For the last three years, poll after poll has shown an American public who overwhelming believed that the war was mismanaged, that Bush was doing a horrible job in prosecuting it, that it wasn’t worth the effort, that we never should have invaded in the first place, and that we are losing the war.
Of course, the only poll that matters – on election day – saw the Democrats sweep into power promising to “change course” in Iraq. Not defund the troops. Not redeploy to Okinawa. Not carry out a domestic insurgency against the military by setting impossibly high benchmarks for the Pentagon to meet in order to send troops to the war zone. Not even set arbitrary timetables for withdrawal, although a majority of Americans would support a timetable to withdraw some troops over the next one or two years.
In fact, I commented here after the election on the curious disconnect between what Democrats were actually telling the American people before the election and the anti-war “mandate” they were claiming after the vote. With precious few exceptions, the Democrats did not talk about pulling our troops out of Iraq in 6 months or a year. They didn’t advocate timetables for withdrawal. They didn’t run commercials about supporting the defunding of the war or redeploying troops elsewhere.
Their unmistakable message to the voters prior to election day was that they would “change course” in Iraq – an interesting theme that appealed to a broad section of the American electorate. Since even many conservatives and moderate hawks advocated “changing course” in Iraq, this big tent approach obviously worked. At least it “worked” in the sense that the Democrats got their majority.
Two recent polls however, indicate one of two things; either the American people, when faced with the reality of a Democratic majority, are having second thoughts about leaving Iraq before some semblance of order is achieved or, more likely, a couple of pollsters have finally asked the “right” questions about Iraq to reveal what the American people have believed all along.
In fact, this poll reveals what has been one of the best kept secrets of American opinion over the past three years. A fairly consistent majority of between 55% and 65% oppose pulling our troops out immediately (59%). And another consistent sign of support is that a majority (57%) support “finishing the job in Iraq” – keeping the troops there until the Iraqi government can handle security on its own. (HT: James Joyner)
The simple minded sloganeering from the left about polls on Iraq and how the American people support their anti-war agenda down the line fails to take into a account that citizens have a fairly sophisticated, nuanced outlook on the war. They think Bush is doing a poor job (60% “strongly” or “somewhat strongly” agree” ), that 52% believe Congress isn’t doing much better, that only 17% want our troops to leave immediately, that a bare majority (50%) believe we should stay until the job is done, that a surprising 56% agree with the idea of supporting the President even if they disagree with him (another 17% “somewhat agree”), and in another surprise, 53% believe that victory is still possible.
Also, a whopping 66% believe that losing the war would cause America to lose its super power status. And 53% believe strongly that the Democrats have gone too far, too fast, in pressing the President to remove troops from Iraq.
The American people are also realists about the outcome. More than 80% believe Iraq will not become a stable democracy after the US leaves.
The other poll taken by IBD shows similar attitudes toward the war, the President, and the Democrats.
What gives? You can believe we are losing the war (as I do) and still support the President and the mission. You can think that the President is doing a piss poor job of prosecuting the war but also believe the Democrats are dead wrong in moving to defund it or throw a monkey wrench into troop rotations. You can be convinced that Iraq will not be a stable democracy after we leave but still think that the country is “a key part” in the War on Terror (57%).
In short, when pollsters start treating the American people as if they had a brain and ask a series of questions designed to elicit responses that, when taken together, give a much more nuanced snapshot of how the people actually look at Iraq, the “anti-war mandate” claimed by Democrats in the aftermath of the election dissolves into mush.
Not pro-war by any stretch and certainly indicating that they have zero patience with both an endless continuation of past strategies as well as political gamesmanship by the Democrats, the American people – practical, realistic, and desirous of getting on with the task of meeting our goals and getting the hell out – have proved once again that they actually understand the stakes in Iraq as well as realizing that things are going poorly and that changes are needed if success is to be ours.
Perhaps if we all stopped treating the public as little children who need to be told what to think, what to believe about Iraq, we could get beyond the one dimensional critiques of the war on both sides and work together on a plan consistent with their wishes to get out of Iraq with the goal of leaving an Iraqi government in place that can handle its own security and not be a threat to us or her neighbors. If those goals are achieved, I think it’s pretty clear that the majority of Americans would see our efforts in Iraq as a success. Perhaps not a “victory” in any realistic sense – but far from a defeat and definitely something to build on in the years ahead as Iraq will continue to struggle with instituting democracy.
Support for our war aims in Iraq will endure only as long as the people believe we have a chance of succeeding. The next 6 months will be critical to that perception as the surge currently underway will seek to create conditions for the Iraqi government to work toward political goals that should broaden its base of support and negotiate with the factions to end the cycle of violence that has Baghdad and its environs in its grip. The patience of the American people has worn thin. It’s time for the Iraqi government to do what is necessary so that our troops can start coming home.
The sooner – the better.
In addition to linking to the raw data, James Joyner also has an interesting summary of the poll results:
â€œThe survey shows Americans want to win in Iraq, and that they understand Iraq is the central point in the war against terrorism and they can support a U.S. strategy aimed at achieving victory,â€ said Neil Newhouse, a partner in POS. â€œThe idea of pulling back from Iraq is not where the majority of Americans are.â€
â€œHow Americans view the war does not line up with the partisan messages or actions coming out of Washington,â€ said Davis Lundy, president of The Moriah Group [the Chattanooga PR firm which commissioned the survey]. â€œThere are still a majority of Americans out there who want to support the President and a focused effort to define and achieve victory.â€
â€œThe key group driving public opinion here are what we call the â€œnose-holdersâ€, said Newhouse. â€œThey donâ€™t believe we should have gone to war or should still be there, but they believe we should stay and do whatever it takes to restore order until the Iraqis can govern and provide security for their own country.â€
Both pro and anti war advocates have ignored “nose holders” for far too long. These are the practical and nuanced Americans I wrote about above. They are smarter than most of us and probably have a lot less patience than pro-war supporters believe. They probably voted Democratic in the elections last November. But they will almost certainly punish the Democrats if they go through with their slow bleed the troops strategy – especially if Republicans get off their duff and make the case that this cynical strategy is nothing short of “cut and run” on the sly.
And I will say to my fellow conservatives that we shouldn’t be doing too much crowing about these numbers. While some of these responses give the lie to any “anti-war mandate” claimed by the left in the aftermath of the election, neither do they represent much good news. Clearly, the American people want out of Iraq quickly. As long as progress is made toward that goal, the President will be able to maintain this support. But if things go south with the surge or Maliki proves himself to be even more of an empty suit than he already has, that support will disappear in a heartbeat.