Even as the Bush administration
seeks to limit the damage abroad caused by revelations about abuse of prisoners
in Iraq, some political experts are asking if the scandal might affect domestic
support for the Iraq effort.
The latest poll from USA Today, the Cable News Network and
the Gallup polling organization shows the president's handling of Iraq at only
42 percent approval, his worst rating to date.
William Schneider is a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute
here in Washington.
"The shocking news of mistreatment of prisoners appears to be taking a toll
on the president. His ratings on Iraq have dropped six [percentage] points
in the last two weeks," he said. "Even his ratings for handling the war on
terrorism have dropped to their lowest level ever. They are barely positive
now, 52 [percent] positive, 45 [percent] negative. That was always his strong
In Arabic television interviews this week, the president promised to bring
those U.S. soldiers responsible for the abuse to justice. He also made it clear
that the United States remains committed to bringing democracy to the Iraqi
I think the timetable we are on is a realistic timetable," Mr. Bush said. "It
is one that will be met and I believe that the elections will help the Iraqi
citizens realize that freedom is coming."
The president's expected Democratic opponent in the November election, Senator
John Kerry, criticized the administration for what he said was a slow and inappropriate
response to the abuse revelations.
Senator Kerry said that he worries that the scandal threatens to erode support
at home for staying the course in Iraq. "What happened there has done a disservice
to all of our troops who serve with great valor and great courage and, I think,
with distinction," he added. "And it also undermines America's own efforts
in the region."
Even though U.S. opinion polls indicate the president's favorability ratings
are on the decline because of Iraq and the economy, they also show Senator
Kerry has made little headway against the president in recent weeks and that
the race remains a dead heat.
Analyst Norman Ornstein monitors the presidency and Congress at the American
Enterprise Institute. He said that President Bush continues to benefit from
the public's perception of his strong leadership in the wake of the 2001 terrorist
"There is a durable image of George Bush that was set after 9/11 that is
going to take a lot more than a few bad weeks of news to erase," he noted. "That
was, as we have said here before, a little bit like the window people saw into
Ronald Reagan after the (1981) assassination attempt. That sense of grace and
dignity for Reagan. That sense of resoluteness and toughness [for Bush], of
getting up off the canvas and acting for America after 9/11."
The polls indicate most Americans want to stay in Iraq and complete the mission,
despite the recent turmoil and upsurge in casualties there, but analyst William
Schneider said that there are plenty of warning signs that the public's attitude
on Iraq could shift in a negative way, depending on what happens inside the
"When Americans conclude, not just that the policy is not working, it needs
to be better organized, we need to see a plan to turn over the government and
to get out," he said. "But [when a majority believes] that it was a mistake
to undertake this in the first place, something they are divided on right now,
but when most Americans start to say this whole thing was a mistake, then the
administration is in trouble. It has not quite happened yet, but we are getting
The latest polls also suggest that U.S. voters at the moment consider Iraq
and the domestic economy the two most important issues in this year's election