Monday, February 18, 2008

Large Majority Opposes Immediate Iraq Withdrawal

Americans oppose a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, a new Gallup survey finds.

And while the public continues to back some form of timetable to begin the redeployment of American troops, public opinion is at odds with the war proposals of the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination:
Roughly one year after the United States began increasing the number of troops it has in Iraq, Americans give the "surge" their most positive assessment to date.

Nevertheless, basic attitudes about the war are largely unchanged, including views about setting a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal. The majority of Americans continue to favor a timetable for withdrawal, though relatively few favor a rapid withdrawal, similar to what Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is advocating. Six in 10 express opposition to the war effort more generally.

The Feb. 8-10 USA Today/Gallup poll was conducted just before Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced his probable support for a "pause" in U.S. troop withdrawals this summer after several brigades are removed as planned, which would result in the United States at least temporarily maintaining a troop force larger than pre-surge levels. Gates argues that a pause may be needed to evaluate whether the security gains made in Iraq can be maintained with smaller forces.

According to the poll, 43% of Americans say the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq is making the situation there better, a slight increase from 40% in late November, but up more substantially from 34% in early November. This is the most positive review of the surge Gallup has measured since it began. Thirty-five percent now say the surge is not making much difference, and just 21% say it is making things worse.

Republicans, Democrats, and independents have divergent views of the surge. Seventy-five percent of Republicans say it is making things better in Iraq, compared with 40% of independents and 21% of Democrats. Democrats are most likely to believe the surge is "not making much difference"....

The poll finds a large majority favoring gradual withdrawal, rather than an unconditional draw-down:

Those who favor a timetable are more than twice as likely to favor a schedule of gradual troop withdrawal (67%) as they are to prefer a more immediate removal of troops (32%). All told, 18% of Americans favor removing troops from Iraq as rapidly as possible.

Both Democratic presidential candidates, Obama and Hillary Clinton, favor a timetable, while the GOP's likely nominee, John McCain, strongly opposes one. Obama is advocating a fairly rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, which would have all troops out within 16 months of his taking office. Clinton favors a slower withdrawal, which would be complete by 2013. Thus, no candidate's position really represents the views of most Americans, but the poll suggests that currently McCain's and Clinton's positions are closest to the largest number of Americans. This is not to suggest that Americans would necessarily oppose any of the candidates' Iraq policies should they be elected president.
Antiwar activists (often unhinged in their fervor) repeatedly call the war a failure, demanding a complete and immediate surrender of Iraq to the forces of terrorist mayhem. The Democratic candidates are not far behind.

Such views are not supported by current public opinion trends.