Articles and Analysis


Iraq War: Losing or Lost?

Topics: Iraq

Thanks to Washington Post blogger Dan Froomkin for tipping me off to this exchange from yesterday's press briefing by presidential press secretary Tony Snow that leads indirectly to some fundamental questions regarding public opinion and the Iraq War:

Q Tony, you mentioned the polls, and talked about the Republican support. All the polls also show that big majorities of the American public do not support the war. Have you heard the President talk about how difficult it is to fight a war or prosecute a war without the public's support?

MR. SNOW: The President understands the importance of public support. What's also interesting is that you see numbers coming up again on, do you think we're winning or do you think -- for instance, a pretty strong majority now, when asked, do you think we're losing, say no. That's an important data point. When it talks about, would you like the Americans to succeed, the answer is yes. So you always have mixed feelings.

[Emphasis added]

Is Snow right? Have the numbers really "come up" that much? Snow is presumably thinking about two nearly identical results asked on two recently released national polls:

  • CNN/ORC (5/4-6, n=1,208 adults): "Do you think that the U.S. war in Iraq is lost, or don't you think so?"

41% lost
55% don't think so
4% don't know

  • Quinnipiac (4/25-5/1, n=1,166 registered voters): "Do you think that the U.S. war in Iraq is lost, or don't you think so?"

41% lost
49 don't think so
11% unsure

Putting aside a quibble about whether those results amount to a "strong majority," they certainly show more Americans rejecting than accepting the notion that the war "is lost." The pollsters asked these questions after Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters on April 19, "I believe ... that this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything."

As first glance, these new results certainly seem like a big change from a question traced by the ABC News/Washington Post poll: "All told, do you think the United States is winning or losing the war in Iraq?" As recently as January, a nearly two-to-one margin (57% to 29%) believed the U.S was "losing," a five point increase in the "losing" percentage since December:


So have opinions on the war changed really that much in just a few months? I doubt it. The more likely explanation is that, in the context of the Iraq War, some Americans are interpreting the "losing" and "is lost" very differently.

Consider the most recent results of questions tracked by the Pew Research Center and CBS News:

  • Pew Research Center (4/18-22, n=1,508 adults): "How is the U.S. Military effort going in Iraq?"

7% very well
31% fairly well
34% not too well
25% not well at all
3% don't know

  • CBS News (4/9-12, n=994 adults): "How would you say things are going for the U.S. in its efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq? Would you say things are going very well, somewhat well, somewhat badly, or very badly?"

2% very well
29% somewhat well
30% somewhat badly
36% very badly
3% unsure

So both organizations, in surveys conducted just before and just after Reid's remarks, show the same general pessimism reflected in the January ABC/Washington Post "is losing" results. By roughly two-to-one margins, Americans say the War effort is going "badly" or "not well."

More important, while both CBS and Pew show a slight up-tick (roughly six percentage points) in March and April as compared to December through February, the long term trend has been to greater pessimism. And the current overall results essentially match the reading of the January ABC/Post poll about the direction of the war. The following chart shows the results for the Pew survey. The CBS trend data (available via Polling Report) shows the same pattern.


Again, my hunch is that Americans interpret the words "is lost" very differently from "is losing," though the bigger issue is whether this semantic distinction has political consequences. A lot of conservative commentators seem to think so, given their reaction to Reid's remarks. Tony Snow is likely right that most Americans want our military to succeed in Iraq. However, if the seemingly contradictory results cited above are about a subset of American who believe that the war is not winnable yet perhaps not yet completely "lost," then we have a distinction without much difference.

Consider, for example the recent NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll (4/20-23, n=1,004 adults) that reported 55% saying it is "not possible" to achieve the U.S. goal of "achieving victory in Iraq." Now recall that academics that have studied public support for wars past and present - including one that has been advising the Bush White House - believe that "prospective evaluations of mission success" are the key to continuing support for the Iraq War.

All of this suggests some things my media pollster colleagues might want to test on future surveys. First, the issue of whether my hunch is right regarding the meaning of "losing" vs. "is lost." A survey could confirm this easily enough with an experiment that divides the sample randomly for a side-by-side test of two questions:

  • Do you think that the U.S. war in Iraq is lost, or don't you think so?
  • Do you think the United States is winning or losing the war in Iraq?

It might also be useful to try to get individual respondents to decide whether "lost" or "is losing" better describes their opinion. In other words, ask if they believe the U.S. "has won," "is winning," "is losing" or "has lost" the Iraq war. Do those who believe the U.S. "is losing" in Iraq but has not yet "lost" see any hope of winning in the future?

UPDATE: Professor Franklin sends along a slightly improved version of my "how are things going" chart of Pew Research Center data that adds the very similar results from CBS News and plots a smoothed regression line through the points. Click the image below for the easier-to-read full size version.




Sigh. Why do pollsters ask people's opinons on factual questions?

OK, fine. I think next time they poll Americans, pollsters should ask "Is the sum of the squares of the two legs of a right triangle equal to the square of the hyptoneuse?" and if a majority answer "no" all geometry texts should then be updated with this newly gleaned wisdom.

The factual questions of how many battles we've won or lost, how many terrorists we've captured/killed, how many ISF we've trained and equipped, whether we removed Saddam's regime, and if we helped Iraqis hold elections and write a constitution all seem to be irrelevant here. What we really have in this poll is an answer to the question: How is the media reporting the war?


Oops, hypotenuse not hyptoneuse -- although I can't really be sure I spelled it wrong until we take a poll on how that should be spelled.



The other maddening thing about these polls is that they do not measure the thinking behind the answers. I personally do not think the war is going well -- because of morons that publish polls like this, convincing everyone that we cannot win.

Yes, morale in the US is bad on the war. It would be a wonder if it wasn't, since we've been told nonstop since it started that it was going badly. It's interesting that the war is more popular in Iraq (both with US soldiers and with Iraqi citizens) than it is here. Why? They are not subjected to this constant assault.



Thank God we didn't have pollsters during World War II wringing the American people's hands every step of the way.

And thank goodness the boomer generation wasn't around back in 1941 or else the Nazi war machine would have succeeded in demoralizing the folks back home. Think about it, with a modern liberal media putting its spin on the meatgrinder of the Italian peninsular campaign which resulted in tens of thousands of dead Americans, and then the bloodbath of the Normandy invasion where over six thousand American soldiers died in two days of fighting, the subsequent fiasco of Market Garden where another eight thousand allied forces died (nearly five thousand were American) and then the bad intelligence (or lack thereof) which led to the Ardennes slaughter of American soldiers in what is now known as the Battle of the Bulge, the American people would be screaming for the impeachment of FDR and the head of Eisenhower. Couldn't you just see the Republican opposition party piously pontificating in front of radio microphones: "That's it, we can't get to Berlin by Christmas, redeploy the troops back to Great Britain because we "lost" the war! No more dead American soldiers!"

And this doesn't even taken into account the slaughter of the flower of American youth at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and any number of islands Americans never heard of before.

If we cut and run now, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, future generations of Americans who still must defeat the Islamofascist menace will curse our gutless generation for kicking the can down the road. Like the Marines say: America is not at war, the Marine Corps is at war. America is at the shopping malls.


tim maguire:

In addition to the above, I object to the way four answers are divided into two categories. It seems likely to me that "sort of bad" is much closer to "sort of good" than it is to "bad". The other way as well--"sort of good" is much closer to "sort of bad" than to "good".

I think a better reading of these polls is that a large majority of Americans think the war is going "so-so".

For the poll that 55% said we won't reach our objective, I'd be interested in knowing how many thought we CAN'T reach our objective and how many thought we simply wouldn't follow through to our objective.


Dan Miller:

How much of the difference has to do with "losing vs. is lost", and how much has to do with the absence or presence of the word "winning"? It seems to me that people might be more willing to say "no, we're not losing" than "the U.S. is winning".



Only folks who want us to lose come up with bull**** polls like this.


Gary Kilbride:

Nice apologetic flails in the above comments. WW II was definable opponents and objectives. We weren't going to turn away due to death numbers among our troops or anything else.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? LOL. When have we been within reach of victory, whatever that is? It's like the trainer of the last place horse in the Kentucky Derby thinking he could have won, if they just canceled that final mile.

And where could someone get the idea a large majority of Americans think the war is going so-so? Look at those PEW and CBS polls. You add the number of "not too well" and "not well at all" in PEW and it's 59%. Similar with CBS, tallying the "somewhat badly" and "very badly" equals 66%.

It's natural that a stark and final word like "lost" doesn't earn a majority.



What we really have in this poll is an answer to the question: How is the media reporting the war?

Yup, blame the media. The same media that sat back like lapdogs while lying scum warmongers like you pushed us into a war with lies on WMDs. And when they finally began to report that maybe things in Iraq weren't all rosy, and now even the President has acknowledged it, well you still blame the media.

Yes, morale in the US is bad on the war. It would be a wonder if it wasn't, since we've been told nonstop since it started that it was going badly.

Well, gosh we were told by your beloved Great Leader that the war was over 4 years back. We were told that there would be probabyl 10-20K US troops in Iraq by now. That the war would cost less than $70 B. That there were tons of WMDs in Iraq. who was lying ?

The best thing the chickenhawks can do now is to go to Iraq and put their withered lying carcasses in the way of a bullet that might strike a brave American soldiers. Go to it scumbags, since you're so convinced the war is going fine, and since you are responsible for this cluster**** in the first place.



"WW II was definable opponents and objectives. We weren't going to turn away due to death numbers among our troops or anything else."
See TallDave post.

We still haven't turned away.
Sixty years later there are 70000 active duty in Germany, with more US bases in Germany than all New England.

What's the over/under on when we 'win'and get out of the Balkans?


"WW II was definable opponents and objectives."

Was it, indeed? What percentage of Germans were members of the Nazi party? What you mean, of course, is that back in those days, we had no compunction in defining everyone in the country as the enemy and bombing them to smithereens.



Jon: Re "chickenhawk". F___ off.



Sixty years later there are 70000 active duty in Germany, with more US bases in Germany than all New England.

How many American soldiers died in hostile action in Germany since WW-II ? Nice round numbers, please



Jon: Re "chickenhawk". F___ off.

Aha, touched a nerve, didn't I. Go back to warbloggign in your mother's basement, sweetie.



What you mean, of course, is that back in those days, we had no compunction in defining everyone in the country as the enemy and bombing them to smithereens

No, we had a well defined enemy that had declared war on us and had previously conquered msot of West Europe (except England), much of East Europe (at least until mid 1944). A well defined objective. Not a meaningless battle in a civil war only to satisfy the egoes of the chickenhawks desperately trying to cover up the biggest straetegic blunder in US history by lying and blaming the media


Barry Johnson:

Do you see the venom in the above posts?

Twenty years from now, either there will be a democracy in the Middle East like George Bush wants, or there will be a chaotic, despotic regime run by thugs with financial and operational ties to terrorists.

Which outcome do you think the United States should strive toward?



well, we know which outcome Jon The Cowardly Chicken would want, don't we? said it before, i'll say it again- i'd rather be a chickenhawk than a chicken.


not jon:

jon expands his miniscule thought process to the expansive exposition 'bush lied'. Must have hurt.

He looks forward to serving our coming lords and masters, the jihadists in any capacity they can think of.



The biggest failure of this war was that of conservatives and Republicans for wanting it in the first place.

This was a war crafted to control oil and supported by an adolescent need for revenge after 9/11. Any grown-up knows that you will not win many hearts and minds by destroying hundreds of billions of dollars of public infrastructure and miliary occupation.

Furthermore, we're not rebuilding New Orleans. Did anyone other than the truly naive think we would rebuild Iraq for the average Iraqi? It's been terribly sad to watch this fiasco unfold as it was easily predicted (at least if you watch something other than Fox News).

It no surprise the reactionary policies of the right, whose real purpose is simply to help them 'feel' more powerful, have failed America and it's service members.


JM hanes:


You can wait around for enemies who define themselves to your satisfaction till kingdom come, just don't get in the way of the guys who are fighting the enemies we've got. If you're still looking for current & future threats to come neatly wrapped in national packages, you've missed more than just the whole point of the original reference to WWII here. You've apparently whiffed the transnational character both of terrorist networks and of what you laughably dismiss as a "meaningless battle in a civil war."

In my experience, guys who run around shouting chickenhawk at strangers usually don't know enough to formulate useful analogies. No surprises here.


Barry Johnson:

The biggest failure in this war is those who root for America's defeat because it would look bad for George Bush.

John McCain said it: There are two outcomes to war - victory or defeat.

Which do you want?



Re: Polling for Factual Answers

What the American public thinks might not necessarily reflect the facts on the ground in Iraq, but it will definitly affect the future of Iraq. If America assumes the war is lost, it will pull its troops out, and then THAT will be the facts on the ground. This is, after all, a nation ruled by the general opinion of the people.

Re: The occupation of Germany

I think the anti-war crowd underestimates the allied losses in WWII. Iraq is a cake-walk. Perhaps we have lost (a few) more soldier during out occupation of Iraq, as compared to our occupation of Germany, but we UTTERLY DEVASTATED Germany. Do you advocate total war in future conflicts?

Furthermore, I think a more accurate assessment of the bleak American mood isn't the number of soldiers we've lost: soldiers die. They sign up knowing that. And by any measure, we've done a damn good job protecting our boys.

The real difference between the german occupation and the iraqi occupation is CIVILIAN deaths. It's the terrorist attacks, whomever they target, that we need to stop. If we had an endless string of battles and engagements that America continuously won, I think the public would forgive soldierly losses. But watching car bomb after car bomb devestate children and women is taxing on our minds.

Believe me, I know, leaving won't stop that. It'll make it worse. But it's hard to tell a patient that there's nothing you can do except continue treatment, you know? Eventually, he'll want to take more extreme measures to make the pain stop.

Finally, this isn't World War II. You gotta stop comparing it to that. America's culture, ability to wage war, and the way the world works, has completely changed. This is effectively new.



Jon's a chickenhawk as well. If he's so against this war, he should throw his kaffijah on and get in the way of a bullet meant for a jihadist. So there. :P



What we should have learned from the Viet Nam war is that:
1. Never fight a war with a proxy nation -


Kevin Murphy:

And how do you account for those people who WANT the US to lose? For them the war "going well" is for the rest of us "going badly."


Orbit Rain:

Polls tell you how many people are wrong, and there are a ton of malinformed folks fed bull**** by the MSM.



The fact that jon is, by any objective measure, a traitor, and a hypocrite for criticizing the same petroleum-fueled economy in which he presumably participates (unless he's posting from a Unabomber shack in Idaho) does not make his observations about the polling less accurate, or the polls themselves any less important.

This war/occupation has been going on quite awhile, and though I respect Bush and Rumsfeld a great deal for their courage and integrity in prosecuting it, I fear they may have left Petraeus too little time to accomplish his mission.

And while the commanders on the ground have an extremely difficult mission, they also have a duty to clearly communicate up the chain if they lack the resources or operational flexibility (e.g. hot pursuit into Tehran or Damascus if useful) to accomplish the mission. If the only way to win this thing is to reduce Iran through carpet bombing and artillery, or perhaps kill every male supporting the current regime and leave the survivors to assemble a new government, those options should be openly discussed and explicitly rejected. I realize we don't have the stomach for either of them at this time, but they'll look humane compared to what the US will actually do after we suffer a nuclear attack on a major city.



Yeah, Jon, you touched a nerve. You unwittingly, because you clearly have the brains of a three year old, advocate a fascist dictatorship in which decisions of war are made soley by the military. I have a right as an American citizen to voice my own opinion regardless of my current military status and, if you try to take that away from me, I will fight you to the death.

Our soldiers are volunteers. If they don't want to support their country, nobody is forcing them to. So stuff it, jerk.



And, you figure the Germans were all good little Nazis who wholeheartedly supported Hitler and deserved to die to the last woman and child? The firebombing of Dresden must warm your heart. Just think of all those awful Nazis sinking into the molten aspault, their skin peeling off in sheets, as they ran from their homes in terror. Probably a nice bedtime story for the kids, eh?

And, so we see just exactly how morally superior Jon is and how much of a damn he gives for the innocents of war.


ken in sc:

To ripstop--New Orleans should rebuild itself just like Charleston did in 1888, after a hurricane and the east coast's worst recorded earthquake. Charleston not only received no federal funds, it received no state funds. The recovery was completed with private donations. See the book City of Heroes.



Wow! The extent to which you war supporters to go to keep your fantasies alive is amazing. These analogies to WWII are completely off base. We are, supposedly, not so much trying to defeat an enemy as trying to provide space for the Iraqi government and military forces to develop strength. How's that going? The Iraqi government wants to take a two-month recess this summer. Doesn't exactly sound like they are struggling to make things work.

Do you really think the evil MSM is making up the deaths of American soldiers and the carnage in Iraq? Tell that to the families of the people who died--either here or in Iraq. Yes, we toppled an evil dictator, but we have screwed up everything since then. I don't think many other Iraqis think daily life is better for them now.

Nearly 10% of the population--particularly the previously secular educated professionals--has left the country. The Iraqi government is denying diplomas to recent graduates of medical and dental school so that they cannot find work in the fields for which they have trained in other countries.

It's foolish to think that large segments of your fellow citizens want the U.S. effort to fail in Iraq or that they don't understand the potential consequences of doing so. What they do understand is that there is little if any evidence that success--however defined--is possible.

Do you really think there is any relationship between how the neocons and the Bush administration imagined what would happen after the invasion and what has actually happened? All you have to do to realize how wrong their predictions were is look at the videotapes of Wolfowitz telling Congress that Shinseki's estimates of the number of soldiers needed were wildly wrong and that the reconstruction of Iraq could be paid for with Iraqi oil revenue. Then there's Rumsfeld saying to U.S. troops in February, 2003, "It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." And let's not forget We'll-be-welcomed-as-liberators Cheney, who, on 5/13/05, told us that the insurgency was in its last throes.


paul :

Would love to see a qualifier with these poll questions:

Can you name 3 cities in Iraq? Can you name 3 Iraqi leaders? Can you name the three factions in Iraq? Can you distinguish Sunni Islam from Shia?

When 35% of democrats who voted for Kerry, believe that 9/11 was a govt conspiracy, how important are opinion polls?



The 41% who believes the war is lost, is eeriliy consistent with the 41% who would support Obama or HRC, against a named Republican. This 40ish number of oppostion/dismay would be generated for any Bush policy.

The polarization of the left, mirroring the polarization of the right during Clinton's impeachment consitently weights the sample.

The current dem/gop balance probably is 40/35, leaving 25% non-affiliated. These non-loyalist, seem to have an unusual sway in elections, deciding who will get 50% in election, or polls.

On large issues, of whether the war is won or lost, I find their opinions, when you sperate the partisans, to be uncanny in their accuracy.

One more question worth asking:
"Do you know enough about the conflict to pass judgment?" My best guess as to the results:
dems90%, yes.
gop 75%, yes.
independents, 40%, yes.



THS - the problem with guys like you is that you think in terms of absolutes and never of the alternatives. The alternative to our being involved in Iraq is civil war and carnage on a massive scale, and an eventual repeat of 9-11 or worse as the terrorists gain power and recruits. The alternative to the war in the first place was sanctions which had no effect on Saddam's hold on power and were credited by the UN, among others, with having been directly responsible for the deaths of millions of Iraqis. Bin Laden cited the sanctions as his main reason for declaring jihad against the US.

Your alternative of cutting and running now is worse than the current plan of stabilizing Iraq. In fact, you and yours have no plan at all, just a lot of unconstructive bitching and moaning and Monday morning quarterbacking.



Reid is correct.

Regardless of the reasons we entered, the reasons for remaining are too important.

I'll state as a independent credential, that I voted for Nader in 96.

Democrats have demonstrated an inability to manage the war, as they incapable of explaining the consequences if we fail. Aside from Juan Cole, every respected critic of the war seems to be stating that leaving early will result in a catastrophe.

One of the lessons from history keeps bringing me to Nixon. I'm sure when he resigned, in disgrace, the dems believed that there would never be another gop president for the rest of the century.

It only took one term of Carter to prove them wrong. A Carter who projected 'weakness'. It will be very difficult to spin a civil war in Iraq and the rise of AQ in the ME as a sign of achievement.

If you want the next 50 years of american elections framed around fearing terrorists, waiting for the next attack, watching Americans being killed abroad, then by all means we should leave Iraq immediately.

Defeat/withdrawal, followed by a new 'cold-war' against terrorism is not going to help civil liberties, or our relations with the ME. Your wishes will only feed the fire.



A modest prediction?

HRC will win the dem nomination.
She will lose in a general election, barring a third party candidate, ala Perot.

Conservative wins in 08.

Dems blame her failure on her unwillingenss to embrace the anti-war left position.

This has already played out once, in CT with Lamont. Lieberman embraced continuuing the fight in a state with tremendous negatives for the positon. He won handily, being interpeted as the lesser of two evils, in a heavily democratic state. The nation is nowhere near as blue as CT.

Hobson's choice, revisited.


Nathanael Nerode:

"If we cut and run now, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,"

What victory? Bush can't even explain what would constitute victory. At least when the US occupied Berlin and got a surrender from Tokyo, we knew that we had victory in WWII.

We've overthrown the government in Iraq. Victory! Now what are we doing? We're engaging in an occupation which is causing the locals to fight against us. Every day we stay we create more anti-Americanism. All expert opinion states that the US presence is currently *destablizing* Iraq, not stabilizing it. Heck, the Iraqi Parliament the US set up just called for the US to leave.

If the US gets out, the local Shiite gangs will massacre Sunni al-Qaeda. As long as the US stays in Iraq, they intermittently tolerate each other because they're all fighting against the US.

Meanwhile, bin Laden and his lieutenants roam free in Afghanistan or rural Pakistan, and the Taliban is taking over Afghanistan again.

There is no such thing as "leaving early" in Iraq. *Whenever the US leaves, the same result will happen*. It is better for it to happen now, rather than waiting for it to happen later, while slaughtering American soldiers and ginning up anti-American sentiment for several more years. It's about cutting our losses. And for that matter, about catching the real 9/11 masterminds, which we can't do while the Army is tied up in Iraq.

When the Norwegian campaign failed in WWII, did the Allies decide to keep dumping soldiers into the Norwegian campaign? No. They came up with new campaigns.

In the "War on Terrorism", the Iraq campaign has clearly been a complete failure. Let's try a different campaign. Maybe actually trying to catch bin Laden, instead of saying "I don't really care about bin Laden" (quote from Bush) would be a start?


Nobody Important:

A majority of Iraqis support attacks on coalition troops...that's the only statistic that matters, in the end. (And a majority of Americans believe that Bush misled the country into war, incidentally.)

This war is losing popularity by the day, in both countries (not that it was ever "popular" in Iraq), and no amount of rightwing spin will change that. As with Vietnam, with the cons having lost the war, they'll try to blame the Democrats, the media...


David Drake:

Nobody Important:

Mind disclosing the poll and the results? The last polls I've contradict your statement. For example a World Public Opinion survey released today shows that 47% support such attacks, with the results skewed by 88% support among Sunnis. So, if that's the "only statistic that matters," we should remain in Iraq, yes?


David Drake:

Too bad the pollsters don't ask the obvious follow up question? "On what information are you basing your conclusion?" I guess you couldn't ask something more to the point, like: "What military experience have you had that leads to your conclusion?"


George W:

The girl who can't dance says the band can't play.

I think it's hilarious that all these clown warhawks blame "the media" or "polls" for the failures in Iraq. Maybe more people would think we were winning if, like...we were winning. If, like, the country (Iraq, that is) wasn't going straight to hell month in, month out.

Wasn't Iraq supposed to be a cakewalk? Wasn't Mission Accomplished 3 years ago? I seem to remember hearing a lot of crap like that, but then again it may have been "MSM" lies. Or maybe the chickenhawks have been dead wrong all along.


Johnathan Miller:

Here's a stat:

84% of Republicans are child molestors.

I'm probably lowballing it


Hardheaded Liberal:

Mystery Pollster,

Do you think some one could vet the comments posted here? At least to require a hyperlink or a citation to any data that commentators claim supports their position, or any data that commentators claim show their opponents are babbling idiots?

The warhawks posting comments here appear to be in solidarity with the Bush administration on the principle of minimizing exposure to Reality (see below), as well as on the principle of continuing to send U.S. troops to Iraq. The warhawks appear not to care that no factual data or historical knowledge about Iraq can be cited to support the curious notion that U.S. military action can help to stabilize the internecine strife in Iraq.

Not only do the warhawks ignore the reality of the military situation in Iraq, they are completely clueless about the ways that the political situation in Iraq has already evolved to make U.S. military power irrelevant to constructive political institution-building. The Shia domination that U.S. intervention has established in Iraq guarantees that Iran, not Iraq, will be the most influential foreign power in Iraqi affairs for the next generation. Unlike David Petraeus, a smart general who has told everyone who listens that there is no military solution in Iraq, these warhawks have the same mind-set as Bush and Cheney -- all of them think that if you throw enough military fire-power at an enemy, you will "defeat" that enemy and the enemy will be unable to defeat you! Nations are neither conquered nor governed that way.

Bush and Cheney decided to depose Saddam at a time that Bush (at least) did not even know that Saddam came from the minority Sunni who had governed Iraq for decades, often by brutally suppressing opposition from the majority Shia. With the exception of a few professors who mortgaged their integrity to support Chalabi or other exile groups, EVERY area expert on Iraq predicted a very high risk of civil war between Shia and Sunni after Saddam was deposed, with Shia determined to settle old scores with the Sunni. The risk of civil war was expected to increase if the government was selected by mass voting majorities, since neither the Sunni nor the Kurds could compete numerically with the Shia.

Paul Bremer, upon arrival in Iraq, promptly and single-handedly made it almost impossible to avoid a civil war in Iraq. He did this (1) by disbanding the existing security forces and (2) by the harsh de-Ba'athification decree he issued. Those two steps, reportedly pressed upon Bremer by Shia leaders, destroyed the only institutional protections that the Sunni retained after Saddam was deposed.

Why do I review events of four years ago? Because the actions taken then to install the Shia as the dominant political force made it virtually impossible for the U.S. to achieve any further political goals in Iraq. Bush was actually right in May 2003 when he declared "Mission Accomplished." He did not realize, however, that the only mission the U.S. could possibly accomplish was deposing Saddam. And at that point, long-term occupation by U.S. forces was destined to be futile and bloody. Even unlimited military power could not have enabled the U.S. to achieve any other outcome.

Bush II did not understand that even a client regime (a fair description of every government in Iraq since Saddam was deposed) cannot be ordered about and controlled the way that Tom Delay was intimidating Congress at the time. Bush II and Cheney have seen their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan founder completely on that and related mistakes.

The national constitution that was adopted by the Iraqis drove the last nail into the coffin of the Bush policy in Iraq. The constitution provided the central government with NO TAXING POWER. Oil revenues are the only source of funds to operate the central government. That is a little better -- but not by much -- than the national Congress under the Articles of Confederation (neither taxing power nor revenues from any other source than levies on the States).

At this point, the Shia government is like Br'er Rabbit and the threat of withdrawing U.S. troops is like Br'er Fox's threat of throwing Br'er Rabbit in the briar patch! A large majority of Shia and their political representatives want the U.S. to leave (see below) so that the Shia can go about the business of mopping up the Sunni opposition and consolidating Shia political power.

Continuing the U.S. occupation now, as the warhawks, John McCain and the other Republican presidential candidates advocate, is not really about "winning" or "losing" anything. It is simply about George Bush trying to accomplish a task that has become completely impossible -- trying to enable Bush to save face as the U.S. leaves Iraq. Since saving face is truly impossible, Bush II is dangerously close to being forced to acknowledge to everyone (including his father -- how utterly humiliating!) that he has totally ruined the U.S. position in Iraq AND that he has seriously impaired the U.S. position in the Middle East for a decade or two. I agree with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the primary function of the "surge(s)" is to delay for as long as possible Bush II's day of reckoning .

David Drake and other warhawks make non-checkable references to this or that document in support of their critiques of the sensible comments posted here. So I checked the World Public Opinion website that he was apparently referring to. The only report on that website that I could find that addressed public opinion of Iraqis about violent attacks on Americans can be found at the link reproduced after this paragraph. The report was issued in November 2006, not this month. Drake not only misunderstood when the report was prepared, he either never understood correctly, or he did not remember correctly when he posted, the data that were presented in that report. "Nobody Important" correctly remembered the report, which said that as of September 2006, 60+% of Shia polled, and 90+% of Sunni polled, supported violent attacks on U.S. troops. With Iraqi friends like these, we need enemies?


Following I quote the section reporting the results of the two polls taken by World Public Opinion in Iraq in 2006, as to support for violent attacks on U.S. troops:

"At the same time, the number of Shias who approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces has jumped 24 points. In January, about a third of Shias (36%) polled in Baghdad expressed approval of such assaults. By September, the proportion of Shias in Baghdad saying they approved of striking American-led forces had risen to 60 percent. In the rest of the country, Shia support for attacking foreign troops rose 20 points, from 43 percent to 63 percent.

"Most Shias in Baghdad (83%) think that the United States plans to keep troops in Iraq permanently, which suggests that they see insurgents as battling a long-term occupation and may explain why they approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces even though they do not support an immediate withdrawal. This view is somewhat less common among Shias outside of Baghdad (69%).

"Telhami called the increase in support for attacks on U.S.-led forces disturbing, adding that he has found similar trends in polls he has conducted in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

�'What�s most troubling is that the United States is not only seen in a negative light but as an enemy,' Telhami said. 'When asked to name the two countries that pose the greatest threat, the vast majority, about 80 percent, name the United States and Israel.'�

Sunnis in Baghdad

"The samples of Sunnis polled in Baghdad, where they make up about a quarter of the population, were small (75 in September, 85 in January), so the following findings should be taken with caution. However, some changes are robust enough to merit discussion.

"At the beginning of 2006, Sunnis in Baghdad were somewhat less pessimistic about the consequences of Saddam Hussein�s overthrow�and less in favor of attacks on U.S. soldiers�than Sunnis in the rest of the country, probably a reflection of the fact that most of the fighting between Sunni insurgents and U.S. troops had taken place in the so-called �Sunni triangle,� located northwest of the capital.

"In recent months, however, as ethnic violence has increased in Iraq�s capital, the Sunni population there seems to have become considerably more hostile to the United States.

"While a third of Sunnis in Baghdad (34%) said in January that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it (compared to 8% of Sunnis elsewhere), none said so in September (compared to 13% elsewhere). More ominously, 100 percent of Sunnis in Baghdad said in September that they approved of attacks on U.S.-led forces, up 44 points since January (57%). In the rest of the country, nine out of ten Sunnis (91%) said they favored such attacks."

So, Mystery Pollster --

Can you keep people from posting statements purporting to be facts that are not accurately sourced to a document that purports to confirm those facts?

You have an excellent blog with top-notch technical reporting and commentary. It's a crying shame to see the page stained by so many scurrilous posts that reflect complete ignorance of the real world.








Hardhearted Liberal: you are wrong. Read the liberal Brookings Institute's Iraq Survey. Public opinion is always volatile in a wartime situation. As the security situation improves, I expect you will see the numbers improve. That's why it takes a solid leader like Lincoln, FDR, or Bush to see these things through. Good things sometimes take time.



HL: Never mind the first link - it is old. And, Brookings cites the same figures as your link, which say that support for attacks on US troops has increased. Again, though, this is because of the precipitous decline in the security situation in 2006 which we are currently trying to put a lid on. The people in Iraq blame us for allowing security to decline. If things improve with the surge strategy, as they appear to be doing, you will see those numbers go back down. There are many good things going on in Iraq right now, as the survey shows.

But, again, this gets back to my earlier points, first about perserverance a la Lincoln, and about alternatives, because the alternative calling for a pull out will lead to far worse of a situation in the future. If you believe that the situation in Iraq is beyond our will to fix, I have some concern that you might be right, and we will get what we deserve for our collective cowardice. But, if you claim such an outcome is beyond our capability, then you have no inkling of what the US is capable of.


Hardheaded Liberal:

Reid: You are obviously sincere and I admire your faith in the capability of the American military. But as an unprecedented number of former general officers have stated publicly, our troops cannot keep warring factions in a civil war from killing each other. The U.S. does not have enough troops available anywhere to stop the factional killing in Iraq.

Thanks for correcting your first post about the documents you initially linked to. Please keep reading documents and factual accounts. Fair-minded people who look to the facts to inform policy decisions disagree much less frequently than people who make policy decisions by reference to their preconceptions, in spite of what the facts are. Sen. John McCain, for example, seems to have joined the camp of "policy by preconception"; that is sad.

Your comments don't address my recitation of the political history of Iraq since the U.S. invasion four years ago. If you want to understand the facts that have produced the current sad situation in Iraq, don't rely on the history of U.S. military leadership in the Civil War and WWII.

Instead, read what you can about the history of Iraq, the bloody Sunni-Shi'a split thirteen centuries ago, the British attempts to pacify Iraq in the 1920s, accounts of how both the British and later Saddam relied on local clan leaders (Saddam used both Sunni and Shi'a) to maintain order, the Iranian role in creating and maintaining the Shi'ite-based political parties in Iraq, and U.S. efforts over the last four years to persuade the Shi'ite leaders (installed by U.S. policy that included destroying the major institutions that protected the Sunnis) to give the Sunnis a share of political power that will be enough to protect the Sunni from Shi'ites (e.g., the Mahdi army, al-Sadr's militias) who want to kill Sunnis to settle old grievances.

I don't know whether you would come to agree with my view or not if you studied the facts of Iraqi history before the invasion and the facts of Shi'ite political domination since the invasion. But I think you would understand why so many retiring generals are stating publicly that the U.S. troops should leave Iraq ASAP.

In any event, you made a good start on joining the Reality Based Community when you actually read the documents you lined to. Keep it up!



Until the Iraqis find a way to form an equitable government and a way of sharing of national wealth all bets are off.

What we have now is not about whether the U.S. is winning or losing, it is about whether the Iraqis can govern themselves. Iraq is in the middle of a civil war made possible by George W. Bush's ignorance of Middle Eastern history.



HL - I am quite familiar with these topics. But, you are making what some would term a racist argument. People have to be judged on their own merits, not on the actions of their ancestors. Isn't this supposed to be one of the core beliefs of good liberals?

These are different people. These are different times. Revolution is possible. But, it takes the will to see it through.

In any large group, you can always find people who agree with your point of view, whatever it may be. Very few, relatively speaking, military people have come forward to denounce the war and even fewer have disagreed with the war itself, but have focused largely on how it has been executed.

IMHO, you have a lot of preconceived notions of people far away of whom you have read reports which agree with your preconceptions and you appear therefore to imagine yourself an expert. Just remember, these are people we are talking about here. The majority have no wish to fight and just want the same things you and I do - the opportunity to live their lives in peace, to protect their families, and to have meaningful lives. Don't go pulling out the rug from under them by prejudicially lumping them in with the thugs in their midst.


Hardheaded Liberal:

Reid: I apologize. I thought that you were ready to read and understand what other people think. I'm no expert -- no expert on Iraq would be spending time in this comment thread -- and I didn't intend to imply expertise on Iraq, only fairly wide reading on the subject. You need to pay attention to what people are saying, not what the Rove propaganda machine has conditioned the low-information public to expect to be said by those of us in favor of supporting the troops by bringing them home.

My principal point about the facts was that U.S. policy was doomed from the moment that Paul Bremer agreed to empower the Shi'a politicians by stripping the Sunni leadership of any rights to participate in government (de-Ba'athification) and by abolishing the security institutions (including local police) who could have helped to maintain order and who could have provided some security for the Sunni population against Shi'ites who wanted to settle scores. Do you have a different understanding of what happened? If so, what facts is your understanding based on?

People do have differing opinions, but to paraphrase George Orwell, "some opinions are more equal than others." (Animal Farm.) Just because Paul Wolfowitz had the opinion that General Shinseki's estimate of 200,000+ troops to pacify Iraq was "far off the mark" did not mean that Wolfowitz's opinion had any valid factual basis. In fact, Wolfowitz's opinion was total horse manure. It's been 40+ years since I accepted any opinion from a politician or an "expert" that was not supported by well documented facts -- facts provided by multiple independent sources.

If you want to understand why it is so hard for U.S. troops to stop the factional violence in Iraq, why generals who have served in Iraq are retiring early for the specific purpose of denouncing the war, why Bush could not find a "war czar" to oversee the fighting in Iraq & Afghanistan, learn the facts about the political process and government institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last four years. Don't rely on what Bush and Cheney and Rice have SAID about what has happened -- and particularly don't rely on the spin that anyone in the administration has put on the significance of the facts.

Find out what has in fact happened. Find out why Iraq has had elections but has not been able to create any effective government institutions. Find out if it is true that electrical service in Baghdad was more available before so many power plants were bombed during the 2003 invasion than the electrical service is available today. Read the entire analysis in the Brookings Institution report that you linked to, to find out what the Iraqi public really thinks, not what Republicans or Democrats say the Iraqi public thinks.

You may come to conclusions different from mine. I don't really care. But I really would like for you to try out a different way of learning about what is going on in the world. Somebody is always lying to us, whether it is the people we think are doing the right thing or their opponents. But if you study the facts on the ground (not historical analogies to Hitler that are spouted by politicians who have never studied history), and how those facts came about, you will be able to judge for yourself who is lying or blowing smoke, and what they are lying about.

Try it. I suspect you will feel better about the world and about your role in it if you study the facts for yourself and come to your own conclusions. Be skeptical of any government claims that are not corroborated by facts reported by independent sources.

Also, I hope if you start looking at facts, you will stop jumping to stupid conclusions, like your idea that I have opinions about politics in Iraq that are "racist." That irresponsible defamatory statement really pissed me off. My explanation for the mess in Iraq has nothing to do with Arab or Muslim abilities to create democratic institutions. As stated both above and in my original comment, my view is that U.S. policy immediately after the invasion shifted political power decisively to the Shi'ite political parties, and -- like most electoral majority blocs -- the Shi-ite parties are not about to give the Sunni parties a chance any time soon to regain a real role in Iraqi politics and government. Heck, the Shi'ite parties are just behaving the same way that Republican politicians behaved from the time Bush took office in 2001 until the 2006 elections gave the Democrats control of Congress.



HL: It is the liberal curse. Liberals are very analytical, but they focus only on those analyses that support their preconceived notions. They lay out line after line of factoids and partial truths and expect that sentient beings will follow their irresistable logic and arrive at the same conclusions as they do. It necessarily follows that those who disagree either have not studied the issue or are intellectually deficient. But, it is a tack that inevitably leads to missing the forest for the trees.

No more backhanded compliments and condescending suggestions of further study, please. I am aware of all the information which you have processed, but I am also cognizant of all the things you have left out. There is a lot of good happening in Iraq right now, and we are finally treating the region as we should have for many years instead of trying to play off one strong man against the other. This is an appproach which was guaranteed to create more and greater problems down the road as we nursed the dysfunction into full maturity.

I have not been lied to, though I have been spun. By both sides. If you think one side is lying to you but the other side is incapable of misleading or omitting key information, then you are half blind. I sift the information based on my core values of humanity and understanding of human nature. The Middle East must be brought into the 21st century or we will never rid ourselves of this scourge. Get your head out of the conspiranoid press and stop reinforcing this pompous know-it-all-ism that you have sheathed yourself in as a suit of armor against reality and develop some compassion and humility.


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