While there are many issues facing voters in the 2006 midterm election season, one stands out as the most important. The War in Iraq has been a long and contentious conflict that will ultimately decide many close congressional and senatorial elections. On March 19, 2003, the United States of America conducted Operation Iraqi Freedom to rid Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction. The preemptive war strategy that the Bush Administration and Republicans on Capitol Hill supported was based on data that they assured the American people was accurate. Moreover, Republicans were able to use their strength in garnering public support for the war, not only by arguing the evidence in support of preemptive action, but also by appealing to the positive public sentiment that they received after Sept. 11, 2001, in their handling of homeland security issues. Three and a half years later, the United States of America has spent well over $300 billion and has lost 3,000 troops in the process of occupation. Furthermore, the evidence that the United States thought was a "slam dunk" in 2003 was later proved to be faulty. For these reasons, many observers of this policy have concluded that the United States went to war on a false premise.
While every voter has the right to decide if the act of war was ultimately a step in the right direction for democratizing the Middle East, it is important to note the trend in support for the United States handling and involvement in Iraq from 2003 to the present. Recently, citizens of the United States have shifted their beliefs and attitudes to reflect a negative sentiment on the issue of Iraq. These claims are substantiated by several CBS News/New York Times polls taken between 2003 and 2006. For example, when asked, "Do you think the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq?", only 31 percent disagreed in December 2003, while 51 percent disagreed in September 2006. Furthermore, Americans increasingly disagree with the Bush Administration's handling of the war. When asked, "Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq?" only 23 percent disapproved of his handling in December 2003, while 59 percent disapproved in September 2006. These polls are indicative of a trend toward a general disapproval of Republican handling of the war since the last election, and bears significant implications for incumbents seeking reelection. Americans must decide if they want to elect candidates to stay the course in Iraq or remove themselves from the conflict. In close races throughout the country, especially in swing states, the war is the defining issue for reasons such as the economic and human losses incurred-potentially giving Democrats an advantage in appealing to voters' negative feelings toward incumbent Republican supporters of the war. This is crucial because the results on Election Day may shift the balance of supporters and opponents of the war in the legislatures, which would subsequently affect future policy decisions regarding America's involvement.
Republicans realize that polls show that the issue is on the top of voters' minds and are making an appeal to sell it as part of their homeland security agenda to protect Americans. While one may or may not agree with the war's outcome on homeland security and ability to protect Americans, it is clear that many Republicans will not skirt the issue, fearing that it may cost them their seats in the Congress or Senate. Therefore, Republicans are willing to elevate Iraq above other issues, like health care, because they do not want to let the Democrats take control of the dialogue without having the opportunity to defend their policy decisions.
The controversial and preemptive measures taken by the Republican president and Republican legislators on the war in Iraq has turned public opinion against their actions and yielded the most important issue of the midterm elections. With billions of dollars spent and even more appropriated for the next year, Americans want to know when we will end this conflict and return our troops home. Certainly, these same voters will keep this in mind when they go to the polls on Nov. 7, 2006, and decide the ultimate fate of not only incumbents and supporters of the war, but also the future policy implications of the conflict. The answer to when and how may begin to be answered as the midterm election season culminates with newly elected candidates taking their positions on Iraq with them to Congress and potentially voting with the public sentiment.
Michael Camarinos, an Astoria resident, is a senior Dean's List student studying Political Science at Fordham College.