Friday, April 25, 2008

The Radical Left's Denialism on Iraq Public Opinion

In a recent poll, Gallup found that the number of Americans who viewed the Iraq war as a mistake had reached the highest level in the history of the organization's surveys on the conflict.

Specifically, Jeffrey Jones indicated:

The most recent USA Today/Gallup poll finds 63% of Americans saying the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, a new high mark by one percentage point.
The Gallup findings are in line with similar responses at the Washington Post's surveys, which since 2004 have found a decreasing number of Americans agreeing with the statement, "do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not?"

This is straightforward and non-controversial. The difficulty comes when analysts and observers try to interpret the meaning of these numbers.

The Bush administration would no doubt like to see more positive general support for the deployment, at least by these particular measures. On the other hand, the administration's had the benefit of trends in polling on that war which reject an immediate pullout of American forces.

Indeed, since 2003 there's never been a majority in public opinion that supported an IMMEDIATE withrawal of all U.S. combat forces from Iraq (see
Polling Report).

There has been past support for TIMETABLES for withdrawal. For example, a year ago a majority of Americans supported an 18-month timetable for the gradual pullout of American forces in Iraq, as measured by
CBS/New York Times and NBC/Wall Street Journal polls, among others.

Note though that support for timetables was high back in 2007, just as the Bush administration had established a new security strategy in Iraq - the counterinsurgency policy of General David Petraeus, which has been more successful than war opponents could have imagined.

In the Gallup survey this week,
Jones noted that while the public's weary of war, there's no demand for an immediate withdrawal:

Even though majority opposition to the Iraq war is basically cemented, other Gallup polling has found that the public does not necessarily advocate a quick end to the war. While a majority now favors a timetable for withdrawing troops, only about one in five Americans think the withdrawal should begin immediately and be completed as soon as possible.
Okay, let's stress this point, in italicized capitals for extra emphasis: JUST "ONE IN FIVE AMERICANS" SUPPORTS AN IMMEDIATE TROOP PULLOUT FROM IRAQ.

I have to stress this because the radical left's war opponents, in their complete loss of reason on the Bush administration and the war, refuse to even acknowledge straightforward statistics like these.

For example, antiwar blogger Repsac3, in a post entitled "
Public Opinion on Iraq," has attacked me as outside of some "reality-based" community because I've argued there are no immediate demands for a precipitous pullout, which is exactly what antiwar activists have been demanding for years.

What evidence does Repsac3 offer for attack?

Well, he cites
a badly misinformed post by Gleen Greenwald, especially this passage:

American public opinion isn't "divided" or "split" on this question. There are no pro-war trends here that signal the Iraq War is about to become a huge asset for the McCain campaign. Nor are any of the other cliches used repeatedly by the establishment press to claim that unconditional withdrawal is a politically unpopular position even remotely true.

To the contrary, Americans overwhelmingly favor unconditional withdrawal and it's not even close. They favor that by a 25-point margin, and it's a 29-point margin among independents. Those are huge margins. Very few public policy questions of any significance produce margins that large.
Okay, that sounds superficially plausible, except if we look at the poll that Greenwald himself cites - Gallup's survey from April 8 of this year - there's no evidence whatsoever to suggest that "Americans overwhelmingly favor unconditional withdrawal" from the conflict.

Jeffrey Jones also provides the summary to
the poll Greenwald cites, and he indicates that Americans are favorable to Democratic demands on establishing timetables, but not to an immediate redeployment:

In general, the public tends to side with the Democrats from the standpoint of favoring a timetable, but relatively few advocate a quick withdrawal. And most seem sympathetic to the Republican argument about the United States needing to establish a certain level of security before leaving Iraq.
What does Jones mean when he suggests "relatively few"Americans favor a hasty retreat? Well, he's linking to Gallup's own survey research on an Iraq troop pullout, from March 13, which finds:

Americans are as divided today as they have been since last September about the United States' troop presence in Iraq: 41% favor setting a timetable for gradually pulling out of Iraq while 35% want to maintain troops there until the situation improves. Only 18% of Americans favor an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops.
Okay, this is only five weeks ago, and to stress Jones' crucial point once more, JUST "18% OF AMERICANS" SUPPORT A COMPLETE AND TOTAL PULLOUT OF U.S. FORCES FROM IRAQ.

I don't normally use so much exclamatory emphasis, but I want to be clear just in case any hardline radical war opponents happen to leave a nasty drive-by comment or two attacking me for my alleged "war mongering" or for slurring my reputation as "
only a community college professor."

Thus, again, readers should check Gallup's post themselves, "
Americans on Iraq: Should the U.S. Stay or Go?"

Repsac3, in particular, should take off his blinders and just acknowledge the facts: The war's been prolonged and costly, but Americans don't want to lose.

Indeed, a
Pew Research poll on Iraq last month suggested:

Public perceptions of the situation in Iraq have become significantly more positive over the past several months, even as opinions about the initial decision to use military force remain mostly negative and unchanged.

The number of Americans who say the military effort is going very or fairly well is much higher now than a year ago (48% vs. 30% in February 2007). There has been a smaller positive change in the number who believe that the U.S. will ultimately succeed in achieving its goals (now 53%, up from 47% in February 2007).
The basic stess in American public opinion so far in 2008 has been that the war's been costly, but things are going better, so let's give the troops and their commanders some time.

As the Wall Street Journal noted in its article on recent improvements in Iraq, published March 5 of this year:

The perception that the U.S. troop surge in Iraq has succeeded is changing some public views of the war, potentially blunting Democrats' political edge on the issue.
Note, of course, that public opinion polls are snapshots in time, and they are subject to statistical margins of error. But the trends have been consistent, across a number of survey organizations: There's considerable public recognition of American progress, and there's little support for tucking-tail in retreat from the theater.

But all of this doesn't matter to the antiwar hordes, including Greenwald, Repsac3, and all of the other nihilists suffering from what could be considered psychological pathologies (and not just the amusing "
Bush Derangement Syndrome").

The redoubtable Dr. Sanity, for example,
argues that:

There are a wide variety of ways that psychological denial can be expressed by a person who is unconsciously defending or protecting themselves from unwanted knowledge, thoughts, or feelings....

The most obvious strategy is simple, or outright, denial. This is the basic technique of maintaining that something is true/not true despite all evidence to the contrary. It is usually encapsulated in slick slogans that can be mindlessly repeated until they take on the characteristics of some fundamental "truth". They are in fact, the kind of "big lie" that distorts reality and oozes its way into human consciousness effortlessly.
Or, in Repsac3's case, such denials are encapsulated in dismissive attacks on rigorous data analysis and logic as "straw men."

Dr. Sanity places
far left-wing denialism in the context of radical epistomology and philosophy, especially postmodernism:

In history of denial, the philosophy of postmodernism which burst on the human scene about half a century ago, is probably the most recently developed denial strategy. It is usually resorted to when "intellectualization" and "rationalization" fail to convince others that one is "reality-based". It is at that point in the discussion that reality (and truth) are then abandoned with alacrity for the typical rhetorical tactics of postmodernism.
The resort to postmodern denial strategies is common among hardline leftists in generalized attacks on conservatives and those who support the war.

For more on the theory of military progress and public support in Iraq, see Peter Feaver, Christopher Gelpi, and Jason Reifler, "Success Matters: Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq," International Security, Winter 2005/06.