Conventional beltway punditry has it that General Petraeus' testimony was a crushing blow to Democrat hopes to bring the war in Iraq to a speedy conclusion. It amazes me how often the beltway pundits are so completely wrong on understanding the current of public opinion. A new poll by CBS confirms that they are way off base:
Most Americans continue to want troops to start coming home from Iraq, and most say the plan President Bush announced last week for troop reductions doesn't go far enough, according to a CBS News poll released Monday.
While the president spoke of a long-term commitment to Iraq in his nationally televised address, a time frame longer than two years is not acceptable to most Americans. Still, most of those polled expect large numbers of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq for many years to come.
Sixty-eight percent of Americans say that U.S. troop levels in Iraq should either be reduced or that all troops should be removed - similar numbers to those before Mr. Bush's speech.
The poll indicates that the number of people supporting withdrawal actually increased after Petraeus' testimony. In addition, the public strongly disagrees with Petraeus that the surge is "working":
Only about one in three (31 percent) said the surge has made things in Iraq better, while more than half (51 percent) say it's had no impact. Eleven percent say it's made things worse.
So essentially, 62% of the American people are calling General Petraeus a liar. Why don't the American people believe what Petraeus is saying about Iraq? For one reason, they have heard optimistic assessments of the situation in Iraq from generals many times before.
The second problem for Petraeus is that his statements don't line up with the reality on the ground. People know that Anbar province is almost entirely Sunni and represents just 5% of Iraq's population. Therefore, it's difficult to comprehend Petraeus' argument that the same tactics employed in a province that is nearly 100% Sunni will work in the rest of the provinces where the population is mixed between warring Sunni and Shiite sects.
People also realize that the smarmy Arab sheiks who Bush was shaking hands with (one of whom was subsequently blown up by Al Qaeda) are not really our allies, and would take the first opportunity to stab us in the back just as they have been doing for the past 4 years. Equally confusing is how the surge could be responsible for the Sunni sheiks in Anbar turning against Al Qaeda when they were already doing that long before the surge began. Instead of convincing the American people of the wisdom of Bush's strategy in Iraq, Petraeus' testimony has just led people to wonder whether he is cherry-picking information and spinning a story for the benefit of those who want to continue the war no matter what.
The Bush administration's attempt to make General Petraeus the public face of their Iraq War policy was indeed a clever one but it hasn't had the expected results. The public listened to what Petraeus said and summarily dismissed it. The American people know that the surge tactics don't constitute a comprehensive strategy for victory in Iraq, and that there really is no such strategy for victory. Nor is there a plan for any kind of an end game. We are just expected to keep sacrificing our sons and daughters, and spending billions upon billions of dollars for an indefinite period of time while the Iraqis try to get their act together. And we are also told that, if we do leave anytime soon, that everything our troops have sacrificed for could be swept away in an instant.
Terrific. I've heard enough. It's time to bring the troops home.
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