Some Democrats see a political motivation in Bush focus on Iran

Some Democrats on Capitol Hill say that the White House’s recent focus on Iran is a political ploy aimed at boosting the president’s low approval ratings.

The rhetorical exchanges between Washington and Tehran about Iran’s alleged effort to obtain nuclear weapons has cooled somewhat as a floated compromise on the thorny issue has not been outrightly rejected by the Middle Eastern country.

Still, Democrats point out that the Iran situation could be a win-win for Bush. If he brokers a deal Bush can claim victory, and if it falls apart it would set up an opportunity for the president to talk about homeland security and terrorism in the lead-up to the election.

While Democrats are quick to point out that keeping nuclear weapons out of Iran’s hands is extremely important, some of them say that politics are playing a significant role in the administration’s foreign-policy initiative. For those Democrats, the situation is reminiscent of the period before the vote on the war in Iraq.

Many administration critics remember when then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card was asked why the administration waited until after Labor Day to try to sell the American people on military action against Iraq in 2002. Card replied, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

House Democrats, who have high hopes of gaining the majority this fall, are much more vocal about their concern that the administration’s approach toward Iran is a political stunt than their counterparts in the upper chamber.

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), a centrist and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that some of his Democratic colleagues have mentioned to him that they are concerned the current situation with Iran “looks a lot like the whole scenario prior to the use-of-force vote on Iraq.”

“People suspect [Bush is] doing it for political reasons rather than national-security reasons,” Taylor said. “There’s definitely concern among my colleagues. There’s a concern that [administration officials] see a vote on use of force on Iran as a Hail Mary pass before November elections.”

Taylor added that it is a fair question to ask whether the debate on Iran is political.

“At best they misled me and at worst they lied to me about weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, he said. “There could be a vote on use of force in Iran, [but] I want them to be forthright with the American people.”

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), another member of the Armed Services Committee, said, “The whole issue of diplomacy is to engage in dialogue and to understand that there are going to be rhetorical flourishes on all sides.”

But Abercrombie said there are election concerns in play: “It is to give the appearance of reasonableness on part of the U.S. while winking at the [conservative] base.”

Meanwhile, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), ranking member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said that the administration’s earlier approach to Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapon ambitions was “absurd.”

“When they said those cowboy words, it had a detrimental effect on foreign policy,” Murtha added. “We are the most unpopular country in the world.”

Murtha, a Marine veteran and a hawk, has become an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq. He emphasized that the United States has no other alternative in Iran than the diplomatic path. Military action would be out of the question, he said. “Iran is three times bigger than Iraq.”

The House this spring passed a bill imposing greater sanctions on Iran, causing several Democrats to object to it as a stepping-stone to war.

“By sanctioning foreign countries and companies that have economic relations with Iran, this bill sanctions the very countries we need for a strong diplomatic effort,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)

“I feel a sense of d