By Pauline Jelinek ~ The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Playing on the fear factor, Vice President Dick Cheney suggested in a campaign speech there might be another terrorist attack on the United States if John Kerry were in the White House.
President Bush's opponents' are raising their own worst fears, including the potential for more wars during a second Bush term.
"That's fear-mongering," said Joseph Carafano, a 25-year Army veteran and former West Point professor who now is an analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The rhetoric continued during the weekend. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., speaking at a Saturday night fund-raiser in DeKalb, Ill., said his opinion is that the al-Qaida terror network could operate better with Kerry in the White House instead of Bush. Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, issued a statement Sunday accusing Hastert of using the "politics of fear," which Edwards said is a "clear sign of weakness and failed leadership."
With fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq far from over, a Pew Research Center Poll found that 51 percent of voters surveyed said they do worry that Bush, if re-elected, would lead the country into another war.
"The Bush administration is on a crusade to make the world safe for democracy and part of that ... is eliminating countries of anti-Western aggression," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute think tank in Washington.
"They may not like me to say that on the eve of the election, but that's a fact," Thompson said. "It's less likely to happen with a Kerry administration."
Both Bush and Democrat Kerry have said they prefer diplomacy to deal with Iran and North Korea, which joined Iraq in "an axis of evil," as described by the president.
Under Bush, there is "reason for apprehension" because of his administration's "actions and rhetoric" over the past four years, said Ted Galen Carpenter of the libertarian Cato Institute.
Carpenter also cited among Bush's conservative supporters a "deep concern ... and fairly militant attitude" that the United States needs to "do something" about Iran, North Korea, Syria and perhaps other governments.
Those who think more wars in a second Bush administration are unlikely point out that there are not enough U.S. troops, given that the Pentagon already is struggling to keep up with violence in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Others say the administration has no taste for another war after the unexpected difficulties of Iraq, and the bar has been raised for Congress and the American public as well.
They say Americans will not so easily support another war after learning that prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was false.
"I really don't think, absent something like an invasion of South Korea (by communist rival North Korea), that we could sustain another one," Carafano said.
If forced into it by such a provocation, the Pentagon could most certainly do it by mobilizing more National Guard and Reserve troops and calling on allies, Carafano said.
But that would take the armed forces "to the edge," said Carafano, and would mean years to reconstitute the military in terms of troops readiness and resupplying equipment.
Others note that while the Army is stretched extremely thin now, the Air Force and Navy are not.
"So the talk that you hear within the conservative community about perhaps taking strong measures against Iran or North Korea would be feasible if it were confined to air strikes," Carpenter said. "Those who are concerned that a second Bush presidency might go down that path might have some foundation for their concerns."
Some fear the United States could provoke a war -- even if it did not fire the first shot -- by focusing on tough talk and actions, rather than negotiations.
"It's this process of bluster and threat and escalation that could lead to war," said Michael O'Hanlon of the liberal-leaning Brookings Institute. "I don't want to say that the chance of war is particularly high, but I think it would be higher under Bush than under Kerry."
On North Korea, Kerry favors direct negotiations. Bush has instead collective talks involving six countries.
With Iran, some fear any effort to aid anti-government forces could get the United States "deeply involved in Iran's internal politics with unpredictable consequences," Carpenter said.