(That little riff just never gets old, does it?)
The ever-shifting rationale for the war usually goes something like this: Why can’t liberals admit that X completely and utterly justifies the cost of this war in lives and resources with absolutely no room for ambiguity?…with “X”=the latest hint of vaguely positive news, i.e., big statue pulled down, elections held without too many people being killed, etc.
Well, it looks like the American public takes a much more nuanced view of these things than the average warblugger.
Two years after President Bush led the country to war in Iraq, Americans appear to be of two minds about the situation in the Middle East: A majority say they believe the Iraqis are better off today than they were before the conflict began but they also say the war was not worth fighting in the first place, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The January elections in Iraq have helped to shift public opinion in a positive direction about the future of Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, with a clear majority of Americans (56 percent) saying they are now confident that Iraqi leaders can create a stable government a dramatic turnaround since just before the elections.
Despite the optimism about the future, the poll suggests there has been little change in the negative public opinion about the decision to go to war. Fifty-three percent of Americans said the war was not worth fighting, 57 percent said they disapprove of the president’s handling of Iraq, and 70 percent said the number of U.S. casualties, including more than 1,500 deaths, is an unacceptable price.
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Along with judgments about the war in Iraq, the poll found little appetite for military action against other states Bush has targeted for criticism, including Iran and North Korea. But with Iraq moving toward greater self-governance, Bush does not appear to be under great pressure to remove U.S. forces immediately despite criticism of how he has handled the situation there.
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Foreign policy experts said they found the seemingly conflicting views about the past and the future consistent with long-standing attitudes about the use of U.S. military force. For starters, Americans rank promoting democracy abroad at or near the bottom of acceptable reasons for using military force.
“People just think this is not our mission, that we should not be the democracy policemen,” said James B. Steinberg, vice president and director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. “Even though they think they [the Iraqis] are better off, they’re leery about the U.S. going out and doing these things.”
Of course, there’s still plenty here to make your head hurt:
In the new poll, 56 percent said they think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the start of the war and 6 in 10 said they believe Iraq provided direct support to the al Qaeda terrorist network, which struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Also, 55 percent of Americans said the administration told people what it believed to be true, while 43 percent believe the administration deliberately misled the country.
Retrospective judgments of Bush’s decision making are far more negative that they were two years ago as events were unfolding. For the first time in a Post-ABC poll, a majority (51 percent) called the war in Iraq a mistake. On the day Baghdad fell in April 2003, just 16 percent called the war a mistake and 81 percent said it was the right thing to do.
A plurality of Americans said the war has damaged this country’s standing around the world, with 41 percent saying the U.S. position is weaker, 28 percent saying it is stronger and the rest saying it has made no difference. Two years ago, 52 percent said the war had made the U.S. position stronger, vs. 12 percent who said it was weaker.