Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Great Expectations Take a Beating

[[V I E W S]] * More numbers are out that illuminate just how unhappy Americans are with George W. Bush, his administration, and his policies. The first set come from a new survey conducted by CBS News, which puts the prez’s job approval rating at an abysmal 34 percent, “an all-time low”--and down from 42 percent just last month. As Salon’s War Room blog observes, that’s still not as discouraging as the 24 percent approval Richard Nixon claimed in the month before he resigned in 1974, nor is it as low as Jimmy Carter’s drop to 26 percent at the time he gave his infamous “malaise” speech. However, it equals the debilitating level to which George H.W. Bush’s approval fell “a few months before Bill Clinton sent him packing in 1992.” (According to CBS, “Not since November 2004 has a majority approved of [the junior Bush’s] overall performance.”)

The same poll finds that 59 percent of respondents disapprove of the way Bush is handling his job. Fifty-one percent declare the Republican prez does not care much about people like themselves. (That’s up from 47 percent last fall.) And, as CBS reports, “Seven in 10 Americans, including 58 percent of Republicans, say they’re opposed” to the administration’s plan to allow a Dubai-government-owned company to take over the management of port terminal operations in six major American cities (as well as 15 other locations not originally reported by the press). Fifty percent disapprove of Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program. These opinions, coupled with the increasing casualty counts from Iraq--both among Americans and Iraqis--may explain the tumble in perceptions of Bush’s handling of the so-called war on terror. Just 30 percent of Americans approve of how Bush is handling the Iraq war, which seems well on its way to becoming a civil war in Saddam Hussein’s homeland. Sixty-two percent of the public believes things are going “badly” in Iraq, and a remarkable 54 percent now say the prez never should have started that war in the first place. Half of the respondents to this survey disapprove of Bush’s handling of terrorism-related issues, with only 43 percent approving--a significant decline for somebody who for so long has managed to look strong on national security, even when his other ratings have scratched bottom.

Finally, as New Orleans celebrates its first Mardi Gras since last fall’s devastating Hurricane Katrina, a separate CBS poll finds that two-thirds of the public don’t think the prez has done enough to help the victims of that tragedy. “Only 32 percent approve of the way President Bush is responding to those needs, a drop of 12 points from last September’s poll, taken just two weeks after the storm made landfall,” CBS explains.

* * *
Meanwhile, a “first-ever survey of U.S. troops on the ground,” conducted jointly by Le Moyne College and Zogby International, finds that “an overwhelming majority of 72 percent of American troops in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year.” And 29 percent believe that the United States should yank its troops out immediately. As pollster John Zogby writes,
The troops have drawn different conclusions about fellow citizens back home. Asked why they think some Americans favor rapid U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, 37% of troops serving there said those Americans are unpatriotic, while 20% believe people back home don’t believe a continued occupation will work. Another 16% said they believe those favoring a quick withdrawal do so because they oppose the use of the military in a pre-emptive war, while 15% said they do not believe those Americans understand the need for the U.S. troops in Iraq.

At 55%, reservists serving in Iraq were most likely to see those back home as unpatriotic for wanting a rapid withdrawal, while 45% of Marines and 33% of members of the regular Army agreed.
Amazingly, although only 42 percent of troops serving in Iraq say the U.S. role there is clear, 85 percent insist that a major reason they’re risking their lives and the future of their families is “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks”--even though the bipartisan September 11 commission declared in 2004 there was “no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States,” and there were no Iraqis among the 9/11 hijackers.

Figuring out how to respond to both these Zogby numbers and polls of Americans not living overseas is the challenge for Bush and his fellow Republicans as they head into November’s midterm elections. I’m guessing that the White House will call for some voter-appeasing trimming of troop strength in Iraq over the next few months. However, if the GOP manages to hold onto its dominance on Capitol Hill, we should expect troop commitments to rise again, with Bush and Company insisting that “commanders on the ground” are calling for a greater military presence. If Democrats should, as many expect, gain an equal or greater foothold in Congress, though, Bush will likely be forced to begin seriously reducing the number of U.S. servicemen in Iraq, even as a new diplomatic track and new international efforts are initiated to bring about a negotiated peace in that wartorn nation. Bush’s definition of “victory,” like Nixon’s, will have to be changed if he’s to leave a legacy other than disaster in the Middle East.

“THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF DEFEAT”: A variety of U.S. conservatives have joined in the chorus of concerned Americans declaring that Bush has made a shambles of his Iraq war, and that the fighting over there is not worth continuing for the years (and trillions of dollars) it might take to force a peace on that nation from the outside. Since I missed the opportunity earlier to highlight William F. Buckley’s opinions along that same line, allowed me now to quote from his latest column in the magazine National Review:
One can’t doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. ... Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven’t proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols. ...

[It was once thought] that the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymakers to cope with insurgents bent on violence.

This last did not happen. And the administration has, now, to cope with failure. It can defend itself historically, standing by the inherent reasonableness of the postulates. After all, they govern our policies in Latin America, in Africa, and in much of Asia. The failure in Iraq does not force us to generalize that violence and antidemocratic movements always prevail. It does call on us to adjust to the question, What do we do when we see that the postulates do not prevail--in the absence of interventionist measures (we used these against Hirohito and Hitler) which we simply are not prepared to take? It is healthier for the disillusioned American to concede that in one theater in the Mideast, the postulates didn’t work. The alternative would be to abandon the postulates. To do that would be to register a kind of philosophical despair. The killer insurgents are not entitled to blow up the shrine of American idealism.

Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality without forswearing basic commitments in foreign policy.

He will certainly face the current development as military leaders are expected to do: They are called upon to acknowledge a tactical setback, but to insist on the survival of strategic policies.

Yes, but within their own counsels, different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat.
READ MORE:The Soldiers Speak. Will President Bush Listen?” by Nicholas Kristoff (The New York Times); “Bush on Civil War: It’s an Iraqi Thing,” by Tim Grieve (Salon); “Bush Poll Limbo: How Low Can He Go?” (BobGeiger.com); “GOP Unease Spreads to Security Issues,” by Peter Baker (The Washington Post); “Poll Shows Growing Concern Over Threat From Terrorists” (The Wall Street Journal); “Iraq’s Worst Week--and Bush’s,” by Juan Cole (Salon); “BushCo in a Nutshell,” by Marc Acriche (State of the Day).

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