Thursday, February 22, 2007

In addition to being terrible public policy, the idea of abandoning Iraq, as promoted by the likes of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Rep. John Murtha, isn’t overwhelmingly popular with the American public, according to two new public-opinion polls. According to a poll released Feb. 20 by Public Opinion Strategies, by a margin of 53 to 46 percent, Americans agree that “The Democrats are going too far, too fast in pressing the President to withdraw the troops from Iraq.” By 57-41 percent margins, voters agree with both of the following statements: “The Iraq War is a key part of the global war on terrorism,” and “I support finishing the job in Iraq, that is, keeping the troops there until the Iraqi government can maintain control and provide security.”

To be sure, the poll also shows that Americans are pessimistic about the likelihood of victory in Iraq: By a margin of almost 2-1 they doubt that Iraq will become a stable democracy. But they also disagree by a margin of 53 percent to 43 percent with the argument that victory in Iraq (defined as “creating a young but stable democracy and reducing the threat of terrorism at home”) is no longer possible for the United States. The public rejects by a margin of almost 3-1 the statement that “I don’t care what happens in Iraq after the U.S. leaves; I just want the troops brought home.” Fifty-nine percent say pulling our troops out of Iraq would damage America’s reputation as a world power. By 56 percent to 43 percent, Americans agree with the premise that “Even if they have concerns about his war policies, Americans should stand behind the President in Iraq because we are at war.”

The Public Opinion Strategies poll found Americans evenly divided over future U.S. involvement in Iraq. Fifty percent of Americans (almost half of whom question whether the United States should be in Iraq) feel that “our troops should stay there and do whatever it takes to restore order until the Iraqis can govern and provide security to their country”; 49 percent favor the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops or believe in setting “a strict timetable” for their removal. Along the same lines, 66 percent of Americans polled earlier this month by the newspaper Investor’s Business Daily said that a U.S. victory in Iraq is important, and by a 58 percent to 40 percent margin said they were hopeful that the United States will succeed in Iraq.

And, just as the degree of Americans’ skepticism on the war is exaggerated by war critics, so too is the extent of Iraqis’ opposition to the U.S. military presence in their country. Last month, Rep. John Murtha in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cited a study which purported to show that 91 percent of Sunni Iraqis and 74 percent of Shi’ite Iraqis approved of attacks on U.S. forces.

It turns out the survey was actually conducted by a firm called KA Research, which claims it uses face-to-face interviews, Web and postal interviews and focus groups to learn what Iraqis are really thinking — a claim which deserves a large measure of skepticism. “Do strangers really go around freely in Baghdad asking for political opinions?,” asks New York Post columnist Ze’ev Chafets. Did pollsters “ask the folks in Anbar Province to return candid questionnaires via a non-existent postal service, [or] go through the neighborhoods of Najaf requesting a few minutes with the lady of the House?” We have no idea what percentage of Iraqis actually support such attacks, and judging from the legitimate questions raised about the reliability of the survey he cites, we doubt that Mr. Murtha does, either.

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