Not everyone is hopping on the Bush-at-war bandwagon.
On March 1, 29 of 52 Vermont towns passed a version of a resolution that asked the federal government to bring troops home from Iraq. The first-in-the-nation resolution is nonbinding, but it gives voice to one state's antiwar sentiments. That they emanate from Vermont is not surprising given the presidential candidacy of Vermont's former governor, Howard Dean, who now heads the Democratic National Committee. But they also reflect Vermont's high rate of war casualties in Iraq. Those who lose the most to war seek an end to war with good reason.
Michael Hoffman, cofounder and national coordinator of Iraq Veterans Against the War, notes that ''people try to belittle Vermont" for its antiwar activism. The belittling is misguided, he says, because Vermonters ''understand this war better than others." Hoffman, 25, says he was part of the US Marine invasion of Iraq. Now on inactive reserve status, he worked with other antiwar groups to bring the resolution calling for return of US troops from Iraq before Vermonters -- and he expects the movement to spread beyond Vermont.
However, with the mainstream media embracing a more positive story line about Iraq, skepticism is less fashionable than boosterism -- more like it was two years ago, when the United States invaded Iraq. As Representative Martin Meehan, who is pressing the administration for an exit timetable, observes, ''Too many Democrats are afraid the administration is going to paint them as 'cut and run' " if they ask President Bush to spell out an exit strategy.
At a meeting scheduled for House Democrats today, Meehan is seeking allies for a troop withdrawal plan he formulated after a trip to Iraq last month. ''I am lobbying members to get on board with this exit strategy which is reasonable and substantive, " says Meehan. ''The facts on the ground make it clear our policy is not working.. . . We haven't stopped the violence."
Iraqis continue to mount an average of 2,000 attacks per month on coalition forces, which Meehan says is evidence that ''elections were necessary but insufficient for long-term stability."
The website antiwar.com continues to tally US war casualties. As of March 8: 1,510 since the war began on March 19, 2003; 74 since Jan. 30, the day Iraqis went to the polls.
''What is it, specifically, that is worth 1,500 lives and $200 billion?" asks Eric Garris, 51, a Vietnam War draft resister who manages the antiwar.com website. The antiwar.com body count does not take into account Iraqi casualties. Iraqi security forces said Wednesday that they found 39 bodies, some beheaded, some shot in two locations in Iraq.
The Bush administration rationale for war, ''freedom on the march," is gaining louder, bipartisan support. As conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh joyfully pointed out during a March 8 broadcast, more Democrats, like New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson, are publicly praising the Bush administration for staring down authoritarian regimes.
Senator Edward Kennedy took heat when, three days before Iraq voted, he urged the Bush administration to begin withdrawing troops after the vote. The senator who called Iraq ''George Bush's Vietnam" answered ''absolutely, absolutely" when George Stephanopoulos asked whether Bush deserves credit for ''the wave of democracy" in the Middle East. Kennedy is backing down somewhat from his call for troop withdrawal.
In a statement yesterday, he declared: ''Our troops are necessary for now to deal with the insurgency, but there is widespread agreement that they are also fueling the insurgency. Appropriate withdrawals of US forces as Iraqi troops are trained and secure areas come under Iraqi control would send a clear signal that our military presence is not permanent."
Optimism about the Middle East is fine. But it does not eliminate the complicated political scenario in Iraq and the violence. It does not negate the need for a specific answer to a specific question: When do the troops come home?
Asked if it is more difficult to find backers for the cause of troop withdrawal, Michael Hoffman of Iraq Veterans Against the War says, ''I think they are scared to say 'bring them home now.' "
Perhaps they are too scared of missing the bandwagon.
© 2005 Boston Globe