Americans are overwhelmingly resigned to something less than clear-cut victory in Iraq and growing numbers doubt the country will achieve a stable, democratic government no matter how the United States gets out, according to an AP poll.
At the same time, dissatisfaction with President Bush’s handling of Iraq has climbed to an alltime high of 71 percent. The latest AP-Ipsos poll, taken as a bipartisan commission was releasing its recommendations for a new course in Iraq, found that just 27 percent of Americans approved of Bush’s handling of Iraq, down from his previous low of 31 percent in November.
“Support is continuing to erode and there’s no particular reason to think it can be turned back,” said John Mueller, an Ohio State University political scientist and author of “War, Presidents and Public Opinion.” Mueller said that once people “drop off the bandwagon, it’s unlikely they’ll say ‘I’m for it again.’ Once they’re off, they’re off.”
Even so, Americans are not necessarily intent on getting all U.S. troops out right away, the poll indicated. The survey found strong support for a two-year timetable if that’s what it took to get U.S. troops out. Seventy-one percent said they would favor a two-year timeline from now until sometime in 2008, but when people are asked instead about a six-month timeline for withdrawal that number drops to 60 percent.
Public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman of the conservative American Enterprise Institute said stronger support for the longer timetable could reflect a realization that it takes time to change strategy.
Clamoring for change
But while Americans give their presidents considerable latitude on foreign policy when they think there is a clear plan, the negative numbers show a public that is clamoring for change, she said.
“It’s going to be very hard to reverse numbers as negative as the president has right now,” she said.
The AP-Ipsos survey of 1,000 Americans, taken Monday through Wednesday, underscores growing pessimism about Iraq. Some 63 percent did not expect a stable, democratic government to be established there, up from 54 percent who felt likewise in June. Skepticism was considerably higher among Democrats, with just 22 percent expecting a stable, democratic government, compared with half of all Republicans. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Parallels to a war gone by
The latest numbers evoke parallels to public opinion about the war in Vietnam four decades ago. Just 9 percent expect the Iraq war to end in clear-cut victory, compared with 87 percent who expect some sort of compromise settlement. A similar question asked by Gallup in December 1965, when the American side of the war still had eight years to run, found just 7 percent believed the war in Vietnam would end in victory.
Former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, one of the co-chairmen of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, took note of growing impatience with the war’s direction and with the commitment of U.S. troops when he told senators Thursday: “There are limits to the American patience. There are limits to American resources.”
“You want to get out in a way that is responsible,” he added.
The study panel’s 96-page report said flatly that the administration’s approach was not working and recommended that the U.S. military accelerate a change in its main mission so that most combat troops can be withdrawn by spring 2008.
House and Senate Democratic leaders have all signed on to a plan that the United States pull out some troops right away to put pressure on the Iraqis, but without a specific timetable.