Jewish World ReviewAugust 3, 2004/ 16 Menachem-Av, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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Sometimes a war can get personal | LOS ANGELES — The news from Iraq sounds mostly good to Americans because the American casualty numbers are down sharply from six weeks, or even from a month, ago.

But if you were sitting in a pew at St. Paul Assyrian Chaldean Church in Hollywood over the weekend, the news from Iraq was up close, personal and dreadful.

St. Paul's is almost as familiar as home for a congregation of Iraqi and Iranian Christians in Los Angeles. The parishioners are united by common faith in Christ even though their native countries are rivals and sometimes deadly enemies. They were united again this week in common grief. Islamist thugs, perhaps even Islamic thugs, targeted their relatives in Baghdad and Mosul. About a dozen of them lay dead, and dozens more lie injured after Sunday's carnage at St. Peter and St. Paul's Cathedral in Baghdad.

When the Rev. Noel Gorgis led the Sunday prayers in the traditional Aramaic tongue that Jesus spoke, he did not know whether his sister, who lives in Baghdad and regularly attends St. Peter and St. Paul's, was living or dead. Only after the service ended did he get good news from a cousin.

"Now I at least know that my sister is safe," he told the Los Angeles Times. "But I am worried about my Christian brothers. There is no happiness in knowing one person is safe."

The war news from Iraq is considerably less personal but scarcely less intense for the pols trying to make the war the decisive issue in the presidential campaign now getting started in earnest. Pretty soon a lot of people will start paying attention.

Despite all the folding, spindling and mutilating the newspaper's pollingmeisters can do with the results, The Washington Post's latest public-opinion poll reveals that after four days of nonstop Bush-bashing in Boston the only bounce Monsieur Kerry got for his trouble was a bounce down the basement stairs.

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George W. is actually up three points among likely voters, and since voters who actually vote for their man are the only voters who actually count — excluding the little old ladies in Palm Beach County who voted four years ago for Pat Buchanan in the expectation they were voting for someone else — that's a good omen for the Republicans. Most challengers get on average a seven-point favorable bounce; Michael Dukakis left the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta in 1988 with a 17-point advantage. Not since George McGovern opened his 1972 campaign with a three-point deficit after convention week has a candidate suffered such a miserable convention bounce.

Marc Racicot, the chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign, actually agrees with his Democratic counterpart that these latest poll numbers are "interesting" and not much else because the campaign is volatile, this is only August, and voters are fickle. Nevertheless, for George W., the result is better than a sharp stick in his eye.

For all the talk about the economy, health care, the price of pharmaceutical drugs, same-sex "marriage" and the other social and pocketbook issues that the pols think they can manage to advantage, "it's the war, stupid." War, in this formulation, being the war against the Islamist barbarians, wherever they are.

Campaign consultants of both parties argue privately about whether another attack on America, such as something close to or exceeding September 11, would help or hurt George W. and the Republicans. It's a cliche to say that nothing has polarized the electorate like the war in Iraq since million-man mobs paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue flying Viet Cong flags in the late 1960s, protesting the war in Vietnam.

But if the war in Iraq is polarizing, the war against the terrorists, shadowy, secretive and lethal, is another matter entirely. Partisans argue about the connections between Iraq and al Qaeda, but not about the peril that the Middle Eastern terrorists pose throughout the world.

The warnings posted over the weekend by Tom Ridge, the director of homeland security, sounded ominous in a way that previous warnings did not. This time, Mr. Ridge was specific. Howard Dean predictably accused the administration of playing terrorism as "the trump card." More serious Democrats were more cautious.

"I think this is one of the sleeper issues of the campaign," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. "I think the people see this as a valid campaign issue." Where you stand, the wise man said, depends on where you're sitting.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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