Voters Turn Away From Bush’s Error

As Connecticut Democrats went to their polling places to choose a Senate nominee, waves of rhetorical hysteria burst forth from the mouths of excitable conservatives. At stake in the primary was not only the fate of a single politician, they cried, but the very “soul of the Democratic Party” and perhaps even the fate of the West.

Moldy old terms like “appeasement” and “Stalinist” have been brandished to insinuate that anyone who dares to dissent from the failed policies adopted by Joe Lieberman and the Bush administration is at best a fool and at worst a traitor.

Such overwrought commentary, often phrased in terms of deep concern for the future of the party of F.D.R., J.F.K. and Harry S. Truman, usually emanates from commentators whose political objective is continued Republican domination of all branches of government. Democrats should reject the premises of this propaganda barrage—which is designed to deceive but only reveals an extraordinary capacity for self-deception on the right.

The fundamental argument of the propagandists is that opposition to the war in Iraq represents an obsession of the far-left fringe, and that the Democrats will be destroyed by any attempt to extricate our troops from the quicksand. That claim is easily refuted by every reputable survey of public opinion over the past year. Support for the Bush administration’s conduct of the war, and for the President himself, has been declining steadily, in fact, since the end of 2004. And every anchorperson, pundit and squawking head seeking to suggest otherwise is either inexcusably ignorant or purposely lying.

But let’s look at the numbers found by recent surveys. In June, CNN and USA Today separately asked Americans—not Democrats and not left-wing bloggers—whether they favor a “timetable” or “plan” for withdrawing from Iraq. Fifty-three percent said yes to CNN, and 57 per cent said yes to USA Today. Both polls were taken within days or weeks after the killing of Al Qaeda terror chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the latest advertised “turning point” in the war.

Those jaundiced views of the war—which at its outset did enjoy broad public support—have not changed over the past two months. ABC News and The Washington Post jointly conducted a poll last week that asked whether Americans approve or disapprove of the Bush administration’s handling of “the situation in Iraq.” Thirty-six percent approve, while 62 percent do not.

That same ABC/ Washington Post poll found 59 percent felt the war had not been worth the cost, 64 percent felt the Bush administration had no clear plan for victory, and 53 percent felt the number of U.S. troops in Iraq should be decreased. By a plurality of 38 percent, respondents said that a Congressional candidate who supports the Bush policy would be “less likely” to get their vote. Most remarkably, although 66 percent said that Democrats have no clear position on the war, a slight plurality of 43 percent said they trust Democrats more than Republicans to do “a better job” in Iraq.

A CBS News poll came up with much the same result in late July. So did a Gallup poll taken around the same time. And similarly negative results have appeared in polls taken for Fox News, the Associated Press and the Harris Organization, among others. If more than half of the public supports withdrawal from Iraq, and nearly two-thirds disapproves of the President and his policy, then that must be the “mainstream” position.

The neoconservatives are not only factually wrong in their domestic politics but conceptually wrong in their geopolitics. To be “strong on national security” does not mean supporting the misconceived and incompetently executed policies of the Bush administration. American security in years to come will depend, in fact, on undoing this government’s grave mistakes, which have weakened this country’s military posture and undermined support for us around the world. Terrorism experts across the spectrum, from conservative Republican to liberal Democrat, agree that the “struggle against violent extremism” has suffered from the foolish decision to invade and occupy Iraq.

Evidently, the neocons hope to escape responsibility for their debacle by complaining that the rest of us lack sufficient zeal. So they now pretend that Democrats and progressives, who overwhelmingly supported the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban and still do, want to abandon that effort. This is another partisan lie invented by the likes of William Kristol, who will answer to history for his own role in promoting the Iraq war.

There have been times in recent years when war was unavoidable, in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo. For the neoconservatives, however, the answer to every international conflict is shock and awe, so long as they remain safely distant from the carnage. The American people are turning away from that mindless and dangerous attitude, which is leading us toward disaster. Politicians of both parties should do likewise.