- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bad news hit Abu Musab al Zarqawi yesterday. Most Americans, it seems, want to keep U.S. forces in Iraq until civil order is restored, which 62 percent believe won’t happen for several years. A significant majority even want to increase the size of the U.S. presence or keep it about the same. With the Iraq war in its third year — and with America having been in a state of war since October 2001 — this new Washington Post-ABC poll is an encouraging indication about the patience and resolve of the American people.

The past few weeks have seen politicians and pundits cherry picking whichever bad poll seems to serve their political ends. And they can easily do it again with this one. For example, the poll found that most Americans do not believe the Bush administration’s claims that the insurgency is losing. In fact, what a majority of Americans (53 percent) do believe, according to the poll, is that the power of the insurgency is staying about the same (and 22 percent say it’s weaker). Critics may also point to the finding that a bare majority of Americans (51 percent) consider the Iraq war to be a mistake, even though the very same poll found that 52 percent believe it has contributed to the long-term safety of the United States (a 5-point increase since early June). Every single one of these findings can top the headline of a newspaper, only to leave readers with a distorted view of what’s really going on.

Pollster Gerry Daly, who runs the Web site dalythoughts.com, makes an important observation regarding how phrasing a question can yield different results. He compares a recent Gallup poll, which found that a majority of Americans (51 percent) believe the United States should set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq, to the Post-ABC poll, which found that 58 percent of Americans believe we should keep our forces there until civil order is restored. Either can be used to support a particular side of the debate, but what do they actually say about the American people? Mr. Daly thinks the public has yet to form a coherent opinion of the question of troop pullout and that the “political battle is still winnable for either side.” That sounds about right. It’s important to note, however, that the Post-ABC poll included the phrase “even if [keeping U.S. forces in Iraq] means continued U.S. military casualties.” That’s essentially the heart of the matter, and 60 percent of Americans are still committed to victory.

Progress in Iraq will continue to wax and wane, as we rightly mourn each new casualty. But, underneath it all, Americans seem prepared to see the war to a successful conclusion.

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