Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama’s Withdrawal and American Public Opinion

Today Friday February 27 President Obama outlined his plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. In a speech at a Marine base he said that roughly two-thirds of U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by August 2010. The Pentagon presented the president with three withdrawal plans. These were a 16-month plan, what Pres. Obama promised in his election campaign, a 19-month one, and a 23 month one. As reported before, the U.S. commander in Iraq General Odierno had been advocating for keeping as many American troops in the country as possible, and withdrawing them very slowly. The president apparently picked a middle course between his election promise and Odierno’s wishes by going with the 19-month plan. Even after that’s complete, up to 50,000 U.S. troops could remain in Iraq for training, supply, intelligence, and the external defense of Iraq. CBS News and the New York Times recently released a public opinion poll on Iraq that found the American public agreeing with the President’s timeline.

On February 23, 2009 CBS News and the New York Times released the latest American public opinion poll on Iraq. The survey asked 1,112 people questions by phone from February 18 to 22. It included 315 Republicans, 397 Democrats, and 400 independents.

When asked what country should be the focus of the United States Iraq was still number one by just one percentage point. 36% said Iraq was the most important, followed by Afghanistan 35%, Iran 10%, North Korea 7%, and something else or a combination 4%.

When queried on how they thought things were going in Iraq almost two-thirds said things were well. 11% said very well, 52% said somewhat well, 20% said somewhat badly, 9% replied very badly, and 8% didn’t know or did not respond. Overall 63% felt things were good in Iraq compared to 29% who said the situation was bad. That was the highest amount of positive responses since a December 2003 poll. At that time 65% said things were well in Iraq, and 33% said they were bad. By June 2007 the mood had flipped with only 22% saying things were good in Iraq, compared to 77% who felt it was bad. In a December 2008 survey, the mood change could be seen with 56% saying things were well, and 39% saying it was bad. Now would appear to be the most opportune time to pull out U.S. forces as over 60% of those polled feel that things are good in Iraq. If more thought Iraq was going badly the administration would probably be attacked for withdrawing under duress.

Public feelings on such a move was another question in the poll. Based upon President Obama’s original plan to pull out troops within 16 months, the poll asked how important that was. 46% said it was very important, 32% said somewhat, 10% said not too important, 8% said not important at all, and 4% either didn’t know or had no answer.

Early on in his campaign President Obama committed to withdrawing troops from Iraq. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between Iraq and the United States says that all U.S. troops have to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. The majority of U.S. forces will now be about before that deadline. The public opinion poll shows that the American public largely supports this move. The remaining force of several thousand will be there to ensure stability. There’s a good chance that many of these will even stay beyond 2011 if General Odierno has his way. They can remain if the Iraqi government agrees to it. Before than however, the U.S. needs to show that it is committed to pulling out troops because in July of this year Iraq will have a referendum on the SOFA. If it is not passed American soldiers and marines would have to be out by the end of 2009.

CBS News/New York Times Poll February 23, 2009

Which country should be the focus of the U.S. government?
Iraq 36%
Afghanistan 35%
Iran 10%
North Korea 7%
Something else or combination 4%
Don’t know/no answer 8%

How are things going for the U.S. in Iraq?

Very well 11%
Somewhat well 52%
Somewhat badly 20%
Very badly 9%
Don’t know/no answer 8%

Comparing February 2009 Poll to December 2008, June 2007, and December 2003 Polls
Feb. 2009: 63% well, 29% bad
Dec. 08: 56% well, 39% bad
June 07: 22% well, 77% bad
Dec. 03: 65% well, 33% bad

How important is it for the U.S. to withdraw troops in 16 months?
Very important 46%
Somewhat important 32%
Not too important 10%
Not important at all 8%
Don’t know/no answer 4%

SOURCES

Barnes, Julian, “Compromise on Iraq withdrawal timeline appears near,” Los Angeles Times, 2/25/09

BBC, “Obama outlines Iraq pullout plan,” 2/27/09

CBS News/New York Times, “Iraq, Afghanistan, And Iran February 18-22, 2009,” 2/23/09

DeYoung, Karen and Kornblut, Anne, “Obama Sets Timetable for Iraq,” Washington Post, 2/28/09

Rubin, Alissa and Robertson, Campbell, “Iraq Backs Deal That Sets End of U.S. Role,” New York Times, 11/27/08

1 comment:

Elizabeth Miller said...

The problem with the media coverage of Iraq and, consequently, the public polls on this issue, is that this 'coverage' seems to focus only on the withdrawal of US forces and the timetable for it to the exclusion of the most critical part of this strategy. Of course, I talk about the all important - but always ignored by the media, by and large - diplomatic/political component.

Therefore, I place little, if any, stock in public opinion polls on Iraq policy. But, the fact remains that President Obama's overarching strategy for Iraq is a comprehensive one that, I might add, has his Vice President's fingerprints all over it!

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