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Hot on the heels of the deadly attack on U.S forces in Mosul on December, 21, a front page headline in the NYT on December, 22, proclaimed authoritatively: "Fighting On Is the Only Option, Americans Say." Amazingly the self-assured report was based solely on a few interviews by a handful of reporters, not on a systematic survey. The only poll it chose to mention was a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll which, interestingly, did not raise the question of withdrawal from Iraq. That hardly seems like competent reporting.
One might wonder: Is every American for "staying the course" in Iraq except a small and weird, left-wing minority? Is there no polling data on this question? Fortunately there is. Here is a sample (from http://www.pollingreport.com/iraq.htm):
1. Pew Research Center survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Dec. 1-16, 2004.
"Do you think the U.S. should keep military troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized, or do you think the U.S. should bring its troops home as soon as possible?"
RESULTS: Withdraw: 40%; Stay: 56%
2. ABC News/Washington Post Poll. Dec. 16-19.
"Do you think the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored there, even if that means continued U.S. military casualties; or do you think the United States should withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties, even if that means civil order is not restored there?"
RESULTS: Withdraw: 39%; Stay: 58%.
3. The Harris Poll. Nov. 9-14, 2004
"Do you favor keeping a large number of U.S. troops in Iraq until there is a stable government there OR bringing most of our troops home in the next year?"
RESULTS: Withdraw: 47%; Stay: 50%
(Like Gallup, the following polls have not raised the question of withdrawal versus staying: NBC News/ Wall Street Journal; Quinnipiac University; Associate Press/Ipsos; CBSNews/New York Times. This is peculiar since we are routinely exhorted not to dwell on the mistakes of the past where Bush and the necons are soundly thrashed in the polls, but to decide what we should do about the future. Strangely most polling does not consider the future.)
So there it is; somewhere between 39% and 47% of the populationwant the US out of Iraq as soon as possible. And this number is all the more amazing since the option of withdrawal is nowhere advocated or even discussed in the mainstream media or even in the "liberal" media except to dismiss it. There exceptions are Nader and the Greens, but they are clearly personae non gratae, even on "lib" outlets like Air America. (All the leading Democrats are for putting in more troops and continuing the war, leaving the 39-47% of us unrepresented by either major party. Another Democratic betrayal!)
As an example of this dismissiveness, take the column of Nicholas Kristoff (NYT, Nov. 27) where he opines: "Lately, I’ve been quiet about the war because it’s easy to rail about the administration’s foolishness last year but a lot harder to offer constructive suggestions for what we should do now. President Bush’s policy on Iraq has migrated from delusional — we would be welcomed with flowers, we should disband the Iraqi army, security is fine, the big problem is exaggerations by nervous Nellie correspondents — to reasonable today. These days, the biggest risk may come from the small but growing contingent on the left that wants to bring our troops home now." (Emphasis mine.) Got that. Right now the biggest danger is not Bush or the neocons or the silent liberals, but a "small but growing contingent on the left"! Let us pass over the fact that arguments which Kristoff makes for staying the course are the very same ones made in Vietnam mainly that our sudden departure would unleash a bloodbath, this time in the form of a civil war.
What is most nefarious is Kristoff’s attempt to label those of us calling for immediate withdrawal as a "small" contingent on the left. That "small" contingent is 39-47% of the population. When I called this fact to the attention of Kristoff and the Times Ombudsman, citing the Harris and then the Pew poll, I got nothing more than a lot of weasel words in emails and a slew of distortions on the Kristoff blog. (Judge for yourself how honestly Kristoff handles this by looking at blog #689 and then re-examine the polls above.) Dismissing the option of immediate withdrawal has crept from the op-ed page to the front page. Shades of Judith Miller.
Why would Kristoff and the Times try to disappear the peace movement this way? Of course I have no way of knowing for sure. But the effect of such "journalism" is to discourage those of us who are trying to get the U.S. out of Iraq by making us feel that our numbers are small. So let us not be discouraged. We are very close to being a majority. Let us demonstrate wherever Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz appear. And let us make our case wherever we can. That is the only way to end this war. We are on our way to victory.
See you at the Demonstration at the Inaugural on January 20!
JOHN WALSH is Professor of Physiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org