Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue
by Jonathan Singer, Thu Jan 25, 2007 at 01:36:58 PM EST
Over in Breaking Blue Matt makes an interesting catch that bears expanding on: According to an article today in The Politico by Ben Smith, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer believes that the 2008 elections will not center on the issue of Iraq. To be specific, Schumer told Smith, "I think Iraq will not be as strong an issue in the 2008 elections," and that he believes that "the surge will fail and the president will have no choice but to begin removing troops."
Leaving aside, for a moment, whether or not the President will admit that his surge is a failure and will begin to redeploy troops out of Iraq before the election, it's instructive to take a look at how public sentiments currently stand on American involvement in Iraq, not only in terms of sheer numbers, with somewhere between 50 percent and 70 percent of the country disapproving of the war, but also in terms of what these numbes mean. Over at the Mystery Pollster blog on Pollster.com, Mark Blumenthal writes the following:
You rarely see media pollsters cite correlation coefficients in their reports. On the other hand, you rarely see a correlation as strong as the one ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer cites in his tour de force summary of public attitudes on the State of the Union:The root of Bush's problems can be summed up in three words: Iraq, Iraq and Iraq. It drives his unpopularity. Among people who oppose the war, a mere 10 percent approve of Bush's job performance; among war supporters, three-quarters approve. The correlation between attitudes on the war and on Bush is a near-perfect .98.
The extraordinary polarizing effect of the Iraq War explains more than Bush's problems. It is also the lens through which Americans currently view much of our national politics. While pollsters have been making that point since the 2004 elections, the dominance of the Iraq War on our politics has obviously intensified. Right now, for better or worse, it's all about Iraq.
It would be difficult to illustrate more clearly, beyond Langer's numbers cited by Blumenthal, that Iraq is the schism within the electorate today. No other issue -- not abortion rights, not taxes, and certainly not immigration -- creates as deep a cleavage among American voters as does the war in Iraq. Given these numbers, it's difficult to envision Iraq not being the issue come November 2008. Public sentiments do change over time. But in the absence of some radical change on the ground -- either all of the sectarian violence suddenly disappearing or, say, the President pulling up all stakes in the country -- Americans aren't going to simply stop caring about Iraq any time in the next two years.
As for Schumer's prediction that the President will admit the failure of his escalation plan to solve Iraq's problems and consequently decide to withdraw American forces, it is as wrong as the thinking that the President would use the cover of the Iraq Study Group to withdraw troops -- or, for that matter, the killing of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, any one of Iraq's national elections, or any other supposedly monumental event. Smarter people than me have said it, but it's clear to me (as I've written before -- here and here, for example) that the plan being forwarded by President Bush and John McCain to increase the number of American troops in Iraq is about one thing, and one thing alone: prolonging the war. So anyone who believes that the move will hasten the day that America can withdraw its forces, thus taking Iraq off of the table as the central issue in American politics today, is just plain wrong.