The Politics of the Surge


We really won't know, it seems to me, just how durable the current tactical security gains are in Iraq until troop levels start declining in the spring. But let's assume that Petraeus does pull off an amazing feat - stabilizing Iraq at a local and regional level at least to the extent of freezing an incipient civil war. What does that do to the war debate in the US? I know some are somewhat desperately claiming "Mission Accomplished" and hoping to have the same pay-off from that slogan that they did for five minutes several years ago. But the deeper truth is: that was several years ago. The Pew poll finds a calmer, saner public. Money quote:

A rosier view of the military situation in Iraq has not translated into increased support for maintaining U.S. forces in Iraq, greater optimism that the United States will achieve its goals there, or an improvement in President Bush's approval ratings.

By 54%-41%, more Americans favor bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq as soon as possible rather than keeping troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized. The balance of opinion on this measure has not changed significantly all year.

Similarly, Americans remain evenly divided over whether the U.S. is likely to succeed or fail in achieving its goals in Iraq; improved perceptions of the situation in Iraq have not resulted in a changed outlook in this regard. In addition, Bush's overall job approval now stands at 30%, which is largely unchanged since June and equals the lowest marks of his presidency.

A majority, in other words, wants to seize this opportunity to get the hell out of there as fast as we responsibly can. Maybe that will shift if the security situation continues to improve. But it suggests to me that there is, in fact, no serious public support for the indefinite occupation of Iraq for the next few years, as Bush now wants (and a future president Clinton would - out of fear of Republican attacks - acquiesce in). If the election is fought over who wants to occupy Iraq for ever, then the GOP may be in worse trouble than when the question was: do you want to quit the war in the middle of a security meltdown? At least, that's my best read as of now in a very fluid situation.