Last week's congressional testimony by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, followed by President Bush's address to the nation, has not changed bottom-line public attitudes toward the war in Iraq. However, there has been a modest increase in positive views about the U.S. military effort, accompanied by largely positive public reactions to General Petraeus' recommendations.Yet, beyond the broad numbers, what is deeply striking about this survey is the clear partisanship surrounding evaluations of Petraeus' accuracy and impartiality, as well as other issues:
Most Americans (57%) who heard at least something about Petraeus' report say they approve of his recommendations for troop withdrawals, which President Bush has endorsed.
About three-quarters of Republicans (76%) and half of independents who heard about the report believe that Gen. Petraeus was accurately describing the current situation in Iraq. Reaction among Democrats is more skeptical. Just a third of Democrats say he accurately described the situation while 49% say he made things seem better than they really are.Democrats clearly evince more robust antiwar (or anti-military) tendencies in the poll:
Two-thirds (67%) of Republicans today believe the U.S. is making progress in defeating the insurgents in Iraq, up from 53% in February. But very few Democrats (16%) or independents (31%) agree with this assessment, and views have remained unchanged throughout the year. Similarly, Republicans have become substantially more optimistic about progress in preventing a civil war, while Democrats and independents remain generally gloomy. And while there has been an across-the-board rise in optimism about reducing the number of civilian casualties, the gains are far more substantial among Republicans. As a result of these differences, the partisan divide in outlook about the war is far larger now than at the start of the year.More partisanship can be seen in the findings on those supporting a troop drawdown. While a majority of Americans (54 percent) favors a troop pullout, only 18 percent favor an immediate drawdown. Thirty-four percent favor withdrawing troops over the next year or two.
If the 34 percent figure is added to those who favor keeping U.S. forces in Iraq (39 percent), a full 73 percent of Americans supports maintaining the deployment over the next couple of years, with only a gradual pullout!
This interpretation of the data is not what most people will find in the press, and especially not among hard left bloggers (see, for example, Daily Kos' interpretation of the findings, or those at the Talking Points Memo.)
The fact remains that Americans want to ensure a stable Iraq before removing American troops from the country.
Take a look at more of the data. A deep partisan divide characterizes support for the war, but general trends are favorable: The numbers of Americans seeing progess on military goals are going up. The numbers of Americans seeing a reduction in civilian casualties are going up. The numbers seeing increased progress in defeating the insurgency are going up!
The United States is making progess in this war, and the public recognizes it.
A balanced assessment of the opinion environment on Iraq requires one to go beyond assessment of Petraeus' likeability to the hard numbers evaluating success on the ground. The evidence is striking. These data should be trumpeted by the media and across the blogosphere. There's no call for a precipitous withrawal from Iraq, and Americans recognize the clear, substantial gains being achieved under the administration's strategic and tactical adjustments.