McGovern Takes His Iraq Timetable to Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2006 — -- Perhaps it wasn't the best day for former Sen. George McGovern to bring his plan for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq to Democrats on Capitol Hill.

With Democrats starting a contentious caucus to elect new leaders for their return to majority status in January, less than a dozen members of the Progressive Caucus met with McGovern and William R. Polk, a professor at the University of Chicago, who have co-written "Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now."

"I'll bet you two-thirds of the American people think that this war was a mistake. Just like 95 percent of Americans think Vietnam was a mistake," McGovern said, invoking his own history as the Democrats' anti-war candidate who failed in his 1972 bid to unseat President Nixon.

Recalling Nixon's famous speech about "the silent majority" who he said supported the Vietnam War, as opposed to the vocal anti-war demonstrators who marched in the country's cities and on college campuses, ABC News checked the former South Dakota senator's numbers.

McGovern came close in summing up the disdain for Iraq but was a little further off the mark about Vietnam.

In a Nov. 5 Gallup Poll, 55 percent called the Iraq War a mistake. Similarly, 57 percent in our ABC/Post poll on Oct. 22 said the war was not worth fighting.

Gallup last asked about Vietnam being a mistake in 2000, and at that time 69 percent said it was a mistake. During the war, the number calling it a mistake peaked at six in 10 in 1971 and 1973; since then, it's peaked at 74 percent in 1990.

The Iraq Study Group

"This election on Nov. 7 told us that the people in this country aren't waiting for Jim Baker to tell the Democrats where we should go in Iraq," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., who chairs the Progressive Caucus, referring to the former secretary of state who is a leader of the Iraq Study Group.

"The people of America spoke on Nov. 7," Woolsey said. "Do they know how we're suppose to leave Iraq? No. Do they know they want us to leave? Yes."

McGovern told reporters Thursday he has not spoken formally with the study group, the independent, bipartisan commission led by Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, but said he has spoken with individual members.

There is no shortage of recommendations for the Bush administration on how to change course in Iraq.

The Iraq Study Group is expected to draw up an outline or recommendations for a way forward, White House staffers have commenced their own review, generals at the Pentagon are reportedly "scrubbing" their options, and in the Senate, the ranking members from both parties on the Armed Services Committee have pledged to give the White House a bipartisan recommendation by January.

McGovern's Withdrawal Plan

McGovern and Polk said the U.S. military presence in Iraq helps foment the escalating violence. They say the military should begin what McGovern called an "orderly" withdrawal over the next six months. This is the only way, they argue, to cut down on the violence and allow the United States to contribute aid that actually helps rebuild Iraq.

"Congress has got to stand up now and take their responsibility," McGovern said.

McGovern's plan is not entirely unlike the Democratic plan in the Senate for a "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops from Iraq. Sen. Carl Levin, who will chair the Armed Services Committee starting in January, has said that the United States "cannot save the Iraqis from themselves" and that "political will" is the missing ingredient in Iraq.

The various Democratic withdrawal plans all argue that the U.S. presence there is no longer helping the situation, but they all agree that leaving is a gamble.

"Do we think everything is going to be hunky-dory after we leave? No," McGovern said. "We don't know what's going to happen. But we think we remove the principal irritant" when the U.S. troops withdraw.

McGovern argued that the United States could save money on reconstruction by contributing "3 percent of the hundreds of billions that the United States is going to pay to keep a large army there."

For their book, Polk said he studied 12 conflicts throughout history and found that there is a clear pattern.

"In every case, when the principal occupying force pulled out its army, the fighting subsides," he said.

McGovern and Polk were originally supposed to meet with a much larger group of progressive Democrats, but the caucus got in the way. They plan to return to the Hill sometime in January.

ABC's Dalia Sussman contributed to this report.