• Iraq
  • April 20, 2007
  • 13 minutes read

66 percent of Americans now see the light on the Iraq war

I am so, so happy that two-thirds (66 percent) of our fellow US citizens now share the opinion that a small group of us within the country have held and expressed since before the US war on Iraq ever started: namely, that this war was not worth fighting.

That link there goes to the first report of a new ABC News/WaPo opinion poll, published on the ABC NEws website today. The poll found, in addition, that 51 percent of US citizens now think that the US will “lose” the war in Iraq. Not defined there, though, is what the respondents understand the word “lose” to mean, in practice…. a topic that is certainly worth probing more deeply…

Hat-tip to Juan Cole on signaling the existence of this polling report. I was a little dismayed, however, to see that he reported the news of the poll in these terms:

    For the first time in polling on the Iraq War, a majority of Americans (51%) say that they expect the United States to “lose” in Iraq. Worse, 66 percent say that the war was not worth it!
Did he mean “Worse from the Bush administration’s perspective“? If he’d meant that, surely he would have said it? Or did he just mean “worse”, in general?

We do, of course, need to keep in mind that back in March 2002 and for a considerable period of time after that, Juan supported the Bushites’ basic decision to launch the invasion of Iraq, though he criticized some aspects of the way it was launched. So the news that 66 percent of his compatriots now judge that the war he supported at that time “was not worth fighting” might well seem considerably “worse” to him than it does, for example, to me.

I think it is excellent news. At last the US people are starting to wake up!

Back to the ABC/WaPo poll. In addition to the above-linked short report published as a simple web-page, the ABC News site also has this PDF file with a fuller report on the poll, along with some fairly revealing time series. The following observations relate to the PDF version, with the page numbers from there.

… P.1 has an interesting little time series containing four ’snapshots’ since December 2005 of responses to the expectations question, Will the US win or lose the war? (Note this is not an assessment of whether it currently is winning or losing it.) Basically, back in December ’06, a plurality of respondents said they thought the US would lose (46% lose and 34% win.) The figures shifted in a January ’07 poll to 40% lose and 43% win. Now, April ’07, lose has surged again– to 51%; and with win now at 35%.

Then, this:

    [A majority of respondents] now reject Bush’s argument that winning in Iraq is necessary to win the broader war against terrorism. Fifty-seven percent disagree with that contention, up from 47 percent in January. That echoes a change that appeared in January and continues today, in which most (56 percent) now favor eventual withdrawal even if civil order is not restored.

    (top of p.2) Yet, given pro and con arguments (avoiding further casualties vs. potentially encouraging Iraqi insurgents), a pullout deadline is not broadly popular. The public divides about evenly, 51-48 percent, on setting any deadline. It’s about the same specifically on the effort by congressional Democrats to force withdrawal by no later than August 2008.

    DEMOCRATS – Indeed the Democrats in Congress haven’t conclusively seized the reins on Iraq: Their approval for handling the war is low as well, 37 percent. Nonetheless, they do continue to lead Bush, now by 25 points, in trust to handle it. By a similar margin, 58 to 34 percent, most say the Democrats are taking the stronger role in Washington overall.

Again, that concept of “taking a stronger role in Washington” seems a little ambiguous, and has ambiguous political effects. If it means the Congressional Dems seen as being more effective in Washington than the Prez and the Congressional Republicans, that’s one thing. But if they’re seen as wielding more power than the Prez or the Congressional Republicans, that’s something else… Because then, it would also mean that the public holds them more responsible for governing the country well. But since they don’t have the presidency, it is quite impossible for them to deliver on such an expectation.

Then, the report has this (still p.2):

    With Bush into his third year without majority approval – a trough unseen since Harry Truman’s presidency – the Democrats are benefiting in other ways. Just over 100 days into their regime, 54 percent approve of the way the Democrats in Congress are doing their jobs; just 39 percent approve of the Republicans.

      Approval rating (Approve/Disapprove)

      Bush 35%/62%
      Republicans in Congress 39/59
      Democrats in Congress 54/44

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a 53 percent approval rating, 18 points better than Bush’s (and 12 points better than Speaker Newt Gingrich’s best after the Republicans took control in 1995). And a shift toward Democratic self-identification that began after the Iraq war has accelerated this year.
Yay, Nancy!!!

We learn later (p.4) that the poll “was conducted by telephone April 12-15, 2007, among a random national sample of 1,141 adults, including an oversample of African-Americans.” No explanation for that over-sampling… But still, very notable that the poll was conducted just a few days after all the Bushite fuming and media brouhaha about Pelosi visiting Syria.

On the Iraq war, the report says this (p.3):

    Bush’s “surge” of U.S. forces has not changed minds. The night he announced it, 61 percent opposed the idea. Today it’s 65 percent. And 53 percent say the United States “is losing” the war, as well as the 51 percent who think it “will lose.”
They then have a really stunning graph, at the end of p.3, charting responses to the question Was the war worth fighting?, as recorded fairly frequently since April 30, 2003. See that blue line for “yes” go zigzagging down across the page, and the pink line for “no” going correspondingly upward….right up to today’s 66% No, which they tell us there is indeed a record high.

On p.4, there is this:

    ABC/Post polls have asked three times if Americans were “hopeful” about the situation in Iraq. In March 2003, during the main fighting, it was 80 percent. In May 2004, 62 percent. Today hopefulness on Iraq is down to 51 percent.
This is another concept that it would be worth unpacking further. Down on p.18 I discovered that the question was asked this way:

    20. Do any of the following describe your own personal feelings about the
    situation in Iraq? The first is (READ ITEM). How about (NEXT ITEM)?

    4/15/07 – Summary Table (Yes/ No/ No opinion)

    a. Angry 54/ 45/ 1
    b. Hopeful 51/ 48/ 1


    a. Angry (Yes/ No/ No opinion)

    4/15/07 54/ 45/ 1
    5/23/04 57/ 43/ [Less than 1 percent]
    3/23/03* 30/ 68/ 1
    “About the war”

    b. Hopeful (Yes /No/ No opinion)

    4/15/07 51 48 1
    5/23/04 62 37 1
    3/23/03* 80 18 2
    “About the war”

Well, first of all, asking people’s feelings “About the war” is very different indeed from asking about their feelings “About the situation in Iraq”; and I think it was probably unwise for them even to attempt to aggregate the answers in the same table as they did there. I do rather like the latter question “…about the situation in Iraq” since it should, if understood holistically, refer to people’s feelings about the whole situation in Iraq– i.e., a situation that currently directly affects around 26 million Iraqis and just 150,000 or so US citizens. However, I suspect that many of the respondents may well have understood the question to refer to their feelings “about the US’s situation in Iraq”? Who knows?

But here’s what I find interesting. Just a bit earlier, respondents were asked (qun.18, p.17) about their expectations regarding whether the US would win or lose in Iraq… And, as noted previously, 51% said they thought the US would lose. But we also have 51% of respondents saying they feel “hopeful” about the situation in Iraq. That means that at least 2% of the respondents– and in reality, probably quite a lot more– must have said both that they think the US will lose the war, and that they feel hopeful about the situation there.

These actually correspond fairly roughly to my own combination of judgments and sentiments… I believe the US will “lose” in terms of being forced to leave the country on terms not of the Bushites’ own choosing (though I don’t necessarily consider that an all-round defeat for the US citizenry as a whole.) And I remain somewhat hopeful about the longterm prospects for Iraq and its people– particularly if everyone concerned can show the wisdom required to figure out a way for this US withdrawal from the country to be conducted in a way that is not chaotic for either the Americans or the Iraqis.

(Which I honestly believe still to be possible… Thoughit will require a huge amount of political vision and an equally huge commitment of political will by many different parties around the world.)

But whether those other US citizens who share my combination of expecting a US defeat and also being hopeful about the situation inside Iraq do so on exactly the same grounds as I do, or not, it is still really interesting to me that there are a noticeable number of other citizens– we don’t know how many; but they/we verifiedly do exist!– who can foresee a US “defeat” there and not be railroaded into thinking this is necessarily a disastrous outcome.

Linked to this, probably– given the widespread concern about the threat from global terrorism– is the degree of linkage Americans see between the outcome for the Bushites in Iraq and the level of the risk from global terrorism. So question 19 (p.17) is particularly interesting:

    19. Do you think (the United States must win the war in Iraq in order for the broader war on terrorism to be a success), or do you think (the war on terrorism can be a success without the United States winning the war in Iraq?)

    [The figures given are for: Agree with the first statement/ Agree with the second statement/ No opinion]

    4/15/07: 37/ 57/ 6
    1/10/07 45/ 47/ 8

This, too, is great news. It shows a noted erosion since January in support for the view that the US must win in Iraq if the “broader war on terrorism” is to succeed. The fearmongering arguments in this regard being loudly circulated by Bush, Cheney, and co seem to have done nothing to stem this erosion.

All this is great. I always had faith in the essential decency, good sense, and fairmindedness of the vast majority of my fellow-citizens there in the US. And finally that faith is being shown not to have been misplaced. We do have some national-level leaders (in both parties, but mainly at the moment in the Democratic Party) who are able to withstand the shrill fearmongering of the Bushites. And we have– as noted previously, here— at least a partial return by some organs of the big US media to the role they should be playing: that of relentless truth-seeking.

I’ll be returning to the US at the end of next week, and plan to be spending more time in Washington DC than hitherto. It strikes me it’ll be an interesting time to be there.