"The central message of the 2006 election was so unmistakable that even George Bush couldn't miss it. Get. Out. Of. Iraq." This was how the November 17 US Socialist Worker weekly summed up the results of the November 7 US mid-term congressional elections, in which the Democrats won control of both houses of the US Congress for the first time since 1994.
The strong opposition to US President George Bush's war in Iraq reflected in the elections was also registered in referenda on immediate or rapid withdrawal of US troops that featured on ballots in a range of concurrent municipal elections.
The November 8 Washington Capital Times newsletter reported that organisers "of a movement to bring US troops home from Iraq are lauding success at the ballot box from Wisconsin to Massachusetts…
"Nine Wisconsin communities weighed in on measures calling for troop withdrawal, approving all of them. An anti-war measure passed overwhelmingly in Milwaukee. Eleven communities in Illinois — including the Chicago metropolitan area comprising about half the state's electorate — passed troop [withdrawal] measures by wide margins."
In Massachusetts, of the 139 municipalities or precincts asked to vote on a non-binding motion calling on Congress to withdraw US troops, only eight voted against, according to the November 11 North Adams Transcript.
In its lead article, the November 17 Socialist Worker observed that "For opponents of the US war, this was a breath of fresh air — and a complete contrast to the climate in mainstream politics since the Bush White House launched the US 'war on terror' following the September 11 attacks.
"Bush can no longer get away with claiming that victory is around the corner if the US 'stays the course' — and the Democrats can't get away with avoiding all discussion of the war on the grounds that Republicans can't be challenged on the 'war on terror.
"Finally, there are different sides in the mainstream discussion on Iraq, and this will embolden people outside Washington in their questioning of the war.
"But it's important to remember the limits of the mainstream debate. Republicans and Democrats are now united that a 'change of course' is needed in Iraq, but they also agree that this 'change' should be restricted to rearranging the occupation of Iraq and intervention in the Middle East — not ending them."
It has become increasingly clear that the "change of course" promised by Bush does not include a rapid withdrawal of troops favoured not just by most US voters, but also by an overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people.
War secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been forced to hand in his resignation, but his Bush-nominated replacement, former CIA director Robert Gates, is just as committed to "staying the course". In a public lecture given in May last year, Gates said that US troops "need to stay [in Iraq] as long as necessary to get the job done".
Gates has been participating in the Iraq Study Group set up by Congress with Bush's approval to draw up "options" for a supposed change in Washington's strategy in Iraq. The November 16 British Guardian reported that the ISG, headed by George Bush senior's secretary of state James Baker, is actually considering recommending an increase in the number of US troops in Iraq by 20,000, to "stabilising Baghdad first".
This plan is being drawn up despite the fact that, as reported in the June 26 USA Today, only 8% of US voters favour increasing the size of the US occupation force in Iraq.
Neither have the Democrats, with their new control of Congress, given much hope that the views of the majority of US voters will be heeded. Instead, Democrat leaders have emphasised they will work towards "bipartisanship" with the Republicans, including over the war in Iraq.
At a joint press conference on November 12, the Democrat's 2000 vice-presidential candidate, Senator Joe Lieberman, now an "independent", joined Republican Senator John McCain in calling for an extra 50,000 US troops to be deployed to Iraq. There are currently around 150,000 US troops there.
Associated Press reported on November 14 that Democrat Representative Ike Skelton, in line to become the next chairperson of the House armed services committee, now only proposes withdrawing one US combat brigade for every puppet Iraqi army combat brigade considered "fully capable" — a position no different to that publicly argued by Bush.
The post-election pro-war shift by the House Democrats was graphically signalled on November 16 when they voted in war-hawk Steny Hoyer to be their caucus leader, rather than John Murtha.
AP reported that "Murtha, a Pennsylvanian, is a powerful lawmaker on defense matters, and he gained national prominence last year when he called for an end to US military involvement in Iraq".
"Congressman Hoyer's position has been to stay the course with President Bush from the very beginning and, like Senator John McCain, he advocates sending in more troops", Murtha told AP.
"Steny was more where the mainstream of where the party was", Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank told journalists.
The lack of fundamental policy differences between mainstream Democrat and Republican legislators reflects the fact that both parties consciously aim to serve the interests of the US corporate elite. As the November 17 Socialist Worker noted, "Corporate dollars began to shift to the Democratic side in the weeks before the 2006 election, signalling a ruling-class consensus on the need to shift from 'Plan A' to 'Plan B'. The corporate elite are clearly worried about the growing popular anger against the Bush-led war drive getting out of control, and hope that the Democrats will be able to coopt and contain the opposition."
Most US voters however have few illusions that the Democrats offer a genuine alternative to the Republicans on the war. AP observed on November 14 that, "More Americans rank Iraq as the top priority of the new Democratic-controlled Congress, but nearly three out of five say the party does not have a plan to deal with the war".
A post-election AP-Ipsos poll revealed that 37% of US voters listed the Iraq war as their main concern, more than double the 15% who listed terrorism as the next highest issue. AP noted that this "strikes at the heart of a Democratic dilemma. The party has been of one voice in criticizing President Bush's strategy for the war but has been more equivocal on how to move in a different direction."
This contradiction could lead to substantial growth in the US anti-war movement.
The national anti-war coalition United for Peace and Justice has called for a national convergence on Washington for January 27 under the slogan " Tell the new Congress: Act now to bring the troops home!" In a November 13 statement, UFPJ pointed out that, "On election day people took individual action by voting. On January 27 we will take collective action, as we march in Washington, DC, to make sure Congress understands the urgency of this moment".