Things were looking good for George W. Bush last week—Ohio and Florida safely tilting in his direction, John Kerry hanging on to a narrow lead in Michigan, and Pennsylvania seemingly drifting toward the Republicans. By week’s end, New Jersey, a Democratic sure bet, was in play, with the Kerry campaign racing to shore up defenses in what should have been a done deal.
Then, four days before the first debate, out of the desert came Colin Powell, tossing a monkey wrench into the president’s re-election campaign. “We have seen an increase in anti-Americanism in the Muslim world . . . I’m not denying this,” Powell said on ABC’s This Week. “We are fighting an intense insurgency. Yes, it’s getting worse, and the reason it’s getting worse is that they are determined to disrupt the election.”
This statement came on the heels of Bush’s U.N. speech, in which the president insisted that victory in Iraq is at hand, liberty and democracy assured. The centerpiece of the Republican campaign, the endlessly repeated message: “We’re winning,” now branded a virtual lie by Bush’s own secretary of state and the military commander who led Desert Storm.
It gets worse. Earlier in the week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the Washington press corps’s beloved goofball, said that maybe because of the fighting there would be elections in only part of Iraq. On Sunday, as Powell was speaking, another military commander, General John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, which covers Iraq and Afghanistan, said he was confident that elections would be possible in the “vast majority” of Iraq.
Bush is now being openly contradicted by his own top officials. What more could Kerry hope for?
Additional reporting: Laurie Anne Agnese and David Botti