2004 July 05 Monday
American Public Separating Iraq From Terrorism

It can be fairly said that the American people are slow to learn obvious truths.

For more than a year after the major fighting ended in Iraq, most Americans thought that the United States had done the right thing in sending troops. As recently as early June, according to Gallup, 58 percent of those surveyed rejected the view that the war was a mistake. Now the same thing seems to be happening with Iraq that happened with Vietnam in 1968. It was in 1968, after the Tet offensive, that a majority of Americans began to endorse the view that the Vietnam War was a mistake. The end of last month marked the first time that most Americans--by 54 percent to 44 percent--said that the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq.

What's driving the disillusionment? Two things.

First, the public is beginning to separate Iraq from the war on terrorism, despite the Bush administration's efforts to link the two. "The killers know that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror," Bush said on June 1. In April 2003, most Americans agreed with that view. Back then, 58 percent thought the war in Iraq made the United States safer from terrorism, according to Gallup. Now most Americans (55 percent) think the war in Iraq has not made us safer.

Second, last month the 9/11 commission reported having found "no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." The late-June Gallup Poll found that, for the first time, most Americans reject the view that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks (51 percent to 44 percent). Many Americans who initially supported the war feel misled.

What is so bothersome about these numbers is that they are a measure of just how little attention most people dedicate to understanding events beyond their own immediate lives. Large numbers of people can easily be misled on major points of fact.

While some neoconservatives continue to point to fairly rare meetings between members of Al Qaeda and members of the Iraqi government they ignore far more numerous examples of connections between people in Saudi Arabia and members of Al Qaeda. While the top government officials in Saudi Arabia may not have been funding Al Qaeda (though there are rumours of payoffs of protection money to keep Al Qaeda from attacking Saudi Arabia) the sheer number of connections between people in Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda figures around the world was orders of magnitude larger than the number of connections that can be made between Al Qaeda figures and people in Iraq.

The other reason why a focus on connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda figures seems, at best, misguided is that the internal structure of Saudi Arabia as an alliance between the ruling princes and Wahhabi clerics makes the recruitment of members of an organization such as Al Qaeda possible. The intellectual journey from Wahhabism to Al Qaeda style Islamic terrorist theology is a much shorter distance to travel that the distance from belief in Iraqi Baathist ideology to a willingness to pilot an aircraft into the side of a skyscraper. The intellectual center of fundamentalist Islam is Saudi Arabia and it is the embrace of fundamentalist Islam that does more than anything to turn some young guy into an Islamic terrorist.

The American public fears terrorist attacks. Looked at rationally for most people there are probably more important dangers to fear (e.g. drunken drivers, cancer, or the physical process of aging) which people ought to be far more keen to see their governments do something about. But given that the fear of terrorism is so powerful and given that the American public is increasingly separating Iraq into a separate category from the "War On Terror" this does not bode well for George W. Bush's reelection chances. Ironically however, another terrorist attack in the United States close to the date of the election will probably work in Bush's favor as people rally around the President as they so often do in a crisis.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 July 05 04:17 PM  Politics American Domestic


Comments
TangoMan said at July 5, 2004 6:48 PM:

While the top government officials in Saudi Arabia may not have been funding Al Qaeda . . .

They sure seemed to go to bat for the Al Queda suspects held in Guantanamo by trading 6 Western hostages for the Saudi prisoners. At the time the Saudis said that the men were held for being involved in a gang war to do with the alcohol trade. The men professed their innocence and said the bombings that they were being held for were the work of Al Queda and that they were not involved with alcohol. The Saudi gov't said that there was no Al Queda in Saudi Arabia. Yes, time does seem to have a way of flushing out the truth, but it's too bad that 6 innocent men had to be tortured.

JustAnOrdinaryAmerican said at July 5, 2004 9:33 PM:

Well, congratulations to the American people for finally beginning to understand that Bush's war in Iraq is not the war we should be fighting to reduce the terrorist threat. It annoys me that too many people are intellectually lazy and will simply believe anything they are told by the Bushies, as long as it is wrapped in the American flag and plays on people's fears of terrorism.

"Ironically however, another terrorist attack in the United States close to the date of the election will probably work in Bush's favor as people rally around the President as they so often do in a crisis."

Now if people really are beginning to come around to the truth, wouldn't it be odd if another attack were to result in increased support for Bush? After all, Bush has been saying that a world without Saddam Hussein will be a safer world, and that the war in Iraq is the frontline in the war on terror. A rational person would have to question these claims if another attack occurred. A rational person would have to ask why the government was not able to prevent another attack, despite the enormous resources that are being devoted to the war in Iraq. If another attack occurs, and even if it doesn't, Americans should be angry at Bush for waging war in Iraq against Saddam and his supporters, instead of hunting down the real terrorists that threaten America.

gcochran said at July 5, 2004 9:59 PM:

There was no rational reason for Bush's approval ratings to soar after 9-11 either, but they did, just as they would have for most any other President. At the time I didn't hate him at all (do now, of course), but a big surge in approval when he hadn't _done_ anything yet seemed silly to me. Now if he responded well, great - but why like him better before anything had happened at all? Same for Giuliani - what did he _do_?

But that's what people are like. The same thing happened with MacArthur in 1942, in the Philippines. He didn't do well, screwed up in a lot of ways, gave many professional observers the impression he'd lost his nerve. But back home, Americans were shook up, needed a hero, so they created one out of their own imagiantion. They could have done better (could have idolized Spruance, who actually _was_ a demigod) but they could have done worse.

We sure have.

Fly said at July 5, 2004 11:08 PM:

“What's driving the disillusionment?”

Not finding massive stockpiles of WMD’s has hurt. Even though the Clinton administration and the world intelligence community also believed the stockpiles existed, I believe many people feel misled. The media spin converts an intelligence failure into deliberate lying by Bush. Even without the media spin the intelligence failure causes lack of confidence in our government.

I tend to discount the polls about the Saddam-911 connection. Some of the questions weren’t very specific. Was Saddam a threat to the US? Was Saddam behind 911? So far there is no strong evidence that Saddam knew of or directly supported the 911 attacks. But would we know if Saddam had provided funds or other support through third parties? The first polls asked if Americans thought there was a connection between Saddam and 911, not whether there was proof of a connection. There certainly is evidence of contacts between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

The relentless portrayal of Iraq as a disaster by the media, the lack of WMD’s, and the relentless drip, drip of media spin about no “proven” link has affected the latest poll results.


Re: The role of Saudi Arabia and what to tell the American public.

One week after 911 I was riding in a car with two former NSA officials. From their contacts they already knew the role Saudi Arabia played. The anger they expressed toward Saudi Arabia was intense. So what was to be done? Nuke Mecca and start total war with 1.2 billion Muslims? Take over the oil fields and occupy Mecca? No Saudi puppet government would work closer with the US than the current princes were doing so toppling the government wasn’t an answer.

The lack of good options led to the Iraq strategy. Not at all satisfying.

How is the Bush administration to explain this situation to the American public? How to explain that the battle would be long and that our worst enemies couldn’t be attacked in the early stages? That we couldn’t just bomb a country or kill a leader. That we had to change a worldwide culture. All without telling our enemies our plans or alienating moderate Muslims.

“Looked at rationally for most people there are probably more important dangers to fear (e.g. drunken drivers, cancer, or the physical process of aging) which people ought to be far more keen to see their governments do something about.”

A major attack on New York City could kill hundreds of thousands and devastate the world economy. (How much did 911 cost our economy? Far more than the cost of the war in Iraq?) How likely is such an attack? Unlike drunk drivers the risk can’t be calculated based on past history. Given the stated intentions of our enemies and a rational assessment of their capabilities it seems like a rational worry to me.

The physical danger of aging is a different situation. Most people don’t believe there is anything that can be done. If there is a cure for aging in twenty years and people believe their parents and friends died because the government was slow to support research there might be recrimination.

Randall Parker said at July 5, 2004 11:31 PM:

Fly,

The media plays Iraq as a huge mess because it is a huge mess. Events there have gone far worse than the leading lights of the Administration expected. The US does not have a military that is large enough to do a proper occupation of the country. That was predictable (heck, was predicted) in advance. The Bush Administration pretends that it has enough troops because it would be too financially and politically expensive and take too long to expand the size of the US Army. The Bushies blew it.

The total size of the insurgency is not shrinking. Can the Iraqi government succeed where the US military can not make headway? That is what the Bush Administration has to count on at this point.

Randall Parker said at July 5, 2004 11:41 PM:

Fly,

I want to understand your logic on attacking Iraq rather than Saudi Arabia.

So you are arguing that we couldn't invade Saudi Arabia because we couldn't expect to put into power a better regime than it currently has? But that we could invade Iraq with the hope of putting into power a better regime?

You are also arguing that the Bush Administration felt it necessary to lie about the extent of Saudi culpability for 9/11 because there was no way to retaliate against that would provide a net benefit?

Also, what will change that will make our worst enemies attackable in some later stage?

Um, as for alienating moderate Muslims: Do you know just how radically public opinion in Indonesia has shifted in the last 3 years from being favorably disposed toward the United States toward really resenting us? I don't have the numbers in front of me but the numbers I saw were for a huge many tens of percentage points shift.

gcochran said at July 5, 2004 11:47 PM:


Anyone who thought that Iraq was a military threat of any kind to the US was a God-damned pinhead. Anyone who actually _believes_ in this fantasy of changing Arab culture through the magic of invasion is just as much of a pinhead. I suppose I should be polite, but in my experience pinheadery is forever. In fact, there is a sense in which Iraq may pay for itself - it flushes out the fools. Now we know who they are.

Fly: have you noticed that the same people who _do_ believe in the big nonsense get all the subpredictions wrong? Notice how their ideas of what will happen next in Iraq are always wildly optimistic? That's a a sign: it shows that their model of the world does not work. But their big decisions were based on the same model, a model that can evidently fit on a 3 x 5 card. None of the key players knew a damn thing about the Arab world - they distrusted anyone who did. Judging from their actions, and their incessant historicaal missatements, none have ever read any history at all. If I hear one more time about that nonexistent German insurgency (which my Uncle Lloyd in Bavaria somehow never even noticed), about how Iraq today is a lot like the thirteen colonies in 1776-1787 - I'm going to scream.

gcochran said at July 5, 2004 11:57 PM:

Pew Poll results from last summer:

"The swing was even sharper in Indonesia, where Islamic radicalism has been
rising since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and
Washington.
.
While 75 percent had a favorable opinion of the United States in 2000, 83
percent now have an unfavorable view."


Or consider this:

"Canadian Teen Survey
Bob Perreault
Monday, June 28, 2004

Almost half of Canada's teenagers think the United States is a force for evil in the world.

That's the result found in the latest survey published by the Dominion Institute of Canadian young people between 14 and 18. "

This was predictable. And it's bad. The brain drain is slowing down. Christ, current Administration policy _maximizes_ enemies - Bush should be arrested as an enemy combatant.

Fly said at July 6, 2004 10:14 AM:

First a disclaimer, we both know the ME political situation is too complicated to be discussed without gross simplifications. I try to say just enough to make my point. For example I portray Saudi Arabia as a US enemy. It is an entire country with millions of people. A few are strong supporters of the US. Some are deadly enemies. Some hate the US but want a more secular society. Most are extreme religious conservatives.

“So you are arguing that we couldn't invade Saudi Arabia because we couldn't expect to put into power a better regime than it currently has? But that we could invade Iraq with the hope of putting into power a better regime?”

I don’t know what the US could have done. The US has many capabilities. Perhaps the US troops in Saudi Arabia could have taken control of the government. Certainly the US could have captured the oil fields. What next? Here is my speculation.

Saudi Arabia is a sick society. There is little chance that the people could make a secular government under US control. So the US becomes the long-term, extremely hated occupier of Islam’s Holy land. (Or maybe turn Mecca over to Jordan.) Potentially every Islamic country in the world would become our deadly enemy. The US occupation would be surrounded by unfriendly Islamic countries. For thirty years the Saudis spent over 70 billion promoting the Wahabi version of Islam. Mosques all over the world owe allegiance to the Wahabis. Each could be a source for recruitment and violence.

Saudi Arabian oil is critical for the Western economies. What happens when the country is a center for war and terror?

Revenge would be sweet. (I’ll smile when the Saudi princes finally get theirs.) But our government and military have to do what is in the long-term best interests of the US. (We can have honest disagreements as to what plan is better and as to whether the plan is being properly executed.)

We needed to send a message to the Islamic world that America would not sit back and allow itsself to be attacked. Saddam had long been a threat. US troops were tied down enforcing the “no-fly” zones. The sanctions weren’t working. US intelligence indicated Saddam hadn’t disarmed. (Faulty intelligence, but after 911 the government wasn’t going to risk it. Iraq either proved there were no weapons or invasion.) Saddam had attacked his neighbors and threatened the Saudis. The Iraq people hated Saddam and were relatively secular and educated. Iraq was the low hanging fruit.

Set Iraq up as successful, secular democracy and then Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are surrounded by modernizing, secular democracies, friendly to the US. Iraqi oil might partially replace the Saudi oil at risk.

The time would be right to deal with Saudi Arabia. The US would pressure the Saudis for change. The Saudi princes would see themselves surrounded. They’d see the US meant business. Likely there would be a civil war. The US could then roll in to restore order and protect the oil fields. The US would hand Mecca over to Jordan and let the UN (gag!) administer Saudi Arabia and the oil fields.


“You are also arguing that the Bush Administration felt it necessary to lie about the extent of Saudi culpability for 9/11 because there was no way to retaliate against that would provide a net benefit?”

Lie? No, Bush is careful not to be caught in a lie. It’s more what he doesn’t say. Bush is walking a very fine line. He carefully states that the US is fighting terrorists, but that Islam is a religion of peace. At the same time Bush appoints Daniel Pipes to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Pipes is very outspoken about the Wahabi threat. Bush supports moderate Islamic countries while pushing for reform. Bush warns that all countries that back terrorists are US enemies. (Saudi Arabia backs terrorists.) The people under Bush go into more detail. The information is available on the Internet to those who look. Now that the Iraq situation is maturing I expect the US pressure on Saudi Arabia to increase.

“Um, as for alienating moderate Muslims: Do you know just how radically public opinion in Indonesia has shifted in the last 3 years from being favorably disposed toward the United States toward really resenting us? I don't have the numbers in front of me but the numbers I saw were for a huge many tens of percentage points shift.”

Yes, I follow foreign sources so I’ve a pretty good idea. I’ve posted on this topic before. The nature of Islam is that any non-Islamic country that fights back against Muslims will be condemned by all Islamic countries. That is a basic tenet of the Islamic faith. To the believers it is only right that Islam take over the world. The US is evil for resisting Allah’s will. Given the anger at the US for taking out Saddam, imagine if the US had attacked Mecca.

Bob Badour said at July 8, 2004 9:24 AM:

With respect to the Canadian Teen Survey, I am surprised fear of the US is so low given the media and educational barrage of anti-american indoctrination they have faced since long before 9/11. Did the survey indicate there had been any kind of change?


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