Thursday, December 23, 2004

# Posted 5:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I MAY BE IGNORANT about a lot of things, but I'm not as dumb as this post by Kevin Drum (unintentionally?) makes me out to be. Yesterday, I felt compelled to "admit I'm somewhat puzzled" about new poll numbers that show a decisive majority now believing that going into Iraq was a mistake. Kevin responds that
I really don't think you have to look very far for the explanation. Take a look at the chart below, which shows the number of people who think the Iraq war was "worth fighting" ever since the end of major combat operations last May. There are the usual spikes here and there, but basically it's a pretty straight line. The longer the war goes on inconclusively, the less support it has.

This shouldn't be much of a surprise either. The eggheads in the blogosphere might have dozens of explanations for why they think the war was a good idea, but the average joe supported it because he wanted to kick someone's ass after 9/11, and Saddam's ass seemed like a pretty good one to kick. So now that Saddam is gone, why are we still there and why are those ungrateful Iraqis still giving us trouble?
Actually, Kevin's chart doesn't show a straight line, or at least not the kind of straight, downward-sloping line that Kevin is referring to. Obviously, there was a pretty significant decline from April '03 through November '03. Then Saddam's capture threw off the data for a while, so were not sure what was happening in December and January.

But from February through October of 2004, there was no decline. If Americans naturally get tired of inconclusive wars, then why was opinion far more stable during the much bloodier months of 2004 rather than the relatively peaceful months of summer and early fall in 2003?

Finally, the mostly flat line that connects February to October gives way to a sharp spike in November and December of 2004. (It's unclear from Kevin's chart whether this spike represents multiple opinion polls from that period, or just the one WaPo poll to which I referred.) As I asked yesterday, what happened after the election to change people's minds?

Although Josh Marshall endorses 99% of what Kevin says (and subtly suggests that OxBlog is a little thick) he does recognize that something significant happened in November and December. Marshall writes that
Many Bush supporters simply couldn't take stock of the full measure of the screw-up in Iraq during the election because doing so would have conflicted their support for President Bush. Iraq and the war on terror so defined this election that support for the war and the president who led us into it simply couldn't be pried apart.

Perhaps it wasn't so internalized. During the slugfest of the campaign supporting Bush just meant supporting the war and this is what people told pollsters when they were asked, because one question was almost a proxy for the other...[Yes, Josh is actually saying that Bush voters systematically lied to the pollsters.] [Josh says this was a total misinterpretation of his post. --ed.]

In any case, I think what has happened is that the end of the campaign season has departisanized the war -- at least to a measurable extent -- and folks who were emotionally and intellectually committed to reelecting the president (just as there were people on the other side with similar commitments) are now freer to see the situation in Iraq a bit more on its own terms.
Josh's explanation is not implausible, although its quite long on speculation and short on evidence. One piece of data that neither Josh nor Kevin sees fit to address is why support for finishing the job in Iraq is exactly as strong today as it was seven months ago. The margin on this point (58-39) is even somewhat larger than the margin of those who now say the war was a mistake (42-56).

If it is so natural for American to be unhappy with inconclusive and bloody wars, then why isn't there more support for a withdrawal? Are Americans just stubborn? Or afraid to admit defeat even in a war they don't support? (I don't think so, but I'm guessing that Kevin and Josh might accept that sort of explanation.)

I understand why a lot Americans are unhappy about the war in Iraq. I'm unhappy about it, too, although I still think we have to give it or best shot. The question is, can Kevin understand why "average joes" (and janes) who just wanted to "kick someone's ass" still want to finish the job in Iraq?

Actually, I'll give Kevin an easy way out on this one. Lots of liberals think the war was a mistake but that pulling out now would be even worse since Iraq would become another pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Maybe the average American is smart enough to recognize that as well.

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