Cliff May

Despite all this, I remained curious about what Americans thought and think on this issue. So I turned to Jay Cost, a political scientist who specializes in polling methodology and interpretations. I've followed his analyses for years and I've found him both reliable and insightful.

He said that in 2006 there were too many races featuring too many issues – local as well as national – to conclude that the voters were sending any single message. Cost added that, in recent days, Americans have been displaying conflicting attitudes about Iraq. Were it otherwise, a Republican candidate such as Rudy Giuliani (who doesn't favor a compelled withdrawal) could not be running ahead of Hillary Clinton (who does).

Another example: The latest Gallup poll finds 60 percent of respondents favoring "a time-table for withdrawing all troops from Iraq no later than the fall of 2008." But that same poll also finds 61 percent opposed to "denying the funding needed to send any additional U.S. troops to Iraq." Since setting a time-table for withdrawal obviously implies denying funds for additional troops, one can make definitive statements about what most Americans think only by cherry-picking the numbers.

Meanwhile, a poll taken late last month by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic firm, finds a statistical tie between those "more concerned that the Republicans will wait too long to withdraw our troops from Iraq" and those "more concerned that the Democrats will leave Iraq too quickly."

The conclusion to which this leads: Most Americans are not yet sure whether U.S. troops should leave Iraq sooner or later, on a strict timetable or in response to changing conditions, whether American defeat in Iraq is unavoidable or whether the new strategy being implemented by Gen. David Petraeus has a chance to succeed.

In other words, this is a debate Americans should be having. But there are those who don't want a debate. They just want to tell you what you think – and shut down those who dare to differ.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.