Must Ignore Data

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Kevin Drum points to the polling data you'll find above taken from Shibley Telhami's report on Arab public opinion. Basically, few Arabs think that us leaving would cause some wider spiral of chaos. Kevin says "Obviously the Arab public could be wrong about this, but this strikes me as a mostly pragmatic question, not the kind of thing driven either by dislike of the U.S. or weird conspiracy mongering." I'm not sure I totally agree with that assessment. I assume that most Arabs take a dim view of U.S. motives in Iraq in maintaining a military presence there for so long and, consequently, their instincts are to believe the rosiest possible scenarios about withdrawal. Conversely, the people in the United States who do want a permanent military presence in Iraq in order to try to dominate the region are also the same people most likely to believe the bleakest possible scenarios about a quick withdrawal.

I'd say the main significance of this finding is that it's yet another piece of information about Arab public opinion that it's vital we ignore and bury, making sure it never enters the elite conversation about American foreign policy. It's vitally, utterly important that all assertions about America's role in the Middle East be guided by a combination of ideology-driven presupposition and the whispers of dictators from the Gulf and Jordan. Just as we ignored the fact that few Arabs believed an invasion of Iraq would bring democracy to their region before the war, so too must we ignore the fact that few Arabs view our continued prosecution of the war as vital to their stability. We even manage to ignore the ways in which our Israel policy drives anti-American sentiment.

With that track record, surely we can ignore this, too, and go back to talking about how all hostility to the United States is driven by hatred of freedom and none of it by dislike of American foreign policy priorities. Yes we can!

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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