Next Question on Iraq: How do WE end the War?
Since before the war began, opponents of the Iraq war have tirelessly articulated why the war is wrong on moral and pragmatic grounds, forcing the critical examination of the war policy at coffee counters, kitchen tables, church and union halls, and throughout the blogosphere that Congress has mostly tried to dodge.
And, against all odds given that the corporate media has been largely captive to the Bush administration’s agenda, opponents of this war have clearly won. The administration took its best shot at selling the continuation of the Iraq war in September, and it is clear that most of the American people have not been persuaded. A CBS News national poll following the spectacle of General Petraeus’s testimony shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans appear to be firmly against Bush’s strategy, which calls for large numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq for years to come:
- 53% continue to believe that the war was a mistake.
- 49% believe most U.S. troops should be brought home in less than a year, and 23% 1-2 years from now.
- 29% believe all troops should be removed from Iraq, and 39% believe troop levels should be decreased; only 6% believe they should be increased, and 21% believe they should remain the same.
Yet for opponents of the war, September was a discouraging month. Given the clear public opposition to the war consistently demonstrated in polls and the conventional political wisdom that the Republicans lost Congress in 2006 because of disillusionment with the war, the failure of Congress to take any meaningful steps toward changing course on the war seems puzzling if not downright surreal.
So why hasn’t the demonstrable unpopularity of this war translated into change in Iraq policy?A University of Wisconsin Political Scientist Charles H. Franklin suggested the answer on his blog Political Arithmetik. He breaks public opposition to the war into three segments — disapproval of Bush’s handling of the war, belief that the human and financial costs of the war have been too high, and belief that going to war in the first place was a mistake. While it is clear that a majority of Americans disapprove of the war in all three of these ways, Franklin shows that disapproval by Bush is significantly stronger than either of the other aspects of opposition to the war. In various polls, those who feel the costs of the war are acceptable and those who approve of the original decision to go to war hover around 40%.
The bottom line according to Franklin is that change in Congress will require that Republican members perceive that opinion against the war is so overwhelming that it is time for them to abandon ship. So long as a substantial minority continue to support the current policy (or at least oppose a rapid withdrawal), Republicans will perceive that they have the political cover necessary to hunker down and stick with the president, and thus avoid alienating the right wing of their party.
In light of all this, it’s time to face the obvious. Congress will not have the moral fortitude to end the war without a great deal more direct pressure from the people. Opponents of the war need to ratchet up their involvement in active public opposition to the war. Casting a vote or answering a pollster and sitting back to wait for Congress to act is not enough. Recalcitrant Republicans (and timid Democrats) need to see that we are not going away.
A couple of salutary examples: Concerned citizens in Minnesota are holding Senator Norm Coleman’s feet to the fire for his support for the Iraq war, and his outrageous claim that the war is not a major issue for his constituents. That Americans aren’t really concerned about the war seems to have become a theme for the Republicans, but it’s wishful thinking. Here in central Pennsylvania’s sprawling 5th district, Republican John Peterson has claimed that he has not heard from constituents about the war. A growing group of concerned citizens in this rural and small-town district have come together to form the Fifth District Peace Project to make sure he gets the message loud and clear that opposition to this war in his district is deep and wide.
It maybe too much to hope that these efforts will bring conservatives like Coleman and Peterson around, but you never know. As NPR reported last week, Coleman cast a surprise vote in favor of the bill that would have required troops returning from Iraq or Afghanistan to be given an amount of time at home equal to the time spent overseas before being redeployed.
In any case, we clearly need to increase this kind of pressure on our government as a signal that our patience is not infinite. It’s time to start a new discussion in the blogosphere and at the coffee counters, kitchen tables, church halls and union halls: how do WE THE PEOPLE end this war.