Most Americans think this week's report from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus will exaggerate progress in Iraq, and few expect it to result in a major shift in President Bush's policy. But despite skepticism about the Petraeus testimony and majority support for a U.S. troop reduction in Iraq, there has also been a slight increase in the number who see the situation there as improving.
The findings, from a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, underscore the depth of public antipathy toward the Iraq war, the doubts about the administration's policies and the limited confidence in the Iraqi government to meet its commitments to restore civil order.
Fifty-eight percent, a new high, said they want to decrease the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. And most of those who advocated a troop reduction said they want the drawdown to begin either right away or by the end of the year. A majority, 55 percent, supported legislation that would set a deadline of next spring for the withdrawal of American combat forces. That figure is unchanged from July.
Only about a third believed the United States is making significant progress toward restoring civil order in Iraq, most said the buildup has not made much difference, and a majority said they do not expect the troop increase to improve the security situation over the next few months. Just one-third were confident the Iraqi government can meet its political and security goals.
At the same time, however, there has been a six-point increase since July in the percentage of those who said the additional U.S. forces have improved the situation in Iraq (up to 28 percent) and a nine-point jump in the proportion of those who think the buildup will make things better (up to 43 percent). When Bush announced the troop increase in January, 57 percent said the United States was losing the war in Iraq. Now, 48 percent have said so. About a third said the United States is winning the war.
The public's baseline judgment on the war is little changed -- more than six in 10 said the war is not worth fighting, a sentiment that has been a majority view for nearly three years.
But though the public assessment of progress in Iraq remains largely negative, most expected Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, to express a rosier view when he begins his congressional testimony tomorrow. Only about four in 10 said they expect the general to give an accurate accounting of the situation in Iraq. A majority, 53 percent, said they think his report will try to make the situation in Iraq look better than it really is.
These are interesting findings. Especially significant, I would argue, is that less than majority of Americans considers the U.S. losing in Iraq. And those numbers seeing improvement under the surge have gone up considerable. The title of the Post article is putting a more negative spin on the data than would seem warranted.
Other data here simply confirm what is basic to American public opinion and war: The public likes U.S. combat forces to go in hard and heavy, completing the mission with as little casualties as possible. Yet, when the public sees clear national security interests at stake, support will remain firm.
The current war has not had the benefit of the best public relations and marketing it might have had. That said, the upward trend lines show that the public will back a long campaign as long as there are signs of success in the mission.
Sure, I lot of Americans expect to see a spin on the troop increase this week in General Petraeus' testimony (although Petraeus has stated he'd provide an nonpartisan analysis of the war). That's understandable, especially with all the nasty partisanship that's been going on, and not to mention the Democrats' unending attempts to call the war a failure.