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Joe Conason: War Critics Are Mainstream, Not Fringe

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 but the “soul of the Democratic Party” and perhaps even the fate of the West.

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 FDR, JFK and Harry S. Truman, usually emanates from commentators whose political objective is continued Republican domination of all branches of government. Democrats should reject this propaganda barrage — which reveals an extraordinary capacity for self-deception on the right.

The propagandists charge that opposition to the war in Iraq is an obsession of the far-left fringe, and that the Democrats will be destroyed by any attempt to extricate our troops from the quicksand. Every reputable survey of public opinion refutes that assertion. Support for the Bush administration’s conduct of the war, and for the president himself, has been declining steadily 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% said yes to USA Today. Both polls were taken shortly 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 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 approved, while 62% did not.

That same ABC/Washington Post poll found 59% felt the war had not been worth the cost, 64% felt the Bush administration had no clear plan for victory, and 53% felt the number of U.S. troops in Iraq should be decreased. By a plurality of 38%, respondents said that a congressional candidate who supported the Bush policy would be “less likely” to get their vote. Most remarkably, although 66% said that Democrats had no clear position on the war, a slight plurality of 43% said they trusted 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, isn’t that the “mainstream” position?

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 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 neoconservatives 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 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.

Joe Conason
Columnist
Joe Conason has written his popular political column for The New York Observer since 1992. He served as the Manhattan Weekly's executive editor from 1992 to 1997. Since 1998, he has also written a column that…
Joe Conason

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