can’t — why don’t — we get Osama bin Laden?’” Mr. Allen said.

Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, said the main beneficiary is not Mr. Bush or his party, but the new Iraqi prime minister and his government in Iraq. The president should use Zarqawi’s death to make sure the public “hears more about successes on the ground there,” Mr. Pitts said. “We don’t hear enough about them. If we can get more out, it will help the approval ratings.”

Analysts agreed that Mr. Bush can help himself and his party in November by re-establishing in the minds of much of the public a nexus between Iraq and the war on terror.

Though Arizona Sen. John McCain has been urging fellow Republicans to support Mr. Bush’s policy of “staying the course” in Iraq, polling and election considerations aside, McCain’s chief political strategist, John Weaver, is reluctant to read into the Zarqawi killing any portents for the future.

“Short term, it may have some positive impact,” said Mr. Weaver, “but we don’t know if we are on a trend line that is going to remain positive or is just momentary. You don’t know if you are at the end of the road till you are there.”

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