U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th) was in Munich last year about the time Congress was renaming French toast to freedom toast and French fries to freedom fries. As he followed the news from Germany, Moran saw that did not play well with America's traditional European allies.
"That kind of goofiness backfires," he said. "They're going to snub us."
To Moran, the patriotic fervor that led some Americans to rename their foods in protest of the anti-war French foreign policy epitomizes the go-it-alone nature of the Bush administration's policy on Iraq.
"I don't see how the Bush administration recovers the good will that they have squandered," he said.
AS VOTERS get ready to head to the polls on Nov. 2, foremost on their minds is the war in Iraq. In two televised debates and on the campaign trail, Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry has slammed President George W. Bush for his decision to go to war. Last week, a report by Charles Duelfer, the chief American weapons inspector, found that Iraq was not producing weapons of mass destruction, contradicting an essential argument the administration used for invading Iraq.
“I think clearly the war has been more salient one way or another,” said Robert Denton, a communications professor at Virginia Tech who is following the campaigns.
In Virginia's 8th District, the war has split the candidates running for the congressional seat. Moran, the 14-year incumbent, opposed the war in Congress last year and co-authored a Congressional resolution against sending troops to Iraq without international support.
His Republican opponent, Lisa Marie Cheney, said that going to war was the best decision at the time, considering the intelligence that was available to the president and to Congress. "The intelligence was flawed," she added, "but it said there was reasonable belief that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And based on intelligence that everyone had at the time I think the right decision was made. If we knew then what we know today I think different decisions would have been made."
With better intelligence, she said, the United States could have tried to work out a diplomatic solution rather than going to war when it did.
"I think we could have really put the inspectors in there and had more of an interchange with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government," she said.
Still, working with Saddam Hussein's government would have been difficult, she added. "We were in a war with Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein was praising the occurrences of Sept. 11."
Cheney said she was hopeful that the flawed reports on Iraq had motivated the administration to improve its intelligence gathering. "We will avoid making decisions in the future that may not be what we wanted to do."
James Hurysz, an independent candidate in the race, criticized the Bush administration's intelligence failures before the war but also had harsh words for the Unites States' handling of the post-war situation.
"How come they don't have fresh water? How come they don't have electricity? How come they don't have air conditioning?" he said. "I would ask, where is the progress here?"
NOW THAT the United States is in Iraq, Moran said it was necessary to remain in the country to prevent it from plunging into civil war.
"I think we've got to go ahead with elections because we have so little credibility over there that we have to do what we say we're going to do," he said. "The problem with the elections is that we're likely to create a Shia-run theocracy. And the Shia, of course, will be allied with the Iranians."
But it won't be easy because the Bush administration has alienated most of the world, he said.
"I find it quite a travesty that Mr. Moran continues to negate the fact that we have a lot of other countries making up the coalition forces," said Cheney, noting that the United States is part of a coalition of countries in Iraq.
"We need to work with the Iraqi government and with the Iraqi forces to bring peace and stability to the region," she said. "We need to continue to support the elections. They went very well in Afghanistan."
Hurysz, however, would like to speed up the process. "In six months I would like to see the National Guard and reserves return to the United States," he said during a televised debate in Reston.