A year ago, in one my first posts to this blog, I argued:
Consider the results of the Pew poll which came out yesterday. In response to the question "Do you think the U.S. should keep military troops in Iraq until a stable government is established there, or do you think the U.S. should bring its troops home as soon as possible?" 53% of the people said they supported keeping the troups in Iraq and 40% said they supported bringing them home as soon as possible. Moreover, support for keeping troups in Iraq has decreased over time; the first time the Pew poll ran this question in Sept 2003, 64% supported keeping troups in Iraq as long as it takes.
So: we have reached the point where two-fifths of the American public want their troops brought home as soon as possible, regardless of the situation in Iraq.
More importantly:support for bringing the troops home immediately can only increase. Can you think of event that will shore up support for the war? What could possibly happen to those who think our troops need to be brought home immediately change their minds? On the other hand, more violence in Iraq, continued over a large period of time, will make the 53% of the people who do support keeping the troops change their opinion. The numbers support this analysis: support for bringing the troops home has slowly but consistently increased over the nine months.
It is a war of wills. The terrorists realize that they do not need to defeat us militarily; they only need to create carnage and chaos for a sufficiently large period of time until the majority of Americans want to bring the troops home. Is the will of the American people greater than the will of the terrorists?
Not in this case. Now that no WMDs have been found, Bush can offer no coherent rationale for staying in Iraq except to help the Iraqi people create a democracy. So the primary reason to stay in Iraq is humanitarian;but the American people had no stomach for this in Somalia -- why should this case be any different? Call me a pessimist, but while I supported the Iraqi war from the beginning, and while I support staying in Iraq as long as it takes now, I just don't think the American public will be willing to tolerate Fallujah-type casualties for altruistic reasons.
I now believe my predictions may have, on the whole, been wrong. Nevertheless, they are dead on as far as American public opinion is concerned. Pollsters, unfortunately, seem to have stopped asking the public whether an early pullout is favored. Nevertheless, it seems that public opinion on Iraq has continued its relenentless slide towards negativity: 58% of the people believe the war has not been worth fighting; 73% feel the number of casualties has been unacceptable; and 65% believe the US has been bogged down; 65% believe the Bush administration does not have a clear plan.
Interestingly enough, the increase in anti-war beliefs of the American public has not lead to increased Democratic attacks based on this issue (or at least, I have not observed Democrats talking more about this in recent months). Perhaps, though, this will change as the 2006 election cycle approaches.
I do seem to have been wrong in believing that the gains for the anti-war crowd would proceed faster - I was guided by the Somalia example. But here the dynamics are not the same; even though Bush can offer no coherent rationale for the war, Republicans can still assail their critics for being soft on defense, which has proved to reasonate with the voters. Democrats are therefore more reluctant to speak on this issue, and change in public opinion takes considerably more time.
Further, it may be that there is a ceiling to the anti-war opinion. So long as the majorities who espouse anti-war opinions are not too large, Republicans may still continue to win elections (like Blair or Berlusconi).
Update: Kos cites a poll saying 59% of the public wants an early withdrawal/troop reduction.