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Columnists Discuss Public’s Perception on Iraq

A recent USA-Gallup poll shows a majority of Americans strongly favor a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Regional op-ed columnists discuss this slide in support for the current policy.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    That USA Today-Gallup poll showing Americans strongly favoring a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawals is just the latest indication of a steady slide in support for the president's Iraq policies. For more on that trend, we're joined by Rekha Basu, a columnist for the Des Moines Register; Rod Dreher, a columnist for the Dallas Morning News, who also writes for Beliefnet.com; and Ruben Navarette, a syndicated columnist and editorial writer at the San Diego Tribune.

    Rod Dreher, I'd like to ask you — we just heard the numbers, 7 in 10 Americans say they favor removing troops by April; also, 62 percent said they would like to see — that it was a mistake to go to Iraq in the first place. What are you hearing?

  • ROD DREHER, Columnist, Dallas Morning News:

    Well, I'm hearing more and more of this sort of thing down here in Texas, which is one of President Bush's bases, obviously, and even conservatives are saying privately, more and more it's publicly, that this war is a catastrophe, and it's going to be a catastrophe for the GOP in 2008.

    I think that the war is, at this point, unwinnable. And as long as the president refuses to consider any other option rather than just staying with the course, it's going to become more and more untenable to stay in Iraq in any way. And I think that you're seeing more and more Republicans saying this openly, and many more are saying it privately.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let me be clear about this. You were originally a supporter of the war?

  • ROD DREHER:

    I was. I was at National Review in the year marching up to the war. I was a big supporter of the war, and I was wrong. I foolishly trusted this administration, not only its case for the war, but its competence, and I was badly wrong. And I don't see the reason that we should continue to exacerbate that error by continuing to stay on in Iraq, following a failed policy in a war that we cannot win.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Rekha Basu, you were originally against this war, and you remain so. But you were working in Iowa and Des Moines, where there is so much discussion going on right now among candidates. Today, I guess as you saw, had this from both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama talking about this. Have you seen an evolution in the discussion about the war?

  • REKHA BASU, Columnist, Des Moines Register:

    I think I've seen a real discernible shift, actually, in the way that people are feeling about it. When I first started writing against the war, which was before the war even started, I would say that my mail ran about seven to three in favor of the war. And I think it's now flipped completely; I think it's now something like seven against and three in support, which is very interesting, because it sort of mirrors the national numbers that you just showed.

    Iowa tends to be a very trusting, very law-abiding state, where people really put their faith in government and believe that government is acting responsibly. Once you elect someone, you entrust them to make the decisions. And I think that Iowans are very afraid of terrorism and initially felt we should get behind this war effort because it was fighting terrorism.

    I see increasing frustration on the part of ordinary Iowans, and particularly troop families, who really feel that we're not getting anywhere, that it's time to get out, that it's dragging on endlessly, that troops are being redeployed two and three times, that this was never part of the bargain.

    And as far as the presidential candidates go, the Democrats are just drawing huge crowds. And I think the number-one issue that people are concerned with is actually this question of the war. Any time, whether it's Barack Obama or John Edwards or Hillary Clinton, when they say, "It's time to get out of Iraq," you should see the kind of responses and standing ovations that they get. People really, really want to hear that point of view articulated.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Ruben Navarette, you are in San Diego, where there is a big military presence. How has the discussion evolved there?

  • RUBEN NAVARETTE, Columnist, San Diego Tribune:

    Well, Gwen, it's interesting. You would think there might be a bubble here in San Diego with regard to the military you talk about. In a sense, there's a lot of loyalty to our troops and what the troops are trying to do there.

    But I think what you see is that loyalty is limited to the troops. It's certainly not directed to the administration or these policies anymore. Even here in San Diego, you see a lot of anxiety and a lot of frustration about what's not being accomplished.

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