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The Register’s Editorial: Let Californians Be Heard on Iraq

Given the venom on some fo the right wing blogs about a ballot measure to allow Calilfornians to weigh on on the US presecense in Iraq, I was pleasantly surprised to read this editorial in this morning’s Register.

DeVore said no other bill brought to the assembly has ever made him so angry; Flieschman says the governor should veto it and its part of a liberal plot to turn out the base; Matt Cunningham thinks it emboldens the enemy and hurts troop morale.  The Register doesn’t agree.

It is difficult to imagine what great harm would be done by having a measure on California’s ballot in February calling on President Bush to begin the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. It would provide a snapshot of public opinion on what is shaping up to be the key national issue of the day. And it could spark more discussion among the people rather than the politicians.

The state Assembly voted Monday to put such a referendum on the Feb. 5 ballot. Since the Senate passed a slightly different version in June, it has been sent back to the Senate. Once the Senate agrees, it will go the Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk for signature or veto. The governor hasn’t made up his mind and is said to be a little leery of having to address the issue.

He should go ahead and sign it.

One of the consequences of never having had a formal declaration of war (as we still believe the Constitution requires) before invading Iraq is that the kind of far-ranging discussion that should have preceded such a drastic step was short-circuited. A referendum in California would have no power to bind or mandate the president. But it would offer him and his advisers important information about how the people view the Iraq war almost five years on. Not that California is necessarily representative of the nation as a whole, but the views of Californians are not unimportant.

The most childish reason to oppose putting such a referendum on the ballot is the argument that even discussing the idea of troop withdrawal will hurt morale in the military in Iraq and perhaps even endanger the troops. There’s little or no reason to suspect this is true. We’ve read interviews with soldiers and Marines who support the mission passionately. We’ve read interviews with military people in Iraq who have become deeply disillusioned with the war – or convinced that the Iraqi people don’t want what America is offering as badly as the administration wants to offer it – and would welcome immediate withdrawal. We’re in no position to know the precise breakdown, but soldiers in Iraq have more than one monolithic viewpoint.

The one thing we’re quite sure of us that whatever they may think privately of their mission, the men and women on duty in Iraq are professional and well-trained enough that learning some people back home are questioning the wisdom of the war will not turn them into quivering blobs of self-pity and remorse who simply won’t be able to carry on. They have much more important (and threatening) things to worry about. The notion that their morale would crumble if such a referendum were held is a profound insult to them.

Even if a referendum on the war will have no immediate practical effect, it will provide valuable information. If it helps to inspire more wide-ranging and passionate (but civil and informed, we hope) discussion and debate, it will serve the purpose of strengthening civil society back home.