Are attitudes shifting on Iraq?

Even some critics of President Bush’s Iraq war policies are conceding there is evidence of recent improvements from a military standpoint. But Bush supporters and critics alike agree that these have not been matched by any noticeable progress on the political front.

Despite U.S. pressure, Iraq’s parliament went on vacation for a month after failing to pass either legislation to share the nation’s oil wealth or to reconcile differences among the factions. And nearly all Sunni representatives in the government have quit, undermining the legitimacy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite.

Still, there have been signs of changes in attitudes, some on the ground in Iraq, some in the United States:

_Two critics of Bush’s recent handling of Iraq, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, both of the Brookings Institution, penned an op-ed opinion piece in The New York Times suggesting after a visit that “we are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms.” They recommended Congress sustain the current troop buildup “at least into 2008.”

_Leading anti-war Democrat Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania predicted that U.S. commanders will begin drawing down troop levels early next year and that Congress can be more flexible in setting a fixed deadline for ending the U.S. occupation.

_Polls suggest that Bush has had some degree of success in linking Islamic militants in Iraq with the al-Qaida terrorist movement.

“The administration is aggressively engaged in shifting (public) attitudes. And our side has been less aggressive than it needs to be,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “The administration has been making inroads on their Iraqi argument, particularly linking it to terrorism.”

After sliding to just 28 percent in June, within range of an all-time low, Bush’s job approval rating on handling Iraq rose slightly to 31 percent in July, according to AP-Ipsos polling. And a recent CBS/NYT poll showed an increase in the percentage of Americans who think the U.S. did the right thing in going to war with Iraq, up to 42 percent from 35 percent in May.

“I don’t claim our recommendation to keep surging into 2008 is a no-brainer. That can be debated. But I think people’s opinions need to catch up with the battlefield facts,” O’Hanlon said in an interview.

The op-ed piece he wrote with Pollack has been widely circulated by war supporters but denounced by many war critics. “As long as people start to get a sense that what’s happening on the battlefield is different and better than what it was, then I feel like we’ve made our contribution,” said O’Hanlon.

O’Hanlon and Pollack supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but they have been sharply critical of the administration’s handling of the aftermath.

Like the Iraqi parliament, Congress has recessed for the rest of August, to return in September — when an eagerly awaited progress report on Iraq will be presented by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

What lawmakers hear from their constituents during the next month could do a lot to shape the Iraq debate ahead of receiving that report.

Visiting Iraq, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said Wednesday from Baghdad that American-led forces were “making some measurable progress, but it’s slow going.”

“As our troops show some progress toward security, the government of this nation is moving in the opposite direction. This is really unsustainable with the American people,” Durbin said in an interview with National Public Radio.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that Petraeus’ plan was “producing good results. And the troops have achieved tactical momentum against al-Qaida. …We’re anxious to see what General Petraeus has to say in September. It will be a watershed moment in our efforts in Iraq.”

Petraeus asserted that “we are making progress. We have achieved tactical momentum in many areas, especially against al-Qaida Iraq, and to a lesser degree against the militia extremists.” Still, he told Fox News on Tuesday that “there are innumerable challenges.”

Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said, progress there “is a very mixed bag.” After visiting Iraq, Cordesman cited recent military successes against al-Qaida terrorists — but said there has been less progress against Shiite extremist groups.

“I think senior Iraqi political leaders are talking to each other, but they’re doing it around the prime minister (al-Maliki). It’s not clear the prime minister is exerting any great leadership toward conciliation,” Cordesman said.

Michele Flournoy, a former Pentagon defense strategist and now president of the Center for a New American Security, said that “the clock in Washington is running down pretty fast. There’s sort of a wall next March-April. That’s when they’ll have to start replacing units, which will hit the 15-month mark.” Bush recently extended tours of duty from 12 months to 15 months.

“They’re going to have some very tough choices then. Either the ‘surge’ will de facto end and they’ll start bringing people out because there’s no units to replace them. Or you’re going to have to have a presidential decision to extend tours from 15 months to 18 months,” Flournoy said.

Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based think tank that follows defense issues, cites “significant progress” on the military front. “There’s the backlash against al-Qaida in Anbar Province. There’s a reduction in attacks in Baghdad. And there’s the ongoing stabilization efforts in the suburban belt around Baghdad,” Thompson said.

“The problem is that nobody in the United States sees any significant progress on the political front. The Shiites and Sunni factions in the government don’t seem to be able to get along. And that makes Congress wonder whether we’re making any real progress. Because, even with better security, the country can’t figure out how to take care of itself,” Thompson added.


  1. geyser

    I would hope there is a report of some gains made. I don’t want to lose all faith in our Generals and certainly not, in our Army. With any good news there will no doubt be bad news, just to keep our feet on the ground and our heads out of the clouds.
    The problem that has always been there, is still there. The Iraqi Government still fails to make any inroads toward the Benchmarks setforth. Without any progress in these areas, the victories on the battlefield will be for naught. The Iraqi Army put in the the cities that were cleaned of Insergents, to keep it clean, will begin to weaken and lose control, back to the Insurgents. Once this begins to take place, bush will have no choice but to start bringing our troops home. There will be no reason to keep them there in Harms way. The Iraqi people will have to make a decision, if they want the Insurgents to stay and run the country or help the government make peace between the Three religious factions, pass the Oil Sharing policy, finish writing the Constitution and help the Army and Police to rid the country of Insurgents and Al Qaida. Once our troops start to leave Iraq, things will happen quickly, there will be no time to think of what to do and how to do it. This must be ready in advance of our leaving.
    The world will be watching as events unfold, eyes will be on the US, it is important that we stand clear and not interfere with the Iraqis. There can no hidden agenda from the bush administration, what we do or not do will make what are next move will be. If there is a plan for Iran, it must not include any type of invasion or aggression.
    Our Army will not be ready for another war. If bush does not heed the powers of our military and gives the order to attack, many Body Bags will be filled in the first day alone. We will reach the Death count ammassed in the four years of Iraq, much faster in Iran.
    These should not be our next endevor, it is the wrong time with the wrong country.

    One Day at a Time

  2. VietnamVet

    The Iraqis have been fighting each other for over a thousand years. Even the regime of Saddam Hussain was laced with hate between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds, despite there being far more stability then than now. (And yes, Saddam WAS an SOB; it has nothing to do with my point!) One can only applaud gains made by our troops and ANY good news from Iraq, but as many have pointed out, there is little hope for the Government and any accommodation between the three groups. If there is no good news on the political front, we should plan for and execute an orderly withdrawal from that civil war.

  3. JudyB

    My attitude will NEVER change on this greedy, needless, deadly, costly Iraq oil war of Bush-Cheneys’ and as far as Bush-Cheney go, they will forever be the worst President in American history thus far! (nor do I believe I stand alone in my opinions)

  4. acf

    Improvements in Iraq? Based on who, generals handpicked because they would toe Bush’s line? He lied to start the war. He’s lied at every turn as he changed the story as to why we’re there. As for continuing the ‘surge’, in 2006 the voters told him, and the Congress who supported him, in no uncertain terms, that enough was enough, get out. At that point, as far as I was concerned, we were through, and there was to be no more ‘success is just around the corner’, or ‘just wait six more months’. The last chances, or little more times were over. What is it with these people who fall for his nonsense, over and over again.

  5. SEAL

    The conditions in Iraq were created by the idiots who made this country up and threw the three nationalities/idiologies together. I can’t imagine how they ever thought these people would get along. They began fighting immediately, have never stopped, and never will. Even if we were able to bring total peace and a stable government to fruition, the day we left the fighting would recommence.

    The only solution is to divide the country into three boundries, one for each with it’s own government rule – the sunni-the shiite-the kurds – and figure out some sort of equal sharing of the oil wealth and an equally represented central council to represent the nation as a whole to the rest of the world, sell the oil, import/export, etc. Anything else will only be a continuation of a three way war until one wins by virtually destroying and enslaving the other two just like Saddam was doing.

    Everyone who thought Iraq was one nation under Saddam was not paying attention. It was a nation at civil war then, just as it is now. The only difference was that Saddam did a better job of winning than Bush.

  6. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    Hey Seal, do you think there are some similarities between how Marshal Tito ruled Yugoslavia and how Saddam ruled Iraq? Similar in that Tito kept the factions at Bay, as did Saddam keep the factions at bay in Iraq, as a ‘Shotgun Wedding’.
    And like Tito, Saddam used raw military & police power to keep the ‘lid’ on.

    I’m with you on Partitioning Iraq, it seems like the only possible way to keep the lid on.