Checking In With, You Know, Americans

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As Dick Cheney urges sending ground troops into Iraq, the public is deeply opposed. (It’s worth recalling that in 2011, when president Obama withdrew all forces from Iraq, he had 75 percent support in the Gallup poll.) 42 percent of Cheney’s fellow Republicans think that Iraq is no longer America’s responsibility. A majority of Democrats and a plurality of Independents think Obama’s response has been about right. Majorities of Democrats and Independents do not see an increase in terrorism to the US as likely; while 60 percent of Republicans do.

What you see should dampen hopes that Republicans have shifted from a Cheneyesque posture to a Paulite one. But they’re divided. And with any luck, the latest Sunni insurgency could help advance a debate in their ranks that they’ve been loath to have for many years. And that’s no small thing. The GOP’s major policy initiative in the past decade was the Iraq War. It was the signal concern of the Bush-Cheney administration and they asked the country to judge them on it. The country did – which is why Barack Obama is president. But the party then went into a strange cone of silence on the question. The neocons kept peddling the idea that the surge “worked” – which, according to its architects, meant a reconciled multi-sectarian government able to govern democratically. No one really pushed back on that transparently false narrative. And then it was on to criticizing Obama! Only now that the issue has come back into the American consciousness – and in the context of a primary process in the near-future – does the GOP have a chance to figure this all out.

My own view is that the continuing conflagration can only help Paul – because it is highly unlikely to result in anything but more grief, more violence and more terror, but with Americans more deeply involved. That’s likely, in my view, to tilt the debate away from interventionism. I could be wrong – Iraq tends to prove everyone but the deepest pessimists wrong – but this poll, cited by Philip Klein, should serve as a steaming cup of reality for the neocons:

CNN/ORC poll taken in December 2011, around the time of the U.S. withdrawal, found that Americans expected Iraq would get overrun by terrorists, but overwhelmingly supported withdrawal anyway.

Specifically, the pollsters offered a series of scenarios and asked if they were likely or unlikely to happen in the “the next few years.” The results: 54 percent said it was unlikely Iraq would “continue to have a democratic government that will not be overthrown by terrorists”; 60 percent said it was unlikely Iraqi security forces would “be able to ensure safety and security in Iraq without assistance from the United States” and 63 percent said it was unlikely Iraq would “be able to prevent terrorists from using the country as a base of operations for planning attacks against the United States.” Despite this pessimism, 78 percent of Americans in the same poll said they approved of the decision to withdraw.

So Americans are not exactly surprised by the last few weeks. Not as surprised as the Obama administration, actually. Because they, unlike the expert fixers, see something that cannot be fixed by outsiders as the obvious conclusion. And on this, the American people, and not their leaders, are right.