Morning Political Note: Knots

For some reasons we can put our fingers on, and others we can't, the conflict in the Middle East doesn't seem like an issue on the verge of becoming political, or a political problem, for President Bush.

News Summary

Even as the papers say the president is coming "under growing pressure" (the Los Angeles Times ) and facing a "quandary" (the New York Times ), this pressure doesn't seem to be coming from Democrats, making this story atypically nonpolitical, even as it's likely to be the dominant Washington story all week.

Maybe this is because:

1) Both parties are, and always have been, split over the Mideast, with many Republicans as well as Democrats being staunchly pro-Israel, and others within each party not so much. As a result, there's no clear line of sight for an attack on the president, making this unlikely to become a partisan debate — unless it evolves into a question of competence.

Which, arguably, it could — we'll leave it to foreign policy experts and Bush national security team watchers to better explain why — but we'd suggest that the chances that a popular wartime president could be considered incompetent on an issue that has been boiling for lifetimes are pretty slim. Leading us to …

2) This possibly being yet another demonstration of Bush's wartime untouchability. His national security team has gotten so many plaudits for their handling of the war against terror, right down that that Vanity Fair spread, that any charges that they might have mishandled the Mideast aren't likely to resonate in any way that would result in electoral harm to the president or his party.

And/or 3) the images coming out of the Mideast — that bloody restaurant floor from the Passover bombing, for instance — are simply too grim for any lawmaker to feel like taking the risk of making this into a political issue.

As one sage New York Jewish Democrat noted to us Friday evening over a Sabbath meal of Vietnamese food, almost no Americans will vote according this issue. So to extrapolate from that, if you're serving in public office, why chance making it a political issue?

We'd venture to say that increased US involvement in the Mideast might even have some positive, if indirect impact on Bush, and possibly the GOP heading into the 2002 elections. It doesn't take a cynic assigning political motives to realize that the effect of increased Administration involvement in the Mideast, especially if US troops are sent in to keep the peace, is to draw Americans' attention to yet another war right about when the fighting in Afghanistan is falling off the front pages. (

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