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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Pessimism on Iraq Deepens

In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll , only 33 percent of voters say the country is going in the right direction, compared to 50 percent who say it is off on the wrong track. 33 percent! And it’s only 25 percent among independents.
That kind of negative sentiment can’t be explained simply on the basis of the economic pessimism I discussed in the last couple of posts or of other domestic problems, grave as they may be. Voter pessimism about the direction of the country is also tied to the sense our foreign policy in general, and Iraq policy in particular, are in a shambles.
In the NBC News poll, Bush’s job rating on foreign policy is down to 43 percent approval/51 percent disapproval, his worst rating ever in that poll. And in the latest Ipsos-AP poll, his rating on handling foreign policy and terrorism (my emphasis) is down to just 50 percent. (Forties, here we come!)
The reasons for these low ratings are not too hard to find, as the public ponders the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, the growing power of extremist Shiite leader, Moqtada Sadr, escalating US casualties and the complete lack of a plausible exit strategy. They have come to the conclusion that the situation is out of control–quite literally. By 60-34, voters say the US is not in control of the situation in Iraq.
They also say, by 64-19, that the Iraqi people will not be ready to take over and run their country by June 30 and, by 51-27. that Iraq will not be able to establish and maintain a stable, democratic government. The latter finding reverses a March reading on the same question where, by 46-40, voters thought Iraqis would be able to maintain a stable, democratic government.
Finally, voters today think removing Saddam Hussein from power was not worth the number of US military casualties and associated financial costs (47-42). That’s another change from two months ago when voters thought removing Saddam was worth the casualties and costs by 50-44.
So voters are deeply pessimistic about what’s going on in Iraq and are increasingly convinced the war hasn’t been worth the effort and lives we have put into it. In fact, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, 60 percent of Americans are now willing to say we’ve “gotten bogged down in Iraq”. Shades of Vietnam! And, as was the case with Vietnam, it sounds like the public is losing interest in staying the course and becoming oriented instead toward how the country can extricate itself from this particular quagmire.
But how to do this? Kerry has offered an alternative approach to that of the Bush administration. And the Center for American Progress (CAP) has offered a plan that is consistent with much of what Kerry (and other Democrats) have said, but provides more detail and specifics on how a more sensible strategy for Iraq might be conducted. I find myself in agreement with much of what CAP has to say.
However, both Kerry and CAP (and the school of thought they represent) seem short in the exit strategy department. I think the public increasingly wants to know: “How do we get out of Iraq?”. Neither Kerry nor CAP addresses this question head-on.
In the end, as public opinion continues to shift, that may not be a viable approach. Michelle Goldberg in Salon has a good article today on “Time to Get Out?“, that raises the issue directly and outlines the debate that is starting to emerge around it. In the article, she summarizes pollster John Zogby’s position as “Kerry should start talking about exit strategy….he should offer voters the prospect of ending the war, even if that prospect remains vague”.
He may be on to something.

21 comments on “Pessimism on Iraq Deepens

  1. dean on

    If whether or not the war is worth fighting is being ignored it is because the question is moot. No, it was never worth fighting, but it is being fought. The question of the moment, the one that requires an answer today is whether to continue this fiasco or leave Iraq to its own or the UN’s devices, and the UN is very reluctant to take it on (with no blame for me on that score). At this point, as much as I hate this fiasco, what we need to do is put someone who is competent in charge, which leaves the entire Bush administration out. I do not think we can just walk away now. We can’t leave a total mess. That does not answer American interests. Mind you, it is a total mess right now, but picking up our ball and going home will be an even greater disservice to the Iraqi people than plunging their country into chaos has been.

  2. John Atkinson on

    eh, I don’t know what’s good politics, but I can’t imagine a really concrete ‘exit strategy’ is feasible or wise at this point. We ought to start planning of course, but we can only plan contingencies – the events of the next few months will be largely dependent on the thoughts and actions of Iraqis, and depending on this very uncertain variable the best strategy could change any number of ways, most of which will probably be unforseen. Not only would a firm exit strategy be impractical, but it would also be an obvious boon the enemies of Iraq and the US. The best Kerry – and Bush, for that matter – can and should offer is a vision of realistic goals to achieve and, as importantly, a determination to achieve them.

  3. Sara on

    It won’t be McCain or any Republican — in fact I doubt if it will be someone currently in congress — Kerry needs someone slightly more of a populist, and with few obvious ties with the beltway. Richardson, Vilsack — or as thngs move along, I see an argument for Wesley Clark increasing in value.
    What’s happening to Bush right nos is a near perfect storm — everything is coming up a cropper, and he doesn’t seem to be able to take effective action on any of it. It is going to be a difficult time till the election, but with Bush unable to change his mind on ANYTHING — admit that any policy was anything but perfect — he is walking into the storm eyes wide open, and into the arms of disaster.
    I am worried about Nader — does Kerry have a decent plan to attack him nicely, politely, to cut off his support? It needs to be done before Nader gets any sort of core support that seems organized.

  4. Mencken on

    why are we still talking about a kerry/mccain ticket? is it just fantasizing? like the cubs winning the world series?
    is there anybody who thinks john mccain would actually accept the nomination?

  5. demtom on

    Ruy, in case you’re passing through: are you aware this site has, in the past day or two, turned into a browser-eater? I can’t exit the site without closing down the browser entirely — and this has happened from both my home and work computers. Anything you can do to fix it is appreciated.

  6. soup on

    I agree that Kerrey doesn’t need to be signaling intentions of withdrawing from Iraq at this point in the campaign. But neither can he permit the perception that he is advocating essentially the same thing as Bush. At some point before november he will have to distinguish his foreign policy approach, and it will probably fall again on the good will he can muster from the international community. It would help if he could be seen building bridges with europe. I bet even england would welcome him this summer. It might be fodder for Bush and Cheney in their attacks, but moderate voters could really appreciate a leader who is respected and welcomed on the world stage, as opposed to our current president who is an international pariah.

  7. Dschultz on

    I don’t see that Kerry needs to start speaking about withdrawal from Iraq. Bushco is standing by the June 30 deadline for ‘sovereignty’ handover and I think it’s quite possible that soon after that, they’ll start a major drawdown of troops. They won’t say that’s what they’re doing, but that’s what they’ll be doing. That way, they will get what they hope will be the best possible spin — soldiers coming home (mollify the increasingly upset military families) and Iraqi ‘independence’ run by John Negroponte. Let’s see how well this half-baked scheme does in the oven before talking about what Kerry needs to add to the recipe.
    One thing I really don’t want to see happen is the Republicans being able to point to ‘political pressure’ from the election campaign as a reason for whatever amount of withdrawal they are eventually forced to do. If they can do that, it might help mitigate the anger their base will feel at them for not ‘following through’ and ‘standing tall’.
    This bunch of bad actors is so aware of all the ways available for deflecting hatred and avoiding accountability. Kerry has to be very careful.

  8. bt on

    McCain as VP nominee is a tantalizing notion. But I hope it will not happen. He differs substanially with Kerry in his views on so many big issues that, even though the media still has not had its fill of him, it doesn’t seem as though it would work in practice.
    At this point I’m hoping it will be either Edwards or Vilsack for VP. Alternatively, Edwards might make a terrific Attorney General.
    Ah, but first things first…

  9. Anonymous on

    In the case of the President dying while in office,the Presidency will go to the vice president.Also, the VP slot is traditionally regarded as a launching pad for the Veep’s own Presidential bid.
    No way the Democrats are going to risk it.

  10. Marcus Lindroos on

    Andrew Sullivan (who used to be an enthusiastic supporter of “Shrub” in the war on terror) suggests the latest scandal makes a Kerry/McCain ticket seem even more attractive.
    If McCain agreed to help his good friend (and remember: he reportedly loathes Bush…), would it be a plus or minus for Kerry? A few thoughts —
    +Great bipartisan “save America” dream team (McCain is possibly the most popular national GOP politician among independents and Democrats).
    +Awesome national defense credibility.
    +It might beef up Kerry’s centrist credentials as a balanced budget, tough-on-defense liberal hawk.
    +It would showcase how “inclusive” the Democrats are, if an anti-abortion GOP senator is made VP nominee.
    -The result might be an ideological mess, showing Kerry/McCain don’t stand for anything except an obsession with beating Bush at any costs?
    -As a result, Nader might siphon off even more voters from disgruntled war opponents and the far left.
    -McCain’s defection from the GOP might badly damage his credibility as a straight shooter, which until now has been his main asset.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Yes, I know it remains a far fetched idea. But it’s fun to speculate, nonetheless.

  11. Marcus Lindroos on

    > I am struck by how much of the current debate
    > between supporters and opponents of the Iraq
    > war ignores the fundamental issue which many
    > pollsters and those they poll have locked onto.
    > The issue is whether or not this war was worth
    > fighting.
    There is indeed a thousand-mile chasm between war proponents and opponents in this regard, sigh. Both sides basically accuse each other of being stupid, reckless and naive. And they draw entirely different conclusions based on 9/11.
    > It is wrong to wage war against a sovereign
    > nation that has not attacked the United States.
    Oh, I agree 100% with you.
    I just don’t follow the logic of the pro-war side. Let’s examine their rationale on a “personal level”, though. Suppose you *suspect* a certain “evil person” is out to get you. Does this mean you have a right to preemptively kill him or even storm his compound? Of course not. It is the same story regardless of whether we are discussing individuals or states. Now, the neo-cons claim we are essentially hiding our heads in the sand while blindly trusting that the bad guy won’t harm us. Utter rubbish! If the CIA is reporting Al Qaeda is planning to strike on U.S. soil and airplanes “somehow” will be involved (as they did in August 2001 while “Shrub” conveniently was strutting around on vacation in Crawford, TX), you can strengthen airport security and issue a warning to the U.S. public. You don’t launch a major invasion based on at best circumstantial evidence, though.
    : “Shades of Vietnam! “?? Ruy, what are you
    : writing? are you actually happy that everying
    : that’s happened in the last few weeks has come
    : to pass?
    Of course it’s a tragedy, but I think the bad news is essentially inevitable and a result of this Administration’s numerous screw-ups. In that case, doesn’t it make sense to hope voters will clearly see the consequences of these policies before the November elections, ensuring the usual suspects in the White House won’t get a chance to do even worse things in 2005-08?

  12. Peter Waltman on

    “Shades of Vietnam! “?? Ruy, what are you writing? are you actually happy that everying that’s happened in the last few weeks has come to pass? Maybe I misunderstand you, but bogged down = people dying, Iraqis and Americans alike.
    Yes, in a certain way, I’m glad that our body politic is *finally* realizing the idiocy of Bush’s Iraq strategy (fyi, Fareed Zakaria has an amazing column in the next newsweek condemning the neo-con strategy, http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4933882/).
    however, while I too am “glad” that the warnigs of those of us who opposed Bush’s war have been validated within the last month, let’s not forget what this means in terms of the people who have to pay the price for the Bush Administration’s hubris.

  13. soup on

    The exit strategy is very simple. The war in Iraq is simply over! Who are we fighting there and why? No good answers. Kerry should simply declare that combat with the people of Iraq is irrelevant to the “war” on terror. The iraqis and the rest of the world would respect us more if we just pulled up stakes and leave. Let a real international peacekeeping mission sort it out. Kerry needs to make it clear to americans that he has the diplomatic capital to make it happen. And when Bush asks him to name names in the debates tell him “can’t, its a violation of executive privilege, George”.

  14. Ron Thompson on

    Don’t worry about it, Joe. Before the leaves fall, Kerry will be committed to an American withdrawal within six months of inauguration.

  15. Joe Zainea on

    As America’s enthusiasm for the Iraq war declines, I become more concerned about Ralph Nader’s position. He says we must get out in six months. As the situation worsens there, more Americans will come to agree with him, especially Democrats.
    That could result in Nader peeling off more support for Kerry whose position is perceived as vaguely supportive of staying the course.

  16. Lawrence on

    Reality Check
    for those who wonder why Kerry isn’t ahead:
    June 1992
    Bush approval rating below 40%,
    but Gallup has
    Bush 48
    Clinton 40
    May 1980
    Carter approval 44%
    Carter 40
    Reagan 32
    Anderson 21
    May 2004
    Bush approval 46%
    Bush 48
    Kerry 47
    I see defeated presidents… but they don’t know they’re defeated…
    See also
    May 1988
    Dukakis 52
    Bush 38
    May 1968
    Humphry 42
    Nixon 36
    Wallace 14
    Say goodbye, George…

  17. bt on

    The text of Kerry’s speech reads in part:
    “The common foe we face today is different in every way, but fully as dangerous, as the one that Churchill so famously described here.”
    Maybe he ad libbed it into the speech. Maybe I just missed it in the text. But I did not find in the text of the speech a statement saying who in his mind is our “common foe” today. For me, reading the text of the speech came off as having a “disconnect” in this way.

  18. C. Ama on

    I am struck by how much of the current debate between supporters and opponents of the Iraq war ignores the fundamental issue which many pollsters and those they poll have locked onto. The issue is whether or not this war was worth fighting. These endless discussions about process and consequence ignore the simple truth that this adventure was doomed to fail, not from the first shot, but from the first thought. It is wrong to wage war against a sovereign nation that has not attacked the United States. Period. This war has no chance of success because the very fact of its existence means we have failed. We, the American people, failed to curtail the grand ambitions of an arrogant, incompetent, intellectually stunted president. This president failed to recognize the folly of applying a long-standing pipe dream (the neo-cons’ dream of Middle-East conquest) to the Global War on Terrorism. Ostensibly responsible members of the administration failed by deferring to the majesty of the office, rather than loudly and publicly denouncing Bush and the cabal before they could drag us into this nightmare. There is no way to finesse a good solution to a situation born of an inherently evil act. The first death to result from this war was a stain on the soul of this nation. It is tragic to have to ask now, so many deaths later, whether or when it is appropriate to cut and run. If we pack up and leave now, leaving the objective unfulfilled, we admit that every one of those deaths was pointless. The only other option is to stay, knowing that every lost life will be lost in the service of a goal that was, from the beginning, pointless. I hope that God and history judge America more kindly than we deserve.

  19. laura on

    Thank you.
    I wish his support was lower. It is mind boggling to me that half the population still thinks he is doing something worthwhile in Iraq.


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