More Americans have spoken out in favor of bringing home U.S. troops from Iraq. Twenty-four out of 32 communities in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin approved advisory referenda during Tuesday's municipal elections calling for troop withdrawals to begin immediately, or to have all U.S. military out of Iraq by the end of the year. But the White House says the troops will stay put until their mission is complete.
Local governments in many U.S. communities have passed resolutions criticizing the war in Iraq. Last year, people in about 50 cities in Vermont okayed similar measures at town meetings. In Wisconsin, the Green Party and other peace activists decided to try to put the troop issue to voters on the spring election ballot. Organizers of the campaign began collecting signatures four months ago. In the Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood, Roy Anderson went door to door, asking people to sign a petition calling for a timeline for achieving military goals in Iraq.
Enough people signed that petition and similar ones in 31 other Wisconsin towns and cities that troop withdrawal referenda were set up. Opponents of the ballot questions created a counter group called Vote No to Cut and Run, and several communities had heated discussions at public forums. One of the closer contests wound up being in another Milwaukee suburb -- Whitefish Bay -- which traditionally votes Republican but narrowly went for Democrat John Kerry over George Bush in the 2004 presidential election.
Whitefish Bay resident Larry Moon says he voted for the troop withdrawal referendum because, he says, it was foolish for the U.S. to get into the war. "Obviously there was not sufficient pre-planning. They didn't know what stakes we were going to get into. They didn't estimate the cost properly. It was an abomination from the beginning, almost."
Moon says all the money being spent on the war could be better spent inside the United States.
But another Whitefish Bay voter says he rejected the ballot question. "I felt that the referendum was not the way to go about this," says Terry Mulcahy. "George Bush has done a great job. I support the president ...and I think the troops are doing a great job and we ought to be 100 percent behind them."
But the troop withdrawal referendum passed in Whitefish Bay, 54 to 46 percent. Referenda also passed in 23 other Wisconsin communities, including the state's capital city, Madison, where it won by a wide margin. The referenda lost in eight cities, mainly in areas where President Bush remains strong politically. Still, referenda organizers like Keith Schmitz say they hope now to help other U.S. cities set up ballot questions.
"In effect this'll be a chance for people who want to see a definite outcome in Iraq defined, Schmitz says. "That'll hopefully bring out a wave of referenda across the country. Basically, what we're doing is doing the job that the U.S. Congress has failed to do."
Schmitz says Congress has not been aggressive enough in pushing for troop withdrawals from Iraq. He says the results in Wisconsin -- and national public opinion surveys showing declining support for the war -- should also encourage more congressional candidates this fall to take an anti-war stance.
But Chris Muller of the anti-referenda group ChooseVictory.org says that would be a risky strategy. "They're trying to get the anti-war sentiments to influence the congressmen. So essentially what they're doing is playing politics with our national security," he says. "I don't think we should do that again. And I think anyone who does continue that attempt is probably going to find a hard time at the polls."
The White House says the referendum results in Wisconsin will not change the Bush Administration's plans in Iraq. The President's spokesperson, Scott Mcllellan, says everyone wants the troops back in the United States. But he says the worst thing the U.S. could do is withdraw before the mission in Iraq is complete.