Most Americans oppose President Bush's call to send additional U.S. military forces to Iraq and just over a third say the new plan makes victory there more likely, an initial public rebuke of the strategy he unveiled last night in a nationally televised address.Bush's prime-time address to the nation apparently didn't change the level of support for the administration's new strategy. Yesterday's USA Today/Gallup poll -- conducted prior to the president's speech -- also found 61 percent of Americans saying they opposed the Iraq surge initiative.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted following the President's speech finds broad and strong opposition to his call to send about 21,500 more troops to Iraq: 61 percent oppose the force increase, with 52 percent "strongly" opposing the build-up. Thirty-six percent support the additional troops; only one-quarter of the public is strongly supportive.
Support for adding troops is somewhat higher among the 42 percent of Americans who tuned into Bush's speech. Forty-seven percent of viewers think the increase is a good idea, but the President's supporters were more likely than others to watch or listen to his remarks. (Seventy-two percent of the public said they saw or heard Bush's speech when the war began in March 2003.)
The tepid response to the President's new initiative is due in part to the public's broad opposition to the war and its skepticism about Bush's handling of the situation. For more than two years majorities have said the Iraq war wasn't worth fighting, and by nearly a 2-1 margin Americans disapprove of Bush's leadership on the issue. The reaction is also based on a dire assessment of the facts on the ground: In this poll, 57 percent, a new high, say the U.S. is losing the war in Iraq.
Bush last night called the situation in Iraq "unacceptable," saying for the first time that previous policies were inadequate. He pitched the troop increase as essential to victory in Iraq and as a way to hasten the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces. While in accord with Bush's estimation of the situation, most Americans do not think Bush's new plan makes it more likely the U.S. will win in Iraq; only 36 percent think so. Nor do they think a troop increase is likely to end the war more quickly; just three in 10 think it will. In both cases, about half the public says the new strategy will not make much difference.
Bush's steadfast move toward escalating America's presence in Iraq raises important questions about the impact of public opinion on presidential war policy. According to Douglas Foyle, in his book, Counting the Public In: Presidents, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy, Bush's relationship to public opinion falls into the "realist" approach to foreign policy analysis:
Realists argue that formulating foreign policy requires complicated trade-offs, access to secret information, and sophisticated reasoning, which the public lacks. Given the emotional or moody foundations of public opinion, realists recommend that policymakers not consider public opinion as they formulate foreign policy. Instead, after deciding on a policy, officials might work to build support for the chosen alternative. This view suggests that policymakers will likely develop policy with attention to national security requirements while largely leaving public sentiments out of the equation.The administration's approach to Iraq has approximated the realist model very closely, although Bush is more of a Wilsonian, democratic-realist in his approach to spreading American values internationally. Indeed, the Baker Study Group recommendations -- which Bush rejected -- are more in line with traditional realist thinking, supporting for example beefed-up diplomacy and alliance-building, and the reduction of the U.S. military presence in the Middle East.
The Post/ABC News poll breaks down pretty well into partisan lines, and should things go well with the troop build-up it might be possible to get some independents and fence-sitting Democrats back into the support column. Having said that, there's great pessimism in the country regarding the Iraq project. I continue to support the deployment -- one reason being is that I advocate a Burkean/realist conception of executive leadership in national security -- but my support is focused on military success this year. The U.S. will need to be successful with clear and hold in Baghdad, with the military shifting more to an advisory role in support of Iraqi forces' stepped-up security responsibility in counterinsurgency and small-unit police fighting.