The Iraq War and the American Public

So after reading Dean says the U.S. can’t win in Iraq, James’ article in the Tech Central Station, Daniel Drezner’s blog post on the Domestic front for the War, and Kevin Drum’s blog, I have to say, I can now see the argument when people argue that speaking ill of the war effort is actually counter to the war effort. James summarized it best with the following,

The bottom line is that the United States military is pretty good at counterinsurgency. The American public, however, is not.

That is, the U.S. military can win this thing, the problem is it will likely take quite a while and will undoubtedly result in more casualties. Enter the American public, which seemingly has no stomach with today’s nearly instantaneous transmission and distribution of information for a long drawn out conflict involving counter insurgency efforts.

Daniel Drezner gives a more thorough explanation and also looks at the very serious problem if we do lose in Iraq because of the lack of willpower on the public’s part,

The assumption underlying Feaver and Gelpi’s hypothesis is so simple that it’s never stated in the article — if a sufficiently large majority opposes an ongoing military intervention, any administration will have to withdraw regardless of the strategic wisdom of such a move. This is why, I suspect, the administration reacts so badly whenever it deals with domestic criticism about the war — it recognizes that flagging domestic support will translate into a strategic straitjacket (though do read Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard for a more…. creative explanation).

Frankly, the Democrats tactic of saying we can’t win in Iraq strikes me as precisely the wrong approach to the problem. If the Democrats “win” on this one the result is that we lose. We lose in Iraq and we quite possibly degrad our ability to prosecute the war on terrorism in other parts of the world. Maybe that is what the Democratic party leadership wants, but it doesn’t look like a very good strategy for making the U.S. safer…which ironically is one of the Democrats complaints about invading Iraq in the first place.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Herb says:

    This anti war movement brought on by the democrats to gain a political advantage and supported by most of the MSM, is sickening. When Murtha stood in front of Congress and made his “surrender” speech, he not insulted our troops but gave the terrorists a new lease on continuation of their murderous attacks. The Ohio Congresswoman who cited that “Cowards” cut and run, was absoloutly correct. While Murtha might have been a hero in Vietnam, he seems to have lost his will to continue the fight against those who want to destroy our way of life and kill every American possible. Murtha later stated that our military was “Broken and in need of major rapair. Thats is a laugh. Why “repair” our military if we are to “cut and run” with every fight. It seems to me that Murtha is “broken, worn out, and in need of serious repair. Time to vote him out of office.

    The American people will support our troops if given the truth about all the good things happening in Iraq, but this constant anti war pounding by the democrats and the bad news press is tearing this country apart at the seams. Unfortunately, we have those amoung us who care only for their own personal and political ambitions and who don’t have one bit of concern about this country, spreading their hate and discontent thruout every channel of media. To those who want to see this country fall victem to terrorists, try telling the truth every now and then and wise up to the political ambitions of the democrats who would surrender in order to regain political power.

  2. Winning in spite of defeatist attitudes

    Steve Verdon at Outside the Beltway has an excellent post up regarding the American public’s perception of the Iraq war and how today’s public doesn’t seem to have the will to win that people who supported past wars did, thanks to to…

  3. Anderson says:

    I don’t think the Democrat position is “we can’t win.” More like “what we’re doing isn’t winning.” It’s skepticism that we just need several more years of the same stuff.

    We botched the Iraq war so early on, with the looting of Baghdad and the disbanding of the Iraqi army, that it’s probably too late to do things right.

    What I think we ought to be doing is (1) pouring tremendous money & talent into training the Iraqi security forces and (2) minimizing our footprint in Iraq. According to the excellent Fallows article in the last Atlantic, we have only recently begun to take (1) seriously, which is a disgrace.

    The more our soldiers (& “contractors”) mix with the Iraqi citizens, the more hostility we create, helping to sustain the insurgency.

  4. Herb says:

    Anderson:

    Please let everyone here know “What are you qualifications” to back up your knowledge about the war from start to the present time.

    In other words, What makes you such an “Expert” on the war in Iraq?

    And, what makes you so sure to tell everyone here that we are not “winning”. Please cite and produce your evidence. (something other than what comes from a media source.)

  5. Steve in NY says:

    Unfortunately, the position staked out by the chairman of the Democratic National Committee in his now (in)famous radio interview is: “The idea that we’re going to win this war is just plain wrong.”

    You may argue that it was taken out of context, but Dr. Dean’s action proposition suggests that “we can’t win” really IS his (and one would assume his party’s) position: “”We need to be out of there and take the targets off our troops’ back.”

  6. Herb says:

    Thunderbird:

    Didn’t you mean to say “Roadrunner”

  7. bithead says:

    Welcome to the party, Steve.
    This is the argument I’ve always been making.
    Logical conclusions apply, here, about the speakers, and what should be done with them.

  8. Anderson says:

    Steve in NY, you are entirely right to lambast us Dems for having Dean as our party chair. Let’s just say that nobody asked me what I thought of that before they did it.

    Herb, did you really just ask for “qualifications”? You are just too funny.

  9. odograph says:

    I think I can put on my harsh, no-nonscense, political realist hat – and say that if Bush started a war for which he could not maintain political commitment, he made a horrible mistake.

    Come on, he was an idiot, his father knew it, Brent Scowcroft knew it, lots of good solid Republicans knew it. And now we all (Republican and Democrat) suffer with the consequences.

    It is absurd, but given human nature entirely predictable, that “Democrats” will be blamed by some for this failure … just as some Democrats will blame “Repubicans” for the actions of one clique.

  10. Herb says:

    Anderson:

    I forgot, You are the authotry on most everything including the Iraq war. It’s was a total waste of time for the war to start without checking with you first to have you final say on how to win the war, or to go into it in the first place. I am sure the US Governmnt is kicking itself for not confiding with you on how to go after the terrorists. I guess they didn’t realize the YOU are the foremost authority on all matters of Terrorism, State and most everything else you talk about. Perhaps Dean is listening to your authoritive words and speaking on behalf of your superior intelligence.

  11. Steve Verdon says:

    Anderson,

    I know it isn’t all Democrats. For example, if Lieberman had gotten the nomination last election I’d have probably voted for him. I’m not a fan of his domestic policies (but I’m not a fan of Bush’s domestic policies so its no biggie), but on the Iraq war I’d see him as possibly being an improvement over Bush and at least staying the course. I just didn’t trust Kerry to stick too it.

    And “constructive criticism” is one thing, but saying “we can’t win, it was never winnable” (mashed together crude paraphrase of Drum and Dean) strikes me as out of bounds.

    My feeling is that if we had to fight WWII today, we’d lose.

  12. odograph says:

    I am a Republican and I wrote this president, before the war, to tell him that an American-led invasion failed the test of realpolitik, and would yield blowback lasting generations. I was proven more right than I thought possible.

    Now, it is a valid argument, that once this clown has put us in this position, we have to determine the best path – even if the “best” is really the “least damaging.”

    I am willing to listen to possible plans that will actually make this “winnable” but here is what I fear – that it would actually take a draft, an increase in American troops, and a 10 year commitment. And not even the clown-troop piloting this war have the balls for that.

    … so again, we suffer.

  13. odograph says:

    Just to be clear, Bush and company started this by saying that it was winnable with minimal resources. Now that have to pretend it is still winnable with minimal resources – even as costs mount.

    That is broken, by any definition.

  14. Anderson says:

    Steve Verdon: My feeling is that if we had to fight WWII today, we’d lose.

    Really? WW2 was a “traditional” war, against clearly-defined enemies who had actually either attacked us (Japan) or declared war on us (Germany), those coming after two-plus years of watching the Axis powers run rampant, and with the president gradually educating the country as to the gravity of the international situation.

    People may not have liked the war, they may have treated FDR as a liar for his “any foreign wars” remark in the 1940 campaign, but it was understood that we had to stamp out “Hitlerism and Tojoism.”

    Given a similar war today, and a White House that didn’t seek to cast the opposition party as traitors, I’m sure America would rise to the challenge.

    The bottom line with Iraq is: Iraq was not a threat to the U.S. We more or less cheerfully went to war on the WMD’s issue, which was sold to us on our 9/11 hysteria and our well-merited loathing for Saddam.

    Once it became clear that there weren’t any WMD’s to speak of, and that we were going to be staying indefinitely anyway, the war’s popularity went down.

    The lesson, to me, is that America will happily fight in its own defense. Less happily for vague foreign-policy goals. This is as it should be, IMHO. I do not care to see war become just another instrument of American policy.

  15. Herb says:

    Odo:

    It is amaizing that ” the war would yeald blowback lasting generations” and you go to say that “you were proven more right than you thought possible” Wow Odo, I was totally unaware that the Iraq war has lasted “generations” Where have I been for the last 100 years. But, time does fly, Right?

    Just what is your age Odo? You must be at least 95 YO.

  16. anjin-san says:

    While we are on the subject of “cut & run” let us not forget that Mr. Bush “Made a deal with the military” to get out of the last 6 months of his service obligation while brave men were fighting and dying in Vietnam.

    What was the deal? Let me out of my obligation and I won’t sic my Daddy on you? Now Bush is the stop loss president.

    Bailing while others are fighting. Sounds like a cut & run to me…

  17. odograph says:

    What I meant Herb, was that the failures started showing up early, I didn’t have to wait generations.

    Will they continue? Yes, that is the pattern. The Iranian revolution of the 1970’s was driven in part by the covert US actions in 1940’s.

  18. McGehee says:

    It’s official: Anjin-san is Bill Burkett.

  19. kevino says:

    If we withdraw under any circumstances that appear to be less than total victory, the Bad Guys will claim victory, and we’ll be in big trouble. Bin Laden greatly enhanced his reputation by the great victory in Somalia over the US:

    But your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; where- after vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post cold war leadership of the new world order- you moved tens of thousands of international force, including twenty eight thousands American solders into Somalia. However, when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge, but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal. You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear.
    Osama bin Laden, 1996 Declaration of War

    You cannot show weakness to a determined enemy.

  20. anjin-san says:

    McGhee,

    Did you watch the debates during the last election? Bush bragged on national television about how he “made a deal with the military” to get out of the guard so he could go to Harvard.

    At least Bush actually put a uniform on before he bailed, more then you can say for Cheney, Runsfeld, Wolfowitz, Pearl, Rush, Hannity, Savage…

  21. anjin-san says:

    From the National Review:

    Later that year, he asked for and received permission to leave the Guard early so he could attend Harvard Business School.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/york/york200402180840.asp

    Maybe the National Review is a pinko, far left, MSM, terror symp publication…

  22. Anderson says:

    The best sense that I was ever able to make out of the Burkett mess was that he’d destroyed the relevant documents as ordered, and then decided to forge ’em back from the dead later.

    Two reasons why I think this:

    One, the secretary of Bush’s CO said their content reflected the CO’s thinking.

    Two, the first 2 or 3 days after the story broke. Remember the White House’s denials? Me neither. I think history will show they were scared to death that somebody had the goods.

    Yet, via CBS’s incompetence, Burkett’s dishonesty, and the media’s attention span, the whole thing got turned into an exoneration of Bush. If I thought Rove were smart enough to have cooked the whole thing up, I’d call for a Nobel Prize in Politics to be created & awarded to him.

  23. Steve Verdon says:

    Given a similar war today, and a White House that didn’t seek to cast the opposition party as traitors, I’m sure America would rise to the challenge.

    While I’m sympathetic to this kind of problem, what about an opposition party that would try to use the war as a way to gain partisan political advantage?

    And yes, my feelings about WWII aren’t because the war was “conventional”, but because there’d be continuous news reports about large numbers of casualties. We don’t have that with Iraq, and yet the public has already gone weak in the knees. Toss in casualty numbers similar to WWII and my guess is the American public would have a complete bowel prolapse.

  24. anjin-san says:

    Steve,

    Have you considered the Democrats who just think the war is immoral & wrong?

    Personally, I find the deaths of innocent Iraqis in a war which we started to be as great a tragedy as the deaths of innocent Americans at the hands of terrorists.

    Not to mention the deaths of our servicemen and the danger to our country as a result of the distraction the Iraq has caused in dealing with capturing or killing Bin Laden, finishing the job in Afghinastan and improving security here at home. We are failing in all three of these areas.

  25. Anderson says:

    Steve, if the White House were doing a great job and the Dems were carping nonetheless, then it would indeed appear to be “partisan political advantage” at work. When we’re confronted with that scenario, buzz me.

    As it is, what do we call Republicans who insist that the whole thing has gone splendidly and that no mistakes of substance have been made?

  26. Dean: U.S. can’t win Iraq war

    Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is drawing GOP fire after telling a Texas radio s

  27. anjin-san says:

    Looks like after calling me a liar, McGhee has chosen to cut & run in the face of documentation.

  28. Steve Verdon says:

    Have you considered the Democrats who just think the war is immoral & wrong?

    Sure, Liberman is one. But this sword also cuts both ways. Couldn’t the same be said for Bush?

    Personally, I find the deaths of innocent Iraqis in a war which we started to be as great a tragedy as the deaths of innocent Americans at the hands of terrorists.

    I think it is rather telling that you don’t see a difference.

    Not to mention the deaths of our servicemen and the danger to our country as a result of the distraction the Iraq has caused in dealing with capturing or killing Bin Laden, finishing the job in Afghinastan and improving security here at home. We are failing in all three of these areas.

    This all well and good, but there is also the fact that we are there now. Cutting and running isn’t a very palatable solution since it under cuts at least one of your positions above.

    Anderson,

    Steve, if the White House were doing a great job and the Dems were carping nonetheless, then it would indeed appear to be “partisan political advantage” at work. When we’re confronted with that scenario, buzz me.

    Is your grasp of history this bad? The war in the pacific didn’t go well for us at all initially. And in Europe and Africa there were set backs a-plenty. Given the inability of the U.S. public to abide by such casualties and the current tendency to exploit anything an everything for partisan gain, I stand by my position.

    As it is, what do we call Republicans who insist that the whole thing has gone splendidly and that no mistakes of substance have been made?

    Fools. Did you read the Drezner link? Go try it. Please. Drezner argues that there were plenty of mistakes made by the Bush Administration, but that cutting and running just isn’t a viable long term solution. Constructive criticism of the past is one thing, saying we need to retreat completely is another.

  29. Barry says:

    “While I’m sympathetic to this kind of problem, what about an opposition party that would try to use the war as a way to gain partisan political advantage?”

    Posted by Steve

    What about a president who lied about, well, just about everything, to get a war to gain political power?

  30. Anderson says:

    Steve: Agreed, Drezner’s been a thoughtful critic of the administration. I just don’t understand the “partisan advantage” shtick. The Dems rolled over and played dead for 2 years after 9/11.

    Is your grasp of history this bad? The war in the pacific didn’t go well for us at all initially. And in Europe and Africa there were set backs a-plenty.

    The war in the Pacific was turned around a mere 7 months after Pearl, at Midway. And I beg to differ re: Europe and Africa; besides our fiasco at Kasserine Pass, when did we ever lose to the Germans?

    There is nothing in WW2, on America’s part, comparable to the incompetence in the Iraq war and its aftermath. You have to look at Hitler and Tojo, or Gamelin, to find anyone as incompetent as Bush and Rumsfeld.

  31. Anderson says:

    Sorry to clog the comments, but Steve, re: your point about casualties, I think the relevant differences are that in WW2, we were fighting genuine threats to the U.S., and we could see definite progress.

    You could look at the map and see that we were moving across the Pacific or across Africa and Europe. Even a “quagmire” like Guadalcanal lasted … (consults Wiki) 6 months.

    In Iraq, we see 10 soldiers killed here, 2 there, etc., with very little indication of progress. It’s an occupation, not a “war.”

    So maybe the relevant point is that America doesn’t do occupations very well?

  32. You Can Think It, But You Can’t Say It

    “Dean’s take on Iraq makes even less sense than the scream in Iowa: Both are uninformed and unhelpful”. Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) is very harsh, but according to the Washington Post, he is not the only Democrat to fear that his leaders’ rhetorical …

  33. The D Stands For Defeat

    I was just listening to a podcast with a recording of one of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s frenzied speeches, where he is shouting like a man posessed, in an attempt to whip up the crowd into a frenzy.The kind of demagogue speec…

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