AMERICA'S MISSILE STRIKES against Iraq are a clear political bonanza for President Clinton. Already riding high in the polls, the Democratic incumbent has gotten an added bounce in popularity while chasing Republican Bob Dole's faltering presidential campaign off the front pages.
The John Zogby poll for Reuters yesterday gave Mr. Clinton a 15-point lead over Mr. Dole, erasing Mr. Dole's post-convention comeback. More to the point, it reported that the president gained two points and his challenger lost three points between Monday, when Mr. Dole was chiding Mr. Clinton for "weak leadership," and Wednesday, when the missile attacks required Mr. Dole to rally 'round the flag.
Despite his predictable gain, Mr. Clinton still faces perils in foreign affairs he cannot control. The outlook for Sept. 14 elections in Bosnia, which the administration considers the touchstone of its Balkans policy, is so dicey that Mr. Dole has demanded they be called off.
And if that isn't enough, there is a danger that the Iraq situation could unravel adversely. Saddam Hussein has been able to re-exert control over a portion of the Kurdish north that had been denied him since his defeat in the Persian Gulf war. Turkey has announced unilateral plans to establish a zone of control just across its border with Iraq, thus arousing concerns (shared by the U.S.) about a dismemberment of Iraq that would make Iran the unchallenged regional superpower. While Washington has undoubtedly improved its strategic position in southern Iraq, the staging area for possible attacks on Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, virtually the entire Arab world is skittish about what is seen as an American violation of Iraq's sovereignty.
The domestic political message in all this is that Iraq gives the president a temporary boost that will not necessarily hold until the November elections. The same Zogby poll cited above shows that only on the "character issue" and in foreign policy does Mr. Dole outscore Mr. Clinton. Republican leaders are chomping to debate the administration's actions leading up to Iraq's attack northward. They also know the trouble-plagued Bosnian elections will be the big story a week hence.
Mr. Dole does not have a clear track on either issue. His past and present prescriptions for Bosnia are highly debatable. Shortly before the Persian Gulf war, he was one of 16 senators who
defied President Bush's call for economic sanctions to punish Iraq for its poison gas attacks on Kurdish rebels. But with his campaign in desperate shape, foreign affairs is one of the few areas that could provide the opening he needs.
Pub Date: 9/06/96