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Iraq the Vote?

by Ruy Teixeira

In the last few weeks, Bush’s overall approval rating appears to have improved by several points. But that’s not because the public’s views on the Iraq situation have changed much and certainly not because they’re convinced Bush has the foggiest idea of what to do about that situation. Consider these data from the latest CBS News/New York Times Poll.

1. Do people think Bush has clearly explained what the U.S.’s goals are in Iraq? No, by 61-35, they don’t think he has.

2. Do they think Bush has a clear plan for victory in Iraq? No, by 68-25, they don’t think so.

3. Do they think Bush has a clear plan for getting American troops out of Iraq? No, by 70-25, they don’t think so.

4. And do they believe Bush has clearly explained how long US military forces will have to remain in Iraq? No, by an overwhelmingly 81-15, they don’t believe he has.

5. When asked what the US should do in Iraq right now, 60 percent want either to decrease the number of troops in Iraq (32 percent) or remove them all (28 percent).

6. When asked a very straightforward question–no qualifiers or positive and negative arguments-- about whether “the United States should or should not set a time-table for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq”, 58 percent agree and just 39 percent disagree.

So what do many Democratic leaders do in this situation, which would appear to call for a clear plan (in contrast to Bush) for getting out of Iraq, including specific plans and a timetable for troop withdrawal? Wring their hands, worry about appearing “weak”, attack one another for being “irresponsible” and resolutely refuse to unite around the very kind of clear plan the public is so obviously looking for.

Weird. As E.J. Dionne put it in his December 13 column:

Democrats are so obsessed with not looking "weak" on defense that they end up making themselves look weak, period, by the way they respond to Republican attacks on their alleged weakness. Oh my gosh, many Democrats say, we can't associate ourselves with the likes of Howard Dean or Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader who recently called for a troop withdrawal within six months. Let's knife them before Karl Rove gets around to knifing us. Talk about a recipe for retreat and defeat.

Indeed. If Democrats hope to “Iraq the vote” in the 2006 elections, a clear position on the issue will help a great deal more than the dithering and back-stabbing they’ve been indulging in lately. Otherwise, voters are likely to conclude that, while Bush doesn’t appear to know what he’s doing, neither do the Democrats. And that truly is a recipe for defeat.