Political and media insiders were willing to admit, albeit cautiously, that last week's election results in which Democrats took control of Congress, with explicitly anti-war candidates posting frequently unexpected wins in districts across the country represented a repudiation of the Bush administration's invasion and continued occupation of Iraq.
President Bush confirmed the assessment when he welcomed the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Unfortunately, while the analysts finally acknowledged the deep and broad opposition to the war, they continued to question whether Americans really want to bring the troops home now. They were not willing to speak the truth that Siobhan Kolar, who helped organize an anti-war referendum campaign in Illinois, did when she declared: "The anti-war majority has spoken!"
The prospect of rapid withdrawal still scares the vast majority of what can loosely be referred to as "the political class" not because those who understand the seriousness of the troubles in Iraq think that withdrawal is a particularly bad option, but because they fear the American electorate might object to the abandonment of a mission that they have been told for more than three years is essential.
As they have since before the war began, most pundits and pols are underestimating the awareness and the maturity of the American people with regard to exit strategies. If only they would travel this country and actually talk to voters, they would run into people like Regina Miller, the mother of an Army captain serving his second tour in Iraq, who spoke to a reporter while waiting in line to vote in Baltimore.
"I really don't think we're making a difference there, so we need a change. We need to pull out. That's their war," Miller said of the Iraqis. "That's a civil war."
That is not a naive or misinformed sentiment. That's realism a realism that accepts that Iraq is a mess and that it will probably remain a mess for quite some time. It asks only the most basic question: Why should American troops remain bogged down in the middle of the mess?
Let's be clear: There will come a point at which the United States exits Iraq. That point will be preceded by chaos and followed by chaos. Keeping U.S. troops on the ground there only guarantees one thing: more funeral services for young U.S. soldiers in inner cities and small towns across America.
The great mass of voters are not fearful about exiting Iraq. They fear the funerals, and the wheelchairs, and the emotional trauma, and the unmet needs at home and the continued war profiteering that go with a "stay the course" strategy. And they are ready to get out. National exit polling last Tuesday found a 55 percent to 37 percent landslide majority of Americans in favor of withdrawal.
When voters were given the opportunity to address the question directly, as was the case in more than 150 communities in Wisconsin, Illinois and Massachusetts that voted on "Bring the Troops Home" referendums, they left no doubt that they are ready to end this war. Big cities such as Chicago and Milwaukee joined smaller communities such as Geneva township, Ill., and Boscobel, Wis., in voting for withdrawal. All 10 referendums that were on the ballot in Wisconsin won including the one in Middleton, which prevailed by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin and those results follow upon last spring's voting in the state, when another 24 communities voted for immediate withdrawal. All 11 referendums that were on the ballot in Illinois won. And the overwhelming majority of the 139 that were on the ballot in Massachusetts won. Rarely was the divide even close.
"I don't think the voters could make themselves any clearer," explained Steve Burns, the program coordinator with the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, which promoted the referendums.
"The voters get it they know that the best thing for the American people and the Iraqi people is for us to bring our troops home from their country. Now it's time for our government to listen."