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February 25, 2008

Iraq and Public Opinion
Posted by Michael Cohen

In the blogosphere and even in the august venue of the Washington Post op-ed page there has been a regular and occasionally nasty debate about the success or failure of the surge in Iraq. What is most striking about this conversation is that few pundits are taking into account the views of the American people. Here the results are far clearer and quite consistent - they're not buying the pro-surge argument.

Earlier this month, CNN asked Americans whether they favor or oppose the war in Iraq – 34% favor, 64% oppose. The same question was asked in June 2007, well before the security situation began to improve – and the numbers are exactly the same. Indeed, they have been remarkably consistent from month to month. One would imagine that with stories of improved security in Iraq and the conservative meme that success in Iraq is just around the corner these numbers would have seen a bump – but it simply hasn’t happened.

How about President Bush’s approval on Iraq. It was 28% in January 2007 when the surge was announced. Today, it stands at . . . 28%. Unchanged. Was it worth going into Iraq? Again unchanged from January 2007 to January 2008. And in probably the most important question as it relates to the 2008 election – should the US withdraw troops right away, within a year or should we stay in Iraq as long it takes to win the war.  Again, unchanged. Overwhelmingly, the American people want the troops either out now or out within a year. Take a look at the views of just one swing state, Wisconsin. There 61% want the troops out in 6 months. That’s a state that John Kerry won in 2004 by a mere 11,000 votes.

What’s even more interesting is that Americans are quite aware of the improved security situation.Polls show that a modest number of Americans acknowledge that things are getting better in Iraq -- but they don’t really seem to care. Their basic opinions on the war remain unchanged. The American people have made up their minds. They think the war in Iraq was a mistake; they disapprove of the current policy and they want the troops to come home.

Indeed, people seem to forget that we already had a national referendum on the war. It came in 2006 when congressional Democrats ran on a platform of withdrawal from Iraq and Republicans accused Democrats of retreat and surrender. I think we remember how that worked out.

This is sort of a long way to saying that John “hundred years” McCain has a real problem. From a political perspective he couldn’t have asked for a better six months on Iraq – the security situation has improved, conservatives are breathlessly declaring the surge a success and Democrats remain consistent in their call for withdrawal (playing into the conservative narrative on Democratic weakness on national security issues). And yet public opinion remains unchanged. What makes anyone think that things will change between now and Election Day?


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Hmmmph, most of the country has wanted us "out within a year" for a year now. Maybe we should have spent less time worrying about Iraq's fate if we left and more trying to do what the majority of Americans want.

Maybe the American people probably don't believe the "progress," in Iraq since they been lied to so many times. Also the public may feel disgusted at the lives that are already lost and dying at a reduced rate in Iraq. Finally the financial pinch of the falling dollar that is partially due to the war in Iraq, may have turned them against the war.

I would ask those who say the surge is working: what do you think would happen if we withdrew from Iraq right now? I think most would agree that a return to chaos, mayhem and carnage would happen. So then, by what measure other than the current less violent state of things is the surge working? The surge is nothing more than a finger in the dike.

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