The Great Summer 2005 Iraq Panic has been built almost entirely on two wisps of public opinion: President Bush's approval ratings, which have declined since his re-election, and the increasing number of people who tell pollsters it was a "mistake" to liberate Iraq. Those who conclude from this that the war effort is doomed forget that public opinion is (1) fickle and (2) more complicated than a few poll questions can capture.Taranto notes that more than half of those that now think the war is a “mistake” never supported it in the first place. Some openly want us to lose. The rest originally supported the war but now have misgivings mainly due to the media’s incessant “drumbeat of defeatism.” He says, “The point is that if they now think, or fear, that the war was a mistake, it is because they are afraid we may lose.”
Andrew McCarthy says here that declining poll numbers are due to a bait and switch in the aims of the war. He says, “we started off right after the 9/11 attacks with a crystal-clear purpose.” We were out to destroy militant Islam jihadists, which most Americans clearly saw then and see now as an immediate threat to our security. The Afghanistan affair was a rousing success.
But then we spent months fruitlessly working through the quagmire of the UN Security Council, a body consisting of unelected officials representing mostly undemocratic governments. During that process we relinquished our main thesis that Saddam had a “rich history of abetting militant Islam” in favor of the argument that he had stockpiles of WMD that violated the treaty that resulted from the Gulf War.
We were no longer out to kill jihadists; we were out to rid the world of a madman with stockpiles of WMD. That shift has led many to the ridiculous claim that Saddam didn’t support militant Islam. While Americans could easily see the link between militant Islam and 9/11 (and threats of similar events), the link between Saddam’s WMD and our immediate national security wasn’t nearly as clear. When we failed to find WMD in the amounts suggested by our intelligence, it exposed how bad our intelligence program was. While that was painfully necessary, it further weakened support for the war.
After the invasion, the Bush Administration made another shift. Suddenly we found ourselves in a war to bring democracy to the Middle East. Since we went into Iraq to topple Saddam, it is implicit that we be required to replace his regime with something else. In the minds of most Americans, that meant something not dangerous to us. It did not necessarily mean building a democracy, which we know from the aftermath of WWII is very long and hard work. But this has become the singular aim of the mission in Iraq. Now, instead of killing jihadists and thugs that are actively trying to kill us, we are trying to make them part of the political process.
It can certainly be argued that in the long run this is the best strategic move and that democracy will now spread throughout the region. But McCarthy says, “The causal connection between the Islamic world being free and Americans being safe is not clear.”
McCarthy’s point is that we went from a clear goal of eliminating jihadists with all due haste, to building democracy in the Middle East however long it takes and however much it costs. The first objective is obviously tied to our immediate security in most people’s minds, while the last is not. Moreover, the first is winnable in most people’s minds, while they aren’t so sure that the last is winnable.
McCarthy argues that most Americans readily bought into the first objective and that most still do. They believe that the war against jihadists is winnable and will achieve the desired outcome of making us safe. But he says that most Americans never bought into the current fuzzy objective of nation building. Falling poll numbers reflect the fact that the war in Iraq is now tied to an objective most people never bought into.
A good leader makes the right decisions, even if they result in hardships and even if the people he/she leads can't envision the outcome. I believe President Bush is right; building democratic societies in the Middle East is actually the best long-term solution to the problem of militant Islam. But right now, most American’s aren’t so sure about that.