On Iraq, it's the Senate vs. mainstream America

Fifty-four percent of Americans would support a congressional candidate who wants the troops home within a year. Good luck finding one.

Published June 23, 2006 2:14PM (EDT)

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll asked Americans what they'd think about a congressional candidate who favored pulling all U.S. troops out of Iraq within the next 12 months. Fifty-four percent said the position would make them more likely to vote for the candidate. Ten percent said it wouldn't make any difference. And only 32 percent said that it would make them less likely to vote for the candidate.

Who knew that we had such a country of cut-and-runners?

Read that again. Fifty-four percent of Americans said they'd be more likely to vote for a congressional candidate -- and 10 percent said it wouldn't matter -- if he or she favored pulling all U.S. troops out of Iraq within the next 12 months. Put that together, and it seems that a call for withdrawing all troops in 12 months would be a political winner, or at least not a loser, with a staggering 64 percent of the American public.

So what the hell is happening in the U.S. Senate?

Now, to be fair, nobody voted yesterday against a plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq within the next 12 months. That's because nobody proposed such a plan. The plan advanced by Sens. John Kerry and Russ Feingold would have pulled a lot of U.S. troops out of Iraq within 12 months, but it would have left in the country any who are "completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces, conducting targeted and specialized counterterrorism operations, and protecting United States facilities and personnel." That plan got just 13 votes in the Senate -- Akaka, Boxer, Durbin, Feingold, Harkin, Inouye, Jeffords, Kennedy, Kerry, Lautenberg, Leahy, Menendez and Wyden voted for it -- and we'll hazard a guess that not a single senator voted no on the grounds that the withdrawal it contemplated wasn't complete enough.

More senators voted for the plan put forth by Sen. Carl Levin, which called on the Bush administration to "begin the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq this year" but didn't say how many troops should leave now or how long it should take to get the rest home. That doesn't sound like much of a plan; doesn't sound much different from what Bush's generals have already discussed; and doesn't sound much at all like what 54 percent of Americans want. But even that plan got only 39 votes, and Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee provided one of them.

Translation? A plan that was far less "extreme" than the view favored by 54 percent of the American people was still too much for 54 Republicans and six Democrats to handle. You know who the Republicans are: every last one of them except for Chafee. The Democrats. You can probably guess their names, too: Ben Nelson, Bill Nelson, Mark Dayton, Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor and Joe Lieberman.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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