With a major confrontation between Congress and the president brewing over Iraq, Americans overwhelmingly oppose Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to the conflict. By wide margins they prefer that congressional Democrats, who now hold majorities in both chambers, rather than the president, take the lead in setting the direction for the country.
Iraq dominates the national agenda, with 48 percent of Americans calling the war the single most important issue they want Bush and the Congress to deal with this year. No other issue rises out of single digits. The poll also finds that the public trusts congressional Democrats over Bush to deal with the conflict by a margin of 60 percent to 33 percent.
Do not for an instant believe that this will stop the President from doing exactly what he wishes in Iraq. This is a President who is immune to the lessons of the mid-terms and the Iraq Study Group report. Instead, he will respond as he has always responded before, with speeches and repackaged policies:
The president will use his speech to try to rally public opinion behind the troop deployment plan, but during the past 10 days he has made no headway in changing public opinion. The Post-ABC poll shows that 65 percent of Americans oppose sending more troop to Iraq; it was 61 percent immediately after the president unveiled the plan on Jan. 10 in a nationally televised address.
Democrats, betrayed that old fear of being "soft" on national security, have not quite taken advantage of these numbers:
The Senate plans to take up a nonbinding bipartisan resolution opposing the president's new plan for troop deployments. But many Democrats in both chambers advocate even stronger measures designed to block the deployment of the additional troops, including capping the number of troops at their levels of Jan. 1 or putting strings on the money for the new troops. They would have broad initial public support to do so: 59 percent of all Americans, including more than a quarter of Republicans, want Congress to try to block the president's plan to send more troops.
It is past time for a change in policy in Iraq. The American people will support it, and the Democrats can manage it if they will only get past shooting themselves in the foot trying to avoid charges of weakness leveled at them by Bush apologists and pundits still writing about the "lessons" of Vietnam. Numbers like these are ignored at a party's own peril, and Democrats will eventually heed the opportunity before them and the country to change the course in Iraq.