As we approach the September reports on Iraq, the public debate over our military presence there has once again intensified. Both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are ratcheting up the rhetoric about the best course of action, with the president using a pit stop in Iraq as a backdrop for his latest remarks. Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats on the Hill are engaged in heated discussions -- both within and between their caucuses. Adding to the heat, several third party groups have begun advertising efforts to try and push elected officials one way or the other.
As the Beltway ramps up the debate, I believe it is a good and appropriate time to reflect on the opinions of the people those in our nation's capital serve -- the American public -- and specifically what they believe is the right direction in Iraq. I write this because I am a big believer in the "wisdom of crowds," which is to say that I put just more trust in the collective opinion of 300 million decent, honest and caring Americans than in the elites living in Washington, DC.
This is not to say politics and polls should determine substantive public policy especially regarding a war, but politics and polls should also not be used to thwart the will of the citizens of this country.
Having been a rather keen observer of the American public for more than 20 years and having helped elect and re-elect folks from the State House to the White House I wanted to share with you an analysis of where the public currently stands on the war in Iraq. I share these thoughts as neither a Republican nor a Democrat. While I did serve as Chief Strategist for President Bush in the 2004 campaign, I now consider myself an independent and feel it is a good time to offer what I hope you will find is a measured, reflective and objective analysis of where Democrats and Independents and a large portion of Republican voters stand on the Iraq war today.
1. In the public's mind, the Iraq War was a mistake, and continuing the status quo is simply continuing on with a mistake. As a result, most Americans now view the situation in Iraq as a "rearview" mirror issue -- meaning that the public believes it is time to focus on the process of ending our involvement and getting out quickly. They see American troops as targets in a place we aren't wanted, and they desire a plan which achieves responsible withdrawal in the quickest and safest way.
2. The public does not see withdrawal from Iraq as a signal America doesn't support the troops. In fact, the public sees removing the troops from harm's way and having them in a place where the mission is supported, welcomed and understood as the most proper way to support our troops.
3. The public is waiting for leaders from both political parties to stand up to the president and say enough is enough. They would like this situation resolved -- and soon -- and there is no other solution acceptable to them other than bringing the troops home. The public will support leaders who would use funding decisions as a way to encourage and push the president to resolve this situation quickly.
4. The war in Iraq is now seen exclusively as a foreign policy concern, and the American public no longer supports the initiative as part of national security. This is in stark contrast to the war's beginning -- at inception, the public perceived it as directly related to fighting terrorism, and thus it was seen as a domestic policy issue connected to homeland security. Not surprisingly, the public gave it broad support. Today, this is no longer the case -- the dynamic has changed and most of the public sees no "positive" relationship between the fight against terrorism and the war in Iraq.
I hope this analysis helps bolster the leaders who are ready to stand up for the troops and for the vast majority of Americans in this country. Not only is truth on those leaders' side, but politics is as well. It is my opinion that the best leaders are those who trust the will of the public, even if that means changing direction or admitting a mistake. This is true leadership and the kind of leadership our nation has always desired.