Tuesday, February 27, 2007

WPost/ABC Poll: Dems Should Move Faster on Iraq?

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll attracted some attention on the liberal side of the blogosphere. I'm thinking in particular of this post over at ThinkProgress, regarding the fact that the poll shows majority support for the 'Murtha Plan.' Indeed, the poll does (Question 9):

Would you support or oppose Congress trying to block Bush’s plan by creating new rules on troop training and rest time that would limit the number of troops available for duty in Iraq?

Support: 58 percent
Oppose: 39 percent
Unknown: 4 percent

The reason that Democrats have elected to eschew this plan is that the same question shows opposition - by a 51-46 margin - to a move to 'restrict funding for the war.'

Of course, these two choices are the same; 'creating new rules... that would limit the number of troops available' is 'restricting funding for the war.' The question is how the Murtha plan is portrayed in public, and how it is perceived by the American people. The Democrats have moved away from the Murtha plan because they believe they cannot afford - politically - to be seen as 'restricting funding.'

It's also interesting to note that in the last month, the measure of how Congress is doing its job (Question 3) has fallen from net 7 disapprove, to net 13 disapprove. At the same time, support for Democrats over the President on handling 'the situation in Iraq' has fallen by 6 points.

To me, this overall result could fairly be read as a dissatisfaction with the inability of Congressional Democrats to lead on getting US troops out of Iraq. The last month has been dominated by talk of the surge, the disapproval resolutions on the surge, and the failed attempts by Congressional Democrats to find a workable way to force a draw down of troop levels.

Others will say that the Congressional approval rating fell because discussion of the disapproval resolution demonstrated that Democrats have no qualms about undercutting the Commander in Chief, and cutting off the troops at the knees. I think that given the continued trend in the poll against the mission in Iraq, that's not a viable interpretation.

What does all this mean?

Well, I think it underscores the fact that the surge is probably the 'last chance' to get things right in Iraq. There must be an understanding in the public that it is working/has worked, or the numbers against the mission will continue to rise. This will fuel Democratic confidence that the public is with them, and I believe that as the appropriations bills move their way through Congress in the summer, there will be a move by Democrats to withdraw funding for the troops - probably by a date certain.

Why will the Democrats change course? Three reasons:

  1. Competition among Presidential hopefuls to be 'unholier than thou' on Iraq;
  2. The sense that by Summer, the surge will have worked or not - either outcome providing the pretext for a drawdown; and,
  3. Polls like this one

There are early indications that the surge is working. Hopefully, that will continue to be the case. If it is, and the Iraqi government is able to assume security responsibilities as promised, we could even at arrive at an almost unthinkable outcome - one where the President and Congress are in basic agreement on a reduction in troop levels, at more or less the same time.

In such a case, we would turn to arguing over the proper US postwar role in Iraq.

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