Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Opinion Polls and the War in Iraq

As the House continues its debate on how to abandon the Iraqi people and undermine the American fighting forces in Iraq, they frequently turn to a handy tool to make their case: opinion polls. Most polls have support for the war at around 30% to 40%, and opposition to it at over 50%.

Opponents of the War in Iraq believe they are representing the will of the American people by opposing the President's new strategy for reducing the violence in Iraq by, among other things, sending more troops.

For example:

"Friday's vote will signal whether the House has heard the American people: No more blank checks for President Bush on Iraq"

- Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

Putting aside possible early successes of the "surge" and the obvious interest our enemies have in divisions here at home, it's no secret many Americans want to withdraw from Iraq immediately or over some arbitrary timeline. Some have no concern for what happens to the Iraqi people afterwards, some believe things will magically improve when we leave, and some believe it will get worse but an American "defeat" would be worth the price others would pay.

Based solely on opinion polls, when should the American forces withdraw?

A Gallup poll has tracked public opinion on the war since January, 2003. One question that looks suitable to use as an example is "All in all, do you think it was worth going to war in Iraq, or not?". This is a chart of the answer:

So, based on the answer to that question, majority support for the war ended in mid-September, 2003. That might have been the first window to withdraw, except support was still higher than opposition at that time. Then, the murder & mutilation of the Blackwater employees in Fallujah and the abortive Fallujah 1 operation actually bumped support back into the majority. Good thing we weren't in the middle of pulling out then- we'd just have to turn around and head back. But then some soldiers gave war opponents the greatest gift of all time: Abu Ghraib abuses that slid support below a majority and kept it there. Time to go! Except, support overtook opposition again for a time in the Fall of 2004 (I attribute it to Kerry's non-alternative alternative campaign for Iraq). Time to come back! But then support fell below a majority and stayed there, despite small bumps for the '05 elections.

My own take is that war sucks. Not just this one, but all of them. I would much prefer it if human beings could behave like the highly evolved and civilized species we think we are. But we don't, and just the last century has shown levels of human v. human violence in wars, genocides, and crimes that almost makes me want to step aside as the primary species and give the dolphins a chance to run things. The reality is that war is with us. This war is with us. And we do an inexcusable disservice to the longsuffering and innocent Iraqis (a majority in my opinion) and our own interests if we pull out before Iraq is stable & standing on its own.

By the way, page 3 of the Gallup poll has an interesting nugget. The poll asks " Do you feel that you have a clear idea of what the war in Iraq is all about--that is, what we are fighting for?" On 2005 Sep 16-18 (the last time the question asked on Iraq), the answers were 67% Yes vs. 33% No. The same question was apparently asked about WWII on 1944 Mar 31-Apr 4 and the answer was 59% Yes vs. 41% No. Polls are interesting, aren't they?

Next up: Iraqi Opinion Polls...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Just Give Your Tribe a Sheikh

Iraqi blogger Sooni answers a set of questions posed by a blogger friend named Paul. Here's the last question in the most recent set:
Paul: If there was a single thing you would hope us, as Americans, could learn about your culture which could help us understand the situation, what would that be?

The Arabic and Islamic culture in general is a tribal one based on Winning and Losing. They don't believe in middle grounds like sharing and the only language they understand is force. That’s why dictatorships and families ruled the countries of the area very well. Democracy will need long years to be adapted in the region because in comparison with dictatorship democracy will appear like a weak and tolerant way of ruling. For example, the Sheikh of the Tribe won't accept to be ruled by his subjects, so the more powerful you appear and control things they will fear you and respect you, the more tolerant you be they will disobey and despise you. This kind of mentality is what we are fighting in Iraq right now hoping we can make them change.
From all the reading I have done over the last four years on the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular, Sooni's assessment rings true. As I have argued before, Saddam Hussein was not an aberration; he was, in fact, a "pure product" of the tribal mindset that dominates the region.


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