Jewish World Review June 21, 2004 / 2 Tamuz, 5764

Zev Chafets

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Putin gives Bush a boost: Confirmation of a Saddam threat to the U.S. undermines Kerry | President Bush got some very good news last week from one of the key 2004 battleground states: Russia. On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin confided that he warned the U.S. after 9/11 but before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein was preparing terrorist attacks on America and its interests abroad.

Democrats aren't happy with this revelation and even less happy with its timing. It came just one day after John Kerry accused the Bush administration of "misleading" the American public into believing that Iraq posed a terror threat.

If Putin is telling the truth, Kerry's accusation is, at the very least, undermined. After all, the Russians had longstanding relations with Saddam and famously good information about what was happening in Baghdad. Not only that, their warning jibed with the President's own assessment.

The Democrats argue that Bush concocted an Iraqi terror connection over the objections of the intelligence community to take the country to war. But that simply isn't true.

In October 2002, CIA Director George Tenet sent a written assessment to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Bob Graham, in which Tenet claimed he had 10 years' worth of "solid reporting" on a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Bush argues that no responsible post-9/11 President would shrug off such warnings. This is a tough argument for Kerry to counter. Although he voted for the war, he suffers from the traditional Democratic soft-on-national-security image. The GOP will ask: What would President Kerry have done with the Russian warning?

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One answer is that there was no warning, that Putin is lying to curry favor with Bush. But this explanation raises an uncomfortable question. One of Kerry's main themes has been that Bush can't get along with foreigners. But how does that square with the accusation that the president of Russia is actively campaigning on Bush's behalf?

If, in fact, Putin did speak up now to help Bush in November, that can only mean that the Russians think Bush will win reelection.

So, evidently, do Bush's other European critics, Jacques Chirac of France and Gerhard Schroeder of Germany. Suddenly, they are FOG (Friends of George), all smiles at the recent G-8 summit and - even more significantly - willing to give Bush a unanimous victory on Iraq at the UN Security Council. They know perfectly well that such cooperation undercuts Kerry's theme that Bush can't get along with America's allies.

Perhaps it is a coincidence, but Putin spoke up on the same day that a new Pew poll found Bush now leading Kerry in the presidential race. According to the survey, Bush's approval rating has gone up by roughly 10% in the past month.

The Pew poll also showed that 55% of Americans think Bush was right to go to war in Iraq, compared with just 38% who think it was a mistake. That is a gap of 17 points, up from a 9-point gap only a month ago.

Bush still gets comparatively low marks on his handling of the economy. But that will change. Most parts of the country are experiencing a strong economic recovery, and indicators suggest that it will continue into the fall.

If it does, Kerry will find it very hard to convince voters that they are in the midst of a depression.

Yes, I know. Polls are just a snapshot. Four months in politics can be an eternity. Anything can happen. But right now, I'd say that John Kerry is in big trouble. If he can't carry Russia, he's not going to win in November.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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