by Jonathan Singer, Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 10:33:16 AM EST
Last night Matt wrote an extremely important post detailing the disconnect between the sentiments of the public and the actions of the President. Humpbacking on another important post by Digby, Matt writes, "It's very upsetting to have political elites so out of step with a public that just voted for change. The public says no. The Congress says no. And yet Bush is going to escalate the war, and possibly strike Iran as well." Indeed. But not only is President Bush charting a course opposed by an overwhelming number of Americans, those who either watched his speech last night or have heard the details of his plan are just as likely oppose his escalation as those who are not yet familiar with the specifics, indicating that there was little to no bounce from his widely-covered speech -- a surprising fact given that it was run on all of the major television networks in prime time, though perhaps not as surprising due to Americans' disapproval of the President and his cynical political plan for Iraq.
CBS News, which had polled Americans about a week ago, conducted an overnight poll among its earlier respondents and found some interesting data. Looking through the report, available in .pdf form from Pollster.com, Americans are actually less confident in the President's ability to make decisions about Iraq than they were before his speech last night (though the shift was well within the margin of error for the survey). And while those who watched the speech were swayed to the argument that America should fund a jobs program in Iraq, they were neither convinced that more troops should be sent to the country, nor that President Bush's plan will result in success.
The Washington Post and ABC News, which also conducted a one-night survey following the President's speech (though did not have another recent poll with which to compare the most recent results), found sentiments within the public not dissimilar to those found by CBS. According to this poll, 61 percent of Americans still oppose sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq, including a 52 percent majority that strongly disapproves of such a move. Remarkably, given the the lack of coverage and lack of respect given to those politicians calling for a defunding any increase in the number of US forces in Iraq, 53 percent of Americans want to see the Democrats use the power of the purse to block troop increases. This number, in particular, stands out in light of the argument by both Matt and Digby that the elites in this country are deaf to the sentiments of the citizenry.
Finally, the Associated Press had a poll (.pdf) in the field over the last three nights that captured Americans' feelings about the war as the President's plan slowly leaked out. Overall, 70 percent of Americans are opposed to an increase in American troops in Iraq -- including a substantial 42 percent minority of Republicans. Even if these numbers come down slightly in the coming days as Americans have more of an opportunity to digest the President's speech and plan (a possibility, though not necessarily likely), they indicate that Americans of all political stripes are thoroughly opposed to the escalation of the war.
Yet not only are the elites and policymakers divorced from the sentiments of Americans, they are also divorced from both reality and history. In the car this morning I caught retired General Jack Keane, one of the architects of the President's plan to escalate the war, on NPR's Talk of the Nation. In response to a question from a Vietnam veteran who likened this decision to the one nearly forty years ago to continue the war in Southeast Asia despite the clear lack of a winning strategy and even, perhaps, the capacity to win, Gen. Keane responded that President Bush was taking the same affirmative steps taken in 1969 to replace the generals on the ground with others who understood how to properly fight an insurgency. As a result of that decision -- and, in theory, as a result of this one as well -- Americans had effectively won the war by 1972. Now I do not mean to imply that I understand more about military history and tactics than a retired general, but I think many can agree in hindsight that the continued presence of American troops in Vietnam during the Nixon administration did not, in the end, ensure victory but rather fostered thousands more American deaths. If this is what we have to look forward to with the President's plan, then far more than 60 to 70 percent of Americans are going to disapprove of his Iraq strategy.
Regardless, it is clear that the American people do not support an escalation in Iraq, that they in fact support the withdrawal of American troops and that, depressingly, their sentiments are not being heeded by those with power over America's policy.