Yet, given demands for a solution, there's danger for the Democrats as well. Iraq is far atop the public's agenda. Forty-four percent volunteer it as the single most important problem for Bush and the Congress to handle, up a dozen points from a year ago and far outstripping all other issues. But while 72 percent say Bush lacks a clear plan on Iraq (a record, up 11 points from September), 65 percent say the Democrats don't have one, either.
Enter the Iraq Study Group. General responses to its proposals are cautious. Forty-six percent support them overall (32 percent are withholding judgment), while just 32 percent say the report offers a clear plan (28 percent wait-and-see). But specific, central elements of its proposals win broad majority support:
Seventy-nine percent favor shifting from primarily a combat mission in Iraq to primarily a mission to support and train the Iraqi Army.
Seventy-four percent support reducing military and financial support for the Iraqi government if it fails to make progress establishing civil order.
Sixty-nine percent support withdrawing almost all U.S. combat forces by early 2008, while retaining military training forces (among those who oppose this timetable, just over half do so because they want to see faster withdrawal).
Majorities support including direct U.S. talks with Iran (57 percent) and Syria (58 percent) as part of a regional dialogue, even though the United States has identified those countries as sponsors of terrorism.
Notably, these ISG proposals hold bipartisan support in what has been a heavily partisan debate. Eighty-five percent of Republicans favor switching to a training mission, as do more than three-quarters of independents and Democrats. Sixty-five percent of Republicans favor substantial withdrawal by early 2008, as do as many independents and slightly more Democrats. More than seven in 10 Americans across partisan lines support performance-based aid for Iraq. Majorities, likewise, support talks with Iran and Syria.
Whether the ISG notion will work is more debatable: Just 41 percent of Americans think the United States is making significant progress in training and equipping the Iraqi army to be an effective force. And the public divides about evenly in their confidence that Iraqis themselves ultimately will be able to defeat the insurgents in their country.
For all the public's discontent with the war, relatively few Americans call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. At the same time, the level of commitment to pacify the country before pulling out has diminished, potentially a significant demarcation in public sentiment on ultimately withdrawing U.S. forces.
For the first time in ABC/Post polls, just under half of Americans (48 percent) now say the United States should remain in Iraq until civil order is restored, even if that means sustaining continued U.S. casualties. Until now, the majority had expressed that "broke-it/bought-it" sentiment, from a high of 72 percent in summer 2003 to a low of 52 percent a year ago.
This view, like most on Iraq, reverts to heavy partisanship. Seventy-two percent of Republicans want to stay until order is restored, a number that drops to 49 percent of independents, and further to just 29 percent of Democrats.