Where timetables lead

Posted: Oct 29, 2006 12:01 AM
Where timetables lead

Sen. Dianne Feinstein told The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board Monday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign and that the United States should set a timetable for withdrawing its troops from Iraq. Polls, she said, show that Iraqis want Americans to leave. Perhaps President Bush could replace Rumsfeld with John Zogby or some other pollster, as Washington's alleged leadership argues that public opinion should dictate what America does in Iraq.

When Americans supported sending forces to Iraq, Feinstein voted in favor of the resolution authorizing force in Iraq. Now, polls show that Americans have soured on the war -- certainly Californians oppose it -- and Feinstein, who is running for re-election, was happy to point out that she regretted that vote.

So she wants a timetable. As the senator put it, "I think it may even be productive positively to say, 'Look we're going to aim to have all our people out by the end of '07.'" Feinstein added that all the polls show that Iraqis want U.S. troops to leave.

I am in favor of withdrawing according to any timetable approved by democratically elected Iraqi lawmakers. But unlike Feinstein, I think it makes more sense to let Iraqi leaders ask for U.S. troops to leave when they feel secure enough to do so -- rather than rely on polls. Right now, Iraqi leaders want U.S. boots on the ground.

It's important to read beyond the headlines on Iraq polls, especially the poll released in September by the Program on International Policy Attitudes -- as antiwar types point to it as proof that Iraqis want U.S. troops out.

Yes, the PIPA found that 71 percent of Iraqis want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year -- 37 percent within six months and 34 percent "gradually" according to a one-year timeline. Some 20 percent want a gradual withdrawal within two years, 9 percent say they want to reduce U.S.-led forces as the security situation improves. You could say that the poll found that 63 percent of Iraqis support a gradual withdrawal -- but admittedly that does not match with the 71 percent of Iraqis would said they would most favor withdrawing all foreign military forces over the next year.

The PIPA poll asked, "Thinking about any hardships you might have suffered since the U.S.-Britain invasion, do you personally think ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it or not?" The answer for 61 percent: Yes, it was worth it.

If you think that a superficial look at polls should dictate foreign policy, consider this. The PIPA poll found that 47 percent of Iraqis think their country is headed in the right direction. Compare that to a recent poll that found that 44 percent of Californians say the state is headed in the right direction.

News on the Iraq war is bound to be bad when the media fail to report news that does not reinforce the media view of this war as unwinnable. It took less than two weeks after the war in Iraq began for The Chronicle to run the first opinion piece that called the war a "quagmire."

I shudder to think what would happen in Afghanistan if the defeat crowd wins an early retreat from Iraq. Feinstein echoed the argument made by Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., that the U.S. presence in Iraq has lasted longer than U.S. participation in World Wars I and II. As Feinstein put it, "After a war that's gone on as long just about as World War II, the people and the Congress are entitled to a timetable."

Well, U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan longer than in Iraq. Still, Feinstein said that she supports keeping troops in Afghanistan because "the Afghanis want the NATO forces there. Iraqis want us out. We have become an occupying force."

How long do you think that support will last if jihadis around the world decide to camp out in Afghanistan? How long will it take before polls show American support for U.S. troops in Afghanistan falling? How long then will it be before Feinstein wants an Afghanistan timetable?