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“The essential quality of a free economy is that it cannot be planned. It leaves the solution of problems to the inspiration of the individuals in the untrammeled population. When something approaching a free economy has existed, it has always worked better than the schemes of any planners.”     Thomas H. Barber

May 24, 2007

Politics, Polls, And The War In Iraq

by Doug Mataconis

Unless you’re fully into drinking the Bush Administration Kool-Aid, it’s hard to deny that the Iraq War is becoming more and more untenable by the day:

Americans now view the war in Iraq more negatively than at any time since the war began, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Six in 10 Americans surveyed say the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, and more than three in four say that things are going badly there — including nearly half who say things are going very badly, the poll found.

Still, the majority of Americans support continuing to finance the war, as long as the Iraqi government meets specific goals.

President Bush’s approval ratings remain near the lowest point of his more than six years in office. Thirty percent of poll respondents approve of the job he’s doing overall, while 63 percent disapprove. Majorities of those polled disapprove of Mr. Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq, of foreign policy, of immigration, of the economy and of the campaign against terrorism.

(…)

A large majority of the public — 76 percent, including a majority of Republicans — say that the additional American troops sent to Iraq this year by Mr. Bush have either had no impact or are making things worse there. Twenty percent think the troop increase is improving the situation in Iraq.

A majority of Americans continue to support a timetable for withdrawal. Sixty-three percent say the United States should set a date for withdrawing troops from Iraq sometime in 2008.

While the troops remain in Iraq, the overwhelming majority of Americans support continuing to finance the war, though most want to do so with conditions. Thirteen percent want Congress to block all spending on the war. The majority, 69 percent, including 62 percent of Republicans, say Congress should appropriate money for the war, but on the condition that the United States sets benchmarks for progress and that the Iraqi government meets those goals. Fifteen percent of all respondents want Congress to approve war spending without conditions.

Now, does anyone really want to make a bet that a pro-war candidate like Rudy Giuliani really has a chance of winning in November 2008 ?

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37 Comments

  1. Revelations from Bush like this (http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/05/24/bush/index.html) don’t help the pro-war candidates much…not that they deserve it. Five months into the surge and the security situation’s only going to get worse? Frankly, I think every time Guiliani, McCain, or Romney open their mouths about Iraq Ron Paul’s chances actually improve.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 24, 2007 @ 1:34 pm
  2. Doug, I think its unfair to characterize those of us who still support the war as “Bush Kool-Aid drinkers.” I’m not saying things are going great and that mistakes haven’t been made but the MSM simply will not report any good news and if they do its tempered with much more bad news. I do not think we are not getting the full story.

    I am also sick as hell of re-debating the reasons we went to war. The poll you posted shows that 6 in 10 said we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq. Well guess what? Before the war 6 out of 10 supported going into war.

    Many are critical that President Bush won’t “listen to the will of the people.” What a crock! “The people” will get their chance again in 2008. Listening to the will of the people instead of standing up for what one beleives to be right is not leadership. I have my problems with President Bush too but I respect him because, on this issue at least, he is willing to stand up for what he believes is the best way to protect America even if it means he will not be popular when he leaves office. Would you really respect him if after all of this he suddenly decided to surrender? I sure as hell wouldn’t.

    We can discuss all we want about how this war was a mistake but the fact of the matter is, we have young men in women in harms way right now. We need to think of what should be done now not “woulda, shoulda, coulda.” We simply cannot leave until the job is done.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — May 24, 2007 @ 2:04 pm
  3. Stephen,

    And what job is that, precisely? Removing Saddam from power? That job’s done…he’s dead. Eliminating the WMD threat? That job’s done…they didn’t exist. Preventing an al-Qaeda caliphate in Iraq? That’s never going to happen…the Shi’a, Kurds and neighboring countries would never let al-Qaeda establish their own country.

    So what mission is it we’re trying to accomplish? Forcing democracy on Iraq? True democratic reform arises from national self-determination, not external invasion. Stopping Iranian expansion? We’re supporting an Iraqi government run by people friendly to Iran…we got rid of the guy who was keeping Iran in check. Securing our oil supply? Iraq’s produced more oil before we invaded, the only reason we didn’t have access to it was because of economic sanctions we helped to impose.

    The reason Doug labels people with your position on Iraq as “Bush Kool-Aid drinkers” is that the only justification any of you seem to have for the Iraq war is that Bush says it’s a good idea. Bush has no serious justification for what he’s doing, he has no strategy for what he’s trying to accomplish, he has no plan for victory, he has no evidence to back the justifications he does offer, and he’s getting a lot of people killed for no apparent reason other than his inability to admit that he’s been wrong. And the Bush supporters’ inability to realize this means they pretty much deserve all the derision they get.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 24, 2007 @ 2:19 pm
  4. Stephen,

    I was referring to the Michelle Malkin’s and Hugh Hewitt’s of the world, so sorry if that comment rubbed you the wrong way.

    Also, I was referring to the attitude that those two in particular, and others, seem to have which basically involves ignoring the fact that the war has become a complete political disaster. Which is exactly what this poll proves.

    We can debate from now until the end of time whether pulling out of Iraq is a good idea or a bad idea, but when I see poll after poll like this one, it convinces me more than ever that withdrawal is inevitable. Personally, what I think we’ll see happen is the benchmarks being set for the Iraqi Government being used as the political cover the Bush Administration needs to begin pulling back.

    Did you read the link that the first commentor posted ? Bush pretty much said today that things are going to get even worse over there than they are now.

    If this poll shows anything, it shows that the American public aren’t going to stand for that much longer.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 24, 2007 @ 2:23 pm
  5. UCrawford,

    Stephen and I may disagree on Iraq, but I wouldn’t lump him in with the Kool-Aid drinkers.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 24, 2007 @ 2:24 pm
  6. Thanks Doug. Doug, what do you think should be done about Iraq now?

    Comment by Stephen Littau — May 24, 2007 @ 2:32 pm
  7. Doug,

    Fair enough. And I apologize to Stephen for the tone of my remark, it came off harsher than was probably merited. In my defense I’ll just say that the “we can’t leave until the job is done defense” is something that always sticks in my craw, since no one I’ve met who uses that defense can seem to offer a coherent description of what the “job” is supposed to be. Their position usually seems to be founded on the premise that we should take the president’s word for it (which is rarely a good idea). But, as you pointed out, that generalization may not fit all supporters of the Iraq War and I was probably overly harsh in quickly applying it to Stephen. If he has an argument for his position I’d certainly be interested in hearing it.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 24, 2007 @ 2:37 pm
  8. OK, I give up. How does a media poll mean the Iraq War is untenable? How does the popularity of an event or action make that event or action unsound, weak, or otherwise indefensible? I think the two are completely unrelated.

    Comment by Bret — May 24, 2007 @ 2:38 pm
  9. Assuming the media poll is an accurate reflection of public opinion, it makes the Iraq War untenable because it indicates an unwillingness of the public to support a prolonged engagement if they see no benefit in it. Politicians will be unlikely to dedicate more resources to a war that the people see as a lost cause. Citizens will be less likely to enlist in a military fighting an unpopular war. The international credibility of our president’s positions will be damaged if it is perceived that they do not enjoy popular support. If public support for the war does not exist, it means that ultimately the war itself will not succeed.

    The poll itself means nothing…the views that poll measures, however, mean a lot.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 24, 2007 @ 2:44 pm
  10. The public opinion, however, isn’t the main reason that the Iraq War is untenable. The main reason is that it’s a war being fought for the wrong reasons, by the wrong commander-in-chief, with too few resources to achieve victory and no comprehensive strategy for achieving it. The public opinion polls are merely indicating that the public has caught on to these facts.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 24, 2007 @ 2:48 pm
  11. Stephen,

    I think that the situation in Iraq boils down to two choices.

    Either we tell the Iraqis that they need to start taking responsibility for their country, or Iraq becomes an American protectorate with an American military presence for the foreseeable future.

    Since I do not think it’s in our interest to have large numbers of troops playing the role of sitting ducks in the most unstable part of the world, I think it’s time to tell the Iraqis that the need to fix their own mess.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 24, 2007 @ 2:58 pm
  12. Bret,

    Like it or not, Vietnam did make one thing clear.

    An unpopular war will come to an end whether its proponents like that fact or not.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 24, 2007 @ 2:59 pm
  13. Stephen,

    I’d turn the question on you know.

    Although maybe we should turn this into a point/counterpoint post.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 24, 2007 @ 3:00 pm
  14. The poll is saying that the American people want out in 2008, unless the situation on the ground significantly improves (ie. no more car bombings in Baghdad). However, the American people still do not support an immediate withdrawal. I can see that changing though if there are no significant improvements by the late summer.

    Comment by Kevin — May 24, 2007 @ 3:16 pm
  15. Doug,

    Now, does anyone really want to make a bet that a pro-war candidate like Rudy Giuliani really has a chance of winning in November 2008 ?

    Giuliani shouldn’t be affected by Iraq because his campaign is not directly tied into Iraq, it’s based on being strong on terrorism in general. The candidate who will be sunk by the Iraq tar baby is John McCain. Also, the Democrats who don’t support immediate withdrawal like Hillary will also be hurt by Iraq when the Nutroots primary them.

    Comment by Kevin — May 24, 2007 @ 3:19 pm
  16. Kevin,

    I’d agree with you that McCain’s got a lot to lose, but the truth of the matter is that he’s going down anyway….thankfully.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 24, 2007 @ 3:21 pm
  17. UCrawford,

    Frankly, I think every time Guiliani, McCain, or Romney open their mouths about Iraq Ron Paul’s chances actually improve.

    Ron Paul goes too far in the other direction for the American people to be comfortable with him on foreign policy. The American people are looking for something in between Bush’s stance and the Paul/Nutroot stance on Iraq and terrorism.

    Comment by Kevin — May 24, 2007 @ 3:21 pm
  18. Kevin,

    I think it’s all going to come down to those benchmarks and the (eventual) argument that the Iraqi government is not holding up its end of the bargain.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 24, 2007 @ 3:22 pm
  19. UCrawford,

    The poll itself means nothing…the views that poll measures, however, mean a lot

    Exactly. Unless there is a major turn around in public opinion (which I think is highly unlikely) American troops will leave Iraq sooner rather than later.

    It’s only a question of time at this point.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 24, 2007 @ 3:25 pm
  20. Doug,

    I think it’s all going to come down to those benchmarks and the (eventual) argument that the Iraqi government is not holding up its end of the bargain.

    Agreed. Even Republicans are tired of the Iraq War. Americans will be pulling out of Iraq by 2008, unless there are significant improvements on the ground.

    Comment by Kevin — May 24, 2007 @ 3:25 pm
  21. I think there’s an important distinction to be made here…whether withdrawing from Iraq is a good idea vs. whether the American people think it’s a good idea. The American people obviously think it’s a good idea, but that’s been the case since last year.

    However, as all of us are well aware, just because a large majority of the population thinks something is a good idea doesn’t necessarily make it so.

    Of course, since the Center of Gravity of any democracy is the will of its people (even more so in a COIN war like this one) the first and foremost goal of any government’s war plan should be maintaining that will…something the current Administration has failed miserably at.

    The bottom line is that Gen. Petraeus has until ’08. After that America will be done with Iraq within 6 months.

    Comment by mike — May 24, 2007 @ 3:33 pm
  22. Based on the facts that a) the counterinsurgency manual that Petraeus wrote indicates he hasn’t got enough resources to accomplish his task, b) Bush has said that the situation will worsen over the summer, c) Nouri al-Maliki has shown zero indication that he is capable of making the Iraqi government effective (assuming he wants to) and d) Petraeus has been dropping hints that military action alone (which is all Bush has got) isn’t going to change the situation, I’d say that the withdrawal is going to happen sooner rather than later as well. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they started pushing for it in the fall of this year.

    Petraeus is a very good general…but even he needs sufficient resources to win, and he simply hasn’t got them. And frankly the war in Iraq was being fought for all the wrong reasons anyway, by the worst possible president.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 24, 2007 @ 4:11 pm
  23. Clarification: By “they” I mean Congress and the military leadership. Bush, I believe, is going to fight against withdrawal tooth and nail until the funding runs out.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 24, 2007 @ 4:14 pm
  24. Mike,

    However, as all of us are well aware, just because a large majority of the population thinks something is a good idea doesn’t necessarily make it so.

    True, but when you’re dealing with overwhelming numbers like this, it just isn’t politically possible to ignore the will of the public.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 24, 2007 @ 4:15 pm
  25. UCrawford,

    Petraeus is a very good general…but even he needs sufficient resources to win, and he simply hasn’t got them. And frankly the war in Iraq was being fought for all the wrong reasons anyway, by the worst possible president.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the most outrageous thing about the War in Iraq isn’t so much that we fought it based on bad intelligence, but that people like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz basically ignored advice from the men in uniform about what they needed to do to plan for the aftermath of the war.

    Just remember. Operation Desert Storm utilized almost 400,000 U.S. and Allied ground troops. Operation Iraqi Freedom, which was a far greater undertaking, utilized fewer than half as many ground troops.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 24, 2007 @ 4:18 pm
  26. Doug,

    I’ll offer an extremely weak defense of Rumsfeld by saying that the mission he apparently thought we were trying to accomplish was the removal of Saddam and the negation of WMD. He explicitly stated that he believed U.S. forces would be removed from Iraq immediately after Saddam was captured and the WMD threat was eliminated. Bush apparently either didn’t explain the mission to Rumsfeld or changed the mission on Rumsfeld (assuming Rummy wasn’t simply lying). That doesn’t justify invading Iraq, but it does lay the blame where it properly belongs…squarely with the Commander-in-Chief.

    And yes, I completely agree with you how infuriating the lack of respect for military advice was on the part of the administration. Shinseki gave Rumsfeld a legitimate and informed estimate and Rumsfeld skewered and disgraced him for it. The judgment and behavior of the administration was abominable…especially considering Bush’s continued accusations about his critics trying to micromanage generals.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 24, 2007 @ 4:26 pm
  27. The bad intelligence was understandable…intel is an imperfect product and it happens. The sheer arrogance, incompetence, and cynical manipulation in how Bush handled the situation, however, is not so easy to forgive.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 24, 2007 @ 4:29 pm
  28. Doug:

    “True, but when you’re dealing with overwhelming numbers like this, it just isn’t politically possible to ignore the will of the public.”

    I couldn’t agree more. That’s my biggest criticism of the Administration when it comes to their prosecution of the war. They refused to fight for and maintain their CoG.

    UCrawford:

    While Shinseki may have given Rumsfeld a legitimate and informed estimate this time around, look at some of the planning of the initial phases of OEF (the invasion of Afghanistan.) The Pentagon’s initial plan seemed like it was lifted directly from the Soviets’ lovely foray…go in with several divisions of heavy mechanized troops and spend several months slowly slogging through the country. A real winner. Also, if you look back to the relationship between the Pentagon and the Clinton Administration with regards to Afghanistan/OBL/al-Qaida after the ’98 Embassy bombings, the Administration actually wanted to send in, in the words of Pres. Clinton, “helicopters with black ninjas” to capture/kill OBL. Unfortunately, when they went to the Pentagon for a plan, the smallest intervention the Pentagon was willing to plan for involved several divisions. I’ve written more about all of this here.

    So the bottom line is that while the Pentagon may have had to deal with a lack of respect for military advice, a lot of that was self inflicted as a result of their past actions.

    Comment by mike — May 24, 2007 @ 4:47 pm
  29. Clinton’s plan for hitting UBL was flawed because he lacked the logistical support and trustworthy personnel to pull it off. His plan involved trusting Pakistan (who were supporting the Taliban) because any use of military assets would have meant gaining their support and access to their borders and airspace. Simply put, they couldn’t guarantee success at capturing or killing bin Laden without an unacceptable level of collateral and political damage, or loss of U.S. life. The military recognized this. Given perspective, we should have killed bin Laden or engaged in Afghanistan sooner, but then hindsight is always 20/20.

    As for the war itself, the military saw its purpose as capturing and killing key Taliban and al-Qaeda figures. As it stood we went in with insufficient troop numbers and relied too much on local and Pakistani forces to help us. That’s part of why bin Laden was able to escape from Tora Bora…the non-coalition forces failed to hold up their end. It’s also arguable that the tactics the Pentagon was proposing in Afghanistan would have worked better for us than for the Russians since the Taliban were largely despised and the Afghanis have pretty much accepted our mission as justifiable. The Soviet forces were hindered by massive popular opposition from the outset.

    For the record, I didn’t have much of a problem with how we handled the initial Afghan invasion (aside from letting bin Laden escape and not holding Pakistan accountable for giving shelter to him and the Taliban). My problem with Bush there is with the apathy he’s displayed for the post-war situation; choosing instead to focus on Iraq. He chose to nation-build the wrong country and pursue the wrong enemy and now it’s allowed al-Qaeda to rebuild.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 24, 2007 @ 5:10 pm
  30. If you want an excellent perspective of the Afghan situation pre-9/11, check out “Ghost Wars” by Steve Coll. Best book I ever read on the topic. It proved useful to me when I did my tour in Afghanistan, as did the work of Lester Grau.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 24, 2007 @ 5:18 pm
  31. UCrawford,

    Bush didn’t have a secret plan that he wasn’t telling Rumsfeld about, he didn’t have a plan at all. And neither did Rumsfeld.

    Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al really seemed to be believe the nonsensical idea that invading Iraq and deposing Saddam would be a cake walk and that there wouldn’t be an insurgency problem because we’d be greeted as liberators. As a result, they failed to plan for what several Generals was telling them would be a likely outcome of the war and, most importantly, failed to provide enough troops both for the war itself and the immediate aftermath.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 24, 2007 @ 5:28 pm
  32. “Clinton’s plan for hitting UBL was flawed because he lacked the logistical support and trustworthy personnel to pull it off. His plan involved trusting Pakistan (who were supporting the Taliban) because any use of military assets would have meant gaining their support and access to their borders and airspace. Simply put, they couldn’t guarantee success at capturing or killing bin Laden without an unacceptable level of collateral and political damage, or loss of U.S. life. The military recognized this. Given perspective, we should have killed bin Laden or engaged in Afghanistan sooner, but then hindsight is always 20/20.”

    Conceded. However, the military’s job isn’t to decide what the acceptable level of collateral and political damage or loss of life is in a situation like this. That’s the job of the politicians. In this case, the military flat out refused to provide the politicians with all the available options, instead saying that the only two choices were to go in with multiple divisions (start a war, in effect, instead of a specops raid) or don’t go at all. The specops raid may have been untenable for a variety of reasons, but those reasons were policy related. That cliched line from Top Gun is true: “We don’t make policy, gentlemen. We carry it out.”

    In fact, if you read some of the reasons Rumsfeld gave for why he treated Shinseki the way he did, he cites the Clinton/OBL policy fiasco.

    Re: Ghost Wars, I was actually going to make the same recommendation to you. Very good book.

    Comment by mike — May 24, 2007 @ 5:59 pm
  33. Doug, I don’t think we are that far apart as to what should be done now. I do not think the troops should leave until the Iraqis can do a decent job of defending themselves. I also agree that if the Iraqis cant get their act together by 2008, this will be a failed experiement.

    If things are not better by that time and the troops leave, we better prepare ourselves for a humanitarian crisis not unlike the aftermath of Vietnam.

    The biggest problems with this war is that 1. the civilian leadership and the politicians will not allow the troops to fight to win (the rules for engagement are too restrictive; the insurgents have not signed the Geneva Conventions and therefore these rules do not apply) and 2. The Democrat Party is doing everything it can to make sure this war is a failure so they can achieve more political power. If things turn around in Iraq, the Democrats are finished.

    I think its also important to remember that the war in Iraq is but one front in the war against Islamofascism. If we allow them to win, we will only have to return and the cost in blood and treasure will be much higher than if our leaders would take care of business now.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — May 24, 2007 @ 10:15 pm
  34. Stephen,

    If things are not better by that time and the troops leave, we better prepare ourselves for a humanitarian crisis not unlike the aftermath of Vietnam.

    Funny that this is never brought up by the surrender Iraq crowd.

    Comment by Kevin — May 24, 2007 @ 10:33 pm
  35. You know what else is funny Kevin? Many* in the surrender Iraq crowd would have us leave Iraq and go directly to Dafur to stop the genocide. While stopping the genocide in Darfur is noble (but of questionable strategic value to the U.S.) why isn’t preventing the suffering by Iraqis (which will happen if the troops left now) any less of a noble humanitarian endeavor?

    * I recognize that people who oppose the war oppose it for different reasons. The ones I am referring to here are priniply Bush haters who would have supported the war if their guy was in the Whitehouse. I know that most libertarians who oppose the war (such as Ron Paul) do so as a matter of principle and would not be in favor of humanitarian military campaigns in Darfur or anywhere else.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — May 24, 2007 @ 11:47 pm
  36. Mike,

    The point of fact on UBL in Afghanistan, though, was that Clinton was free to override the generals if he disagreed with their advice about hitting bin Laden. He chose not to because they made their point, and they made their opposition to the plan clear. The generals may have disagreed, but they would have followed orders had Clinton given them. That or Clinton was perfectly justified in replacing them. He didn’t do any of that because he realized that the plan was untenable at that point and the public probably wouldn’t have supported it.

    Most of the criticism about the military and Clinton’s judgment back then is based on hindsight, not on the practical reality of the time. So I think it’s unfair to lay too much blame on either party…their chosen course of action was rational at the time.

    Stephen,

    I agree with you about the ridiculous “logic” of those who oppose intervention in Iraq but support it in Darfur. Their position is untenable to say the least, and often hypocritical. I’m a supporter of nation-building in Afghanistan only because it’s something that had a direct influence on our national interests and has the support of the international community. Clearly Darfur and Iraq don’t meet those standards, regardless of who’s sitting in the White House.

    Disclosure: My extreme dislike for Bill Clinton was exceeded only by my extreme dislike for George W. Bush…so my foreign policy objections are not a result of partisan affiliations, but are a result of hating bad policy.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 25, 2007 @ 8:42 am
  37. Stephen,

    Also, the problems with the war are not a matter of politicians not allowing the troops to fight to win. The problem is that Bush has waged this war as a conventional campaign when it is a counterinsurgency. Massive displays of force (as with Fallujah) are counter-productive to the goal of success and such campaigns tend to be manpower and resource intensive. Basically, they’re losing because Bush and the Republican Congress ignored military advice, were too slow to recognize the nature of the conflict, and didn’t send enough troops and resources to win, not because of anything the Democrats are doing now.

    Blaming the Democrats for losing the war in Iraq is about as ridiculous as Michael Moore blaming Bush for causing 9/11. In neither case was the party in office long enough to be truly responsible for what happened.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 25, 2007 @ 8:49 am

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