Dec 7, 2005 at 8:00 am

The ultimate disconnect: Last Wednesday at 10:20 a.m., EST, President Bush was addressing the nation about his Iraq policy via a speech at the Naval Academy. At that moment, he said, “Victory in Iraq will demand the continued determination and resolve of the American people.” Simultaneously, on the “crawl” at the bottom of the screen on MSNBC, this item was rolling by: “62% of Americans oppose Bush’s handling of Iraq, according to poll.”

The coincidence was more than ironic; it was telling. Not only did the poll results reflect the degree to which George W. Bush has become disconnected from the American people, it also showed how much he doesn’t care what we think.

Of course, this is the attribute that makes him appealing to many Americans, but when there are life-and-death consequences to a president’s policy, public opinion is everything. And while you may still get an argument about the similarities between U.S. involvement in Iraq and Vietnam, you won’t get much of an argument that once the public stops supporting a war, you don’t have to wait for the fat lady.

Yes, Rep. John Murtha is right when he says the people are way ahead of the politicians on Iraq. It is almost laughable to watch both Republicans and Democrats — particularly the aspiring presidential candidates — as they play three degrees of separation from the Bush policy. More troops, fewer troops, timetables, suggested timetables. In a truly bizarre turn of events, it seems the only person with a meaningful plan for staying in Iraq is the person whose plan is inexplicable. And Bush’s “Plan for Victory” has already been rejected by the people.

There are plenty of explanations as to why the American people have turned against the war so quickly, including the obvious fact that we do not seem to be making significant progress in stopping the deadly attacks on our troops and Iraqi civilians. But another point seems almost so obvious that no one is making it: A lot of Americans believe our mission has been accomplished.

Remember, the administration’s initial case for war, and the basis upon which the U.S. Congress authorized the use of force in Iraq, was the need to eliminate the threat of Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction. Today Saddam is a defendant in a courtroom, and his weapons are nowhere to be found. How funny; Bush-in-flight-suit was right when he said “Mission Accomplished.” Why can’t we go home?

Another reason — and this is the most important one — is that it is increasingly clear that no one, absolutely NO ONE, knows what is going to happen in Iraq if we leave. Democrats don’t know, and more importantly, the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld team doesn’t know. They can talk till the camels come home about all the horrible things that will happen if the United States brings its troops home now, or six months or a year from now, but they have been wrong on every call since 2002. Why should anyone believe them now?

People like Sen. Joe Biden, who believes we should stay there militarily, say that success in Iraq, which he defines as a “stable” society, is a 50/50 proposition. Others, some who want to stay and some who want to go, believe a civil war is inevitable regardless of what we do.

Earlier this week Rep. Bill Shuster, R.-Penn., tried to make the case that things were going well in Iraq. He had just returned from there and said that the Iraqi people were optimistic and happy with the American presence. Upon questioning, however, he admitted that he had not personally spoken with one Iraqi. And then there was the astounding revelation that the Pentagon was paying for positive stories in the Iraqi press. While we should be concerned that we are trying to compromise one of the freedoms we are supposedly trying to promote, we should be more troubled that Iraqi journalists cannot find noteworthy positive developments to report.

Murtha, D-Pa., a 37-year Marine Corps vet who is now a pro-military congressman, tilted the scales in the debate when he called for a redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq in six months, and added that he now believes those troops have become the reason for much of the violence in Iraq. He points to surveys showing that 80 percent of Iraqis want the United States to leave.

The reason his views have resonated so loudly throughout the country is that he implied what Americans intuitively know: If we leave, things could get worse, they could get better or they could stay the same. In two of those three scenarios, we’re better off gone. And if things get really bad, who says we can’t go back?

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