In their column for the December 11 issue of The Weekly Standard, editor William Kristol and contributing editor Robert Kagan wrote that they "were struck by exit polls [from the midterm election] that showed the public was equally concerned with a too-precipitous pullout from Iraq, suggesting the American people know quite well what is at stake in the war there." In fact, the national exit poll conducted for the Associated Press and the leading broadcast and cable news organizations found that a majority of "the American public" was in favor of withdrawing troops from Iraq.
The United States General Exit Poll included only one question regarding voters' views of next steps in Iraq -- "What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?" In response, 29 percent said they thought the U.S. should "[w]ithdraw all troops," 26 percent of respondents said "[w]ithdraw some troops," 21 percent of respondents wanted to "[m]aintain the same number of troops," and 16 percent wanted to "[s]end more troops." Overall, 55 percent of respondents said the U.S. should withdraw "all" or "some" of the troops, while 38 percent were in favor of "[m]aintaining" troop level or adding "more troops." The three other published questions about Iraq in the national exit poll were "In your vote for U.S. House, how important was the war in Iraq?" "How do you feel about the U.S. war in Iraq?" and "Do you think the war in Iraq has improved the long-term security of the United States?"
From Kristol and Kagan's column in the December 11 issue of The Weekly Standard:
At home and abroad, people have been led to believe that [former Secretary of State] Jim Baker and not the president was going to call the shots in Iraq from now on.
Happily, that is not the case. Although neither the American media nor many observers of the American political scene seem to realize it, there is nothing the Baker commission can do to force Bush to take a different course than the one he chooses. Nor is it easy for a Democratic majority in Congress to call the shots in Iraq. In the American system, the president always has enormous authority in foreign policy, if he wants to exercise it. President Bush clearly does. He intends to pursue steadfastly his own course in Iraq. He is determined not to withdraw before it becomes stable and, yes, democratic. He will not be buffeted by conventional wisdom or by Baker and his colleagues, no matter how much they employ public relations tactics to defeat him.
Yet there is one "power broker" that still matters: the American public. Unfortunately, and dangerously, the president appears to have largely lost their confidence. Certainly, the election results were a strong signal that Americans are unhappy with the war in Iraq. At the same time, we were struck by exit polls that showed the public was equally concerned with a too precipitous pullout from Iraq, suggesting the American people know quite well what is at stake in the war there. Many Americans, it would seem, are still open to a plan for Iraq that has a chance of working--if the president acts soon. If not, no matter how strong a position he has constitutionally, he will not be able to sustain his Iraq policy.