Can Russia deliver votes for Bush?
This week in "The Inside Edge," President Bush looks to the former "evil empire" for support.
And as the list of vice presidential hopefuls grows, I explain why a former rival might be the best bet for John Kerry.
From Russia with love
Summer is coming and that could be good news for President Bush. As his poll numbers drag and Americans head for graduations, vacations and summer barbecues, Bush may get the under-the-radar opportunity he needs to fix his political standing.
He'll need more than ads and speeches, however. First, he needs to get the situation in Iraq under some semblance of control. To do that, even the president now acknowledges that he needs and wants more international cooperation.
While much of the discussion has focused on Germany, France and the United Kingdom, the ultimate key to internationalizing the effort may come from a very different and unexpected source -- Russia.
As one of the five permanent members of the United Nations' Security Council, Russia could join with the U.S. and Britain in building a modicum of meaningful U.N. support for the post-June 30 Iraq mission.
Russia still has one of the largest armies in the world and so could donate a good number of troops to the effort -- although Moscow, of course, would be selective about what kind of work those troops do (the least dangerous) and when they join the effort (after there was some real security in Iraq).
Russia also comes with a powerful leader who could help rally support for the United States. In recent years, President Vladimir Putin has centralized tremendous governing power in his hands. As such, Putin would be more able to resist domestic public pressure against helping the United States than, say, Jacques Chirac in France or Gerhard Schroeder in Germany.
If Chirac and Schroeder changed their minds and wanted to help, they would face grave political problems at home. Schroeder almost lost an election when he first backed Bush in 2002 and Britain's Tony Blair is facing a backlash of his own for supporting the war.
Putin, whose powers seem almost dictatorial, could probably push through a deal to help in Iraq if he was so inclined. He would certainly demand a lot for it --perhaps billions of dollars in aid money, access to Iraqi oil revenue (Russia says it has oil deals with Iraq that have been interrupted by the war), and the United States turning a blind eye to how he handles the rebellion in Chechnya.
For Bush, a deal that would have once seemed outrageous may now be one of his last best hopes. As for national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who has specialized over the years in Soviet affairs and still has strong relationships in Russia, returning to her old stomping ground may be a welcome change from knocking heads with what Donald Rumsfeld calls "old Europe."
So as improbable as it would have seemed to his hero Ronald Reagan, who coined the "evil empire" epithet, President Bush may yet turn to that former Cold War foe to help fix sticky problems.
The other man from Arkansas
If John Kerry wins in November, Wes Clark may wonder "what if."
What if he had entered the presidential race earlier, say the summer instead of the fall of 2003, and therefore competed in Iowa? Would he have been the one to dethrone Howard Dean instead of John Kerry?
Indeed, as Iowa caucus-goers looked for a grown-up and safe alternative to Dean, Clark could have offered them not just a war hero, but a general and former supreme allied commander. Not just an Ivy League graduate, but a Rhodes scholar. And if all of that were not enough, Clark could have soothed them further with the knowledge that like the reigning Democratic hero, he too was not another Massachusetts liberal, but a native Arkansan.
It did not happen.
But since his loss, perhaps only Dick Gephardt has done as much as Clark to help the Kerry campaign and his own vice presidential prospects.
Hitting the hustings from the Midwest to media studios, the former college professor has aggressively attacked the Bush administration, sounding key national security themes and reminding many of why he was a highly-lauded military analyst for CNN.
Many Democrats want Kerry to choose Clark, believing that the combination of two decorated war heroes will not only erase any doubts that voters may have about the Democrats' ability to manage the war on terror and the situation in Iraq, but actually turn national security into a Democratic theme and strength.
True enough, Clark can speak confidently and persuasively about national security. And his general title does help and adds some rock star celebrity to his potential candidacy.
But his many verbal gaffes during the presidential campaign (e.g. on supporting a war resolution, abortion, party identity) would certainly be fodder for Republican attacks. Can't you see the ads -- two flip-floppers are worse than one?
So will Clark be chosen? I don't know. But he's on my list of the top three most likely choices.