Sur­prise poll puts new light on war

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Joseph Curl

The re­sults from a poll con­ducted last month by the New York Times so sur­prised top edi­tors that they or­dered a new sur­vey, but the re­sults were the same the sec­ond time around: More Amer­i­cans now think that Pres­i­dent Bush was right to send troops into Iraq.

The first poll, con­ducted July 917, found that 42 per­cent said the pres­i­dent did the “right thing” tak­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion against Iraq, an in­crease of seven per­cent­age points. Edi­tors thought the poll may have been skewed by other ques­tions about Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s fail­ure to re­pu­di­ate her 2002 de­ci­sion to vote to au­tho­rize the war.

The sec­ond poll, con­ducted July 21-22, came at the worst pos­si­ble time for Mr. Bush: A fiercely par­ti­san Congress was de­bat­ing the war; the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion had just re­leased a re­port say­ing the Iraqi gov­ern­ment failed to meet many of its bench­marks, and was about to re­cess for a month; and top Repub­li­cans were fi­nally choos­ing to speak out against the war in Iraq.

But the sec­ond sur­vey de­liv­ered the ex­act same re­sults — 42 per­cent sup­ported the in­va­sion of Iraq. The poll also found that while 66 per­cent of Amer­i­cans said things

were go­ing badly in Iraq, that num­ber had dropped 10 points from May.

USA To­day and Gallup also con­ducted a sur­vey this month and found pos­i­tive re­sults for the ad­min­is­tra­tion: The num­ber of Amer­i­cans who think the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to send 30,000 ad­di­tional U.S. troops to Iraq — the so-called “surge” — is “mak­ing the sit­u­a­tion bet­ter” rose to 31 per­cent from 22 per­cent a month ago.

“It’s hap­pen­ing be­cause, for the last sev­eral weeks, the news me­dia has had to re­port mil­i­tary progress in Iraq,” said Char­lie Black, a Repub­li­can strate­gist with close ties to the White House. “I think the pub­lic had ar­rived at the con­clu­sion that we were los­ing or that we couldn’t win over there, based on the con­stant bad-news re­port­ing for years, so when you get some good news, it causes some peo­ple to say, ‘Wait a minute, maybe this is winnable and maybe we should be pa­tient.’ ”

The ap­par­ent suc­cess of the new strat­egy im­ple­mented by Gen. David H. Pe­traeus, com­man­der of U.S. forces in Iraq, is hav­ing an ef- fect. While 73 U.S. troops died in July, that was the low­est death rate in eight months. U.S. news­pa­pers are start­ing to re­port from prov­inces across Iraq — in­clud­ing some deemed ir­re­triev­able — that the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion has im­proved dra­mat­i­cally.

“There is no ques­tion that there have been very sub­stan­tial and sig­nif­i­cant changes since the new strat­egy has been im­ple­mented by Gen­eral Pe­traeus,” said Clifford May, pres­i­dent of the non­par­ti­san Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies, a pol­icy in­sti­tute fo­cus­ing on coun­tert­er­ror­ism.

“A lot of peo­ple think it’s merely a surge, more troop num­bers; that’s very far from re­al­ity. It’s 180 de­grees from what Pe­traeus’ prede- ces­sors were do­ing in Iraq and is much more a clas­sic counter-in­sur­gency strat­egy and it is hav­ing a huge im­pact. [. . . ] Al Qaeda is be­ing crushed,” Mr. May said.

The in­creased sup­port for the pres­i­dent’s Iraq pol­icy in re­cent polls mainly re­flects not only Repub­li­cans re­turn­ing to a sense of op­ti­mism about Iraq, but also from in­de­pen­dents who re­ject con­gres- sional Democrats’ calls for a quick U.S. with­drawal.

“In­de­pen­dents do not want Amer­ica to ac­cept de­feat [. . . ] and be­lieve that if we can sal­vage some­thing from this mis­sion, we should do so,” Mr. May said.

Poll­ster John Zogby, who de­scribes him­self as a lib­eral Demo­crat, sees the shift­ing polls as sim- ply a re­turn of a few Repub­li­cans that means lit­tle for the pres­i­dent’s ef­forts to per­suade Amer­i­cans that Iraq is sal­vage­able.

“This comes un­der the cat­e­gory mainly of Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tives who want to be­lieve. They have wanted to be­lieve, but they haven’t had a rea­son to. You are start­ing to get more re­ports — more spin, call it what you like — from White House spokes­men, and some in­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts, Michael O’Han­lon for ex­am­ple, sug­gest­ing that, ‘Hey, this could be work­ing’ and that the num­ber of U.S. causal­i­ties has de­clined,” Mr. Zogby said.

Mr. O’Han­lon and Ken­neth M. Pol­lack, both schol­ars with the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, penned a New York Times op-ed col­umn last month ti­tled “A War We Just Might Win,” in which they wrote that they were “sur­prised by the gains we saw” dur­ing a visit to Iraq: “Here is the most im­por­tant thing Amer­i­cans need to un­der­stand: We are fi­nally get­ting some­where in Iraq, at least in mil­i­tary terms.”

But Repub­li­can poll­ster Frank Luntz saw less to cheer in the chang­ing polls. “Maybe it’s just a lack of bad news. At a cer­tain point, the pres­i­dent’s pop­u­lar­ity had to stop fall­ing,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a re-ex­am­i­na­tion of the war” but just gen­eral sum­mer­time op­ti­mism.

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