Today we have still more evidence of the enormous gap between (a) public opinion regarding whether we should withdraw from Iraq and (b) claims by the political and media establishment about public opinion on that question. A newly released Gallup poll asked this question, the central question -- really the only relevant question -- regarding what we should do about Iraq:
If you had to choose, which do you think is better for the U.S. -- to keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation gets better, even if that takes many years, or to set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq and to stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq?
Here is the answer, consistent with virtually every other poll that has asked the same question for many, many months:
The reason why this is the central question is because it describes the two sides of the mainstream political debate. Keeping troops in Iraq until the situation is better, no matter how long it takes, is the Bush/McCain position. Setting a timetable for withdrawal and adhering to it regardless of what is happening there -- i.e., regardless of whether things are better or we're "winning" or "losing" -- is, roughly speaking, the view of the Democratic presidential candidates and, even more so, the defining premise of the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq sponsored by 42 Democratic Congressional candidates.
American public opinion isn't "divided" or "split" on this question. There are no pro-war trends here that signal the Iraq War is about to become a huge asset for the McCain campaign. Nor are any of the other cliches used repeatedly by the establishment press to claim that unconditional withdrawal is a politically unpopular position even remotely true.
To the contrary, Americans overwhelmingly favor unconditional withdrawal and it's not even close. They favor that by a 25-point margin, and it's a 29-point margin among independents. Those are huge margins. Very few public policy questions of any significance produce margins that large. And the whole point of asking the question this way -- do you favor withdrawal "regardless of what is going on in Iraq?" -- is to exclude the excuse made by John McCain, The Politico and Cokie Roberts that Americans only want to withdraw once we've "won" or once we've created a peaceful democracy there.
For many reasons, the pro-war political establishment doesn't want to leave Iraq. That's fine. They're entitled to that opinion. But Americans overwhelmingly reject that view. All evidence conclusively demonstrates that. While there are mild differences as to the amount of time the timetables should allow, Americans want, by large margins, to set a timetable to withdraw from Iraq unconditionally -- not if we're winning, not if things are improved, not if we've created a stable democracy, but regardless of those issues. War advocates who keep saying otherwise are just spouting factually false -- and profoundly anti-democratic -- propaganda.