Summer of discontent

From Social Security to the war, the polls continue to plunge on President Bush and the Republican-led Congress.

By Mark Follman
Published June 17, 2005 1:07PM (EDT)

The polls continue to plunge on President Bush. With Iraq mired in violence and with Americans remaining skeptical of Bush's plan to recast Social Security, the president's approval rating has hit another new low, according to the latest survey from the New York Times and CBS News. The Republican-led Congress is also tanking in terms of public disapproval.

"Forty-two percent of the people responding to the poll said they approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling his job, a marked decline from his 51 percent rating after of the November election, when he embarked on an ambitious second term agenda led by the overhaul of Social Security," the Times reports. "Sixteen months before the midterm elections, Congress fared even worse in the survey, with the approval of just 33 percent of the respondents, and 19 percent saying Congress shared their priorities."

On Social Security: "Only 25 percent said they approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling Social Security, down slightly from what the poll found in March. Moreover, 45 percent said the more they heard about the Bush plan, the less they liked it. The survey also found the public shared the growing skepticism in Washington about Mr. Bush's prospects for success on Social Security, with most saying they did not think Mr. Bush would succeed."

On Iraq: "Looking back, 51 percent said they thought the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, while 45 percent said military action was the right thing to do. That reflects only a slight erosion from findings by CBS News throughout the spring, but a marked turnaround from 2004, when pluralities tended to think it was still the right thing to do. Moreover, only 37 percent said they approved of Mr. Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq, down from 45 percent in February. A strong majority of Americans now say the effort by the United States to bring stability and order to Iraq is going badly -- 60 percent, up from 47 percent in February."

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill a bipartisan group of lawmakers -- including Republican senators growing critical of Bush's policies -- introduced a resolution that would require Bush to submit a plan for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year, and to begin the pullout by October 2006. Said Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, formerly of "freedom fries" fame, "After 2 1/2 years, it's right to take a fresh look. We have a right to ask, 'What are the goals?' "

"If we didn't do this today," he added, "we may be here in 10 years."

The White House rejected the notion of planning a troop withdrawal. "It would be absolutely the wrong message to send to set some sort of artificial timetable," press secretary Scott McClellan said. "Our troops understand the importance of completing the mission."

That included the launching of a major combat operation in Iraq on Friday, with 1,000 Marines and Iraqi soldiers hunting for insurgents and foreign fighters in a volatile western province near the Syrian border. And the U.S. military continues the regular reporting of enemy body counts -- a practice it says it does not do -- from the battlefield. According to the Associated Press: "Operation Spear started in the pre-dawn hours in Anbar province to hunt for insurgents and foreign fighters, the military said. The area, which straddles the Syrian border, is where U.S. forces said it killed about 40 militants in airstrikes in Karabilah on June 11."

Iraq may be no Vietnam, but according to the Los Angeles Times, U.S. military leaders are now openly voicing their concern about some parallels. "It is concerning that our public isn't as supportive as perhaps they once were," said Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, director of operations for the Pentagon's Joint Staff. "We'd like, I believe, to try to reverse those figures and start the trend back the other direction. Because it's extremely important to the soldier and the Marine, the airman and the sailor over there, to know that their country's behind them."

And the worst may be yet to come, according to a senior White House official, who apparently wasn't interested in speaking on the record by name. "I think you'll see it continuing up," he said, referring to the rising tide of violence and combat operations, "because the terrorists know what's coming." According to Newsday, the official's comments came as a group of peace demonstrators chanted outside the White House. Attempting to put at least some positive backspin on the situation, he said that militants are "once again trying to derail" progress in Iraq, in this case the writing of a constitution and holding of elections tentatively scheduled for later this year. (Haven't we heard this somewhere before?)

"We have a rough road ahead of us," the official said, in what Newsday called "an unusual moment of openness by the Bush administration on the war." The paper noted that the official's comments appeared aimed at preparing the public -- as the polls continue to plummet regarding support for the war -- for even more bad news.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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