Thursday, January 12, 2012

Did Iraq Lead To The Arab Spring? Public Opinion Poll Says Probably Not


The Arab Spring has swept across large swaths of the Middle East, and is still playing out today. Starting in Tunisia in December 2010 with protests and riots by youth, the surge for change against the old autocratic and dictatorial governments of the Arab world was launched. Some politicians and pundits in the United States eventually claimed that the revolutions occurring in the region were due to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. They argued that the democracy that the U.S. established there was an inspiration to Arabs around the region. A recent public opinion poll released by Zogby Research Services however, found that respondents in a number of Arab countries and Iran did not think that Iraq benefited from the American presence, undermining a cause and affect relationship between the transformation in Baghdad and other Arab capitals.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut were two prominent American politicians who claimed that Iraq was behind the Arab Spring. In August 2011 for instance, Cheney appeared on Fox News stating that the United States creating a democracy in Iraq was affecting the rest of theArab world. In December, Senator Joseph Lieberman told reporters that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein showed the entire Middle East that dictators could fall. Both Cheney and Lieberman were supporters of the Iraq War, so they obviously wanted to promote the positive affects the invasion might have brought to the Arab world. The question was did their ideas have any support from the region, or were they just trying to prop up their policies?

A public opinion poll by Zogby Research conducted in November 2011, found few Arabs or Iranians had a positive opinion about the Iraq invasion. The survey questioned people in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Iran. When asked were Iraqis better or worse off today compared to Saddam’s time. Egyptians had the most favorable view with 37% thinking that Iraqis were better off, compared to 41% who said they were worse, and 13% who said they were the same. Saudis had the poorest opinion of Iraq, with only 16% saying Iraqis were better off, and 66% saying their were doing worse. In Jordan, 25% had positive responses, 61% negative, and 14% thought Iraqis were the same. In Lebanon, 22% felt that Iraqis were doing better, compared to 57% who thought they were worse off. In the UAE, 30% believed that Iraqis were doing well, 48% said they were doing worse, and 17% said they were the same. In Iran, 25% thought Iraqis were better off, 18% thought they were doing worse, and 20% thought they were the same. Finally, 31% of Tunisians thought Iraqis were doing well, 20% said they were doing worse, and 49% said they were the same. With Iraq going through looting, an eight-year American occupation, an insurgency, and a civil war, it’s no wonder that many in the region thought that Iraq was worse off after the 2003 invasion. There was little that could inspire other Arabs or Iranians from Iraq’s experiences.


Are Iraqis better or worse off today compared to before 2003 invasion?

Egypt
Saudi
Arabia
Jordan
Lebanon
UAE
Iran
Tunisia
Better
37%
16%
25%
22%
30%
25%
31%
Worse
41%
66%
61%
57%
48%
51%
20%
Same
13%
16%
14%
3%
17%
20%
49%
Not
Sure
9%
2%
-
18%
6%
3%
-
 
Respondents had a similar poor view of the 2007 Surge policy of the United States. This time, Egyptians had the worst view with only 5% saying that Iraq was better off after the Surge, compared to 76% who said it was worse, and 20% who said it was the same. The UAE were the most positive with 33% stating that Iraq was better, 51% saying it was worse, and 16% saying it was the same. 30% of Jordanians believed that Iraq was better, 48% worse, and 22% the same. Amongst Saudis questioned, 25% claimed Iraq was better, 42% stated that it was worse, and 23% the same. In Lebanon, 28% felt that the Surge was good, 42% said it was bad, 10% said it was the same. A majority of Iranians, 53%, believed that Iraq was worse off after the Surge, 26% said it was better, 21% said it was the same. Tunisia was different from the rest with 65% responding that Iraq was the same after the Surge, compared to 26% who thought it was better, and 9% who though it was worse. People in the region did not approve of the 2003 invasion, and majorities in each country felt that the Surge either made things worse like in Egypt and Iran, or had no real effect overall such as in Tunisia. The best that the Surge could do was roughly one-third approving in the UAE and Jordan. This was different from the United States as well, where the change in strategy is widely believed to have turned Iraq around. The overall negative opinion of the invasion in the first place, probably made people in the region see the subsequent policies as failures as well.


Is Iraq better or worse off today compared to before the surge?

Egypt
UAE
Jordan
Saudi
Arabia
Lebanon
Iran
Tunisia
Better
5%
33%
30%
25%
28%
26%
26%
Worse
76%
51%
48%
42%
42%
53%
9%
Same
20%
16%
22%
23%
10%
21%
65%

When asked who benefited from the Iraqi war, most thought that the U.S. did. 88% of Egyptians, 86% of Lebanese, 81% of Tunisians, 66% of Jordanians 58% of Saudis, 50% of Iranians, and 47% of Emiratis had that opinion. Israel got the second most responses with 72% in Lebanon, 56% in Egypt, 46% in Iran, 37% in Saudi Arabia, 35% in the UAE, 30% in Jordan, and 23% in Tunisia. Many American pundits now believe that Iran will take over Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal. That was shared with some, but not all respondents in the survey. 54% of Tunisians thought that Iran came out on top after the 2003 invasion, followed by 35% in Egypt, 28% in Jordan, 27% in Saudi Arabia, 25% in the UAE, and only 10% in Lebanon. When asked if the Iraqi people won in the war, opinions were split. 35% in the UAE and 21% in Iran felt that way, but that was only shared with 16% in Saudi Arabia, 8% in Lebanon, and 2% in Egypt and Jordan. This was another piece of information that would disprove the argument that Iraq was an inspiration to the Middle East and North Africa. If only small amounts believed that the Iraqi people benefited from the war, they would not think of it was an inspiration for change in their own countries. Instead, large amounts seemed to feel that the United States acted out of its own interests.


Who benefited the most from the Iraq war?

Egypt
Lebanon
Tunisia
Jordan
Saudi
Arabia
UAE
Iran
Iraqi
People
2%
8%
-
2%
16%
35%
21%
Iraqi elites
5%
8%
32%
15%
21%
25%
22%
U.S.
88%
86%
81%
66%
58%
47%
50%
Iran
35%
10%
54%
28%
27%
25%
-
Israel
56%
72%
23%
30%
37%
35%
46%
Al Qaeda
11%
6%
10%
44%
28%
12%
11%
Saudis
2%
3%
-
5%
6%
8%
27%
Turkey
1%
2%
-
10%
11%
12%
21%
No one
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
Respondents could pick two groups

Overall, the people polled did not have a favorable opinion of the United States, and Iran did not fare much better. 55% in Tunisia, 70% in the UAE, 73% in Lebanon, 80% in Iraq, 82% in Saudi Arabia, 89% in Egypt, and 92% in Jordan thought that America had a negative affect upon Iraq. Iran received the next most negative responses with 40% in Lebanon, 49% in Egypt, 56% in Tunisia, 59% in the UAE, 66% in Jordan, and 82% in Saudi Arabia. All of these countries, with the exception of Iran were friendly with the U.S., showing the negative impact that the 2003 invasion had upon that relationship. Many Arabs also fear the growing influence and interference of Iran in the region, which accounts for the bad opinion of that country.


Did the following have a negative or positive impact upon Iraq? Positive/Negative

Egypt
Jordan
Saudi
Lebanon
Tunisia
UAE
Iran
U.S.
4%/89%
5%/92%
14%/82%
15%/73%
12%/55%
25%/70%
10%/80%
Iran
8%/49%
17%/66%
3%/82%
31%/40%
2%/56%
31%/59%
37%/4%
Saudis
31%/13%
23%/44%
39%/5%
21%/43%
26%/7%
33%/41%
27%/54%
Turkey
37%/8%
7%/70%
13%/64%
26%/25%
14%/9%
28%/44%
28%/58%
China
6%/14%
20%/4%
31%/7%
14%/11%
5%/3%
43%/12%
30%/43%
UAE
18%/10%
11%/21%
40%/8%
27%/13%
34%/-
55%/3%
26%/56%
Numbers do not add up to 100%, because no impact was not included

Those questioned were all over the place when asked about what would happen in Iraq after the 2011 U.S. withdrawal. 68% of Jordanians feared a civil war, compared to only 18% in Tunisia. 52% of Saudis and 49% of Jordanians worried that Iraq could split apart, but that feeling was not shared in the UAE, 14%, and Tunisia, 20%. Terrorism was also a top concern in Jordan, 62%, but again, not in the UAE, 19%, and Tunisia 19%. Jordan was again the most pessimistic when asked about economic collapse with 48% saying they were concerned. 46% of Lebanese felt the same way. Only 12% in Tunisia picked that topic however. 52% in Jordan, and 49% in Saudi Arabia felt that Iraq could be dominated by another country, but only 7% of respondents in Tunisia felt that way. This question was about all the negative things that could happen to Iraq after 2011. The responses showed that there was no consensus amongst those questioned.


How concerned are you about the following issues once the U.S. withdraws from Iraq? Concerned/Not Concerned

Egypt
Jordan
Saudi
Lebanon
Tunisia
UAE
Iran
Civil War
30%/
43%
68%/
7%
47%/
29%
46%/
34%
18%/
34%
22%/
67%
44%/
45%
Split apart
27%/
52%
49%/
13%
52%/
27%
43%/
39%
20%/
36%
14%/
75%
41%/
43%
Terrorism
25%/
50%
62%/
9%
41%/
35%
44%/
37%
19%/
63%
18%/
63%
39%/
45%
Economic deterioration
27%/
38%
48%/
14%
39%/
33%
46%/
32%
12%/
54%
27%/
54%
38%/
48%
Lose religious freedom
27%/
44%
36%/
28%
25%/
49%
33%/
44%
19%/
36%
19%/
62%
42%/
41%
Dominated by another country
21%/
59%
52%/
20%
49%/
19%
29%/
50%
7%/
75%
25%/
55%
42%/
45%
Respondents could pick two topics

In comparison with the last question, most felt that Iraq would be doing better in the next two years. Majorities in Lebanon, 55%, Iran, 60%, Egypt, 66%, Jordan 67%, Saudi Arabia, 75%, and the UAE, 76%, were hopeful about Iraq. Tunisia was the only exception with 80% there being pessimistic. Perhaps those questioned believed that without the U.S. military presence, Iraq could finally begin to pull itself together. Despite their negative opinion about the American invasion, the Surge, and who benefited from the war, optimism was alive and well.
 
Opinion of Iraq in next two years?

Tunisia
Lebanon
Iran
Egypt
Jordan
Saudi
UAE
Optimistic
20%
55%
60%
66%
67%
75%
76%
Pessimistic
80%
24%
29%
23%
18%
11%
14%
Not sure
-
21%
11%
11%
15%
12%
8%

The poll showed that few thought that the invasion of Iraq or the United States did much good for the country. A majority of respondents felt that Iraq was worse off after 2003, and that the Surge made things worse or did not change the country. A majority in all but one country also felt that the United States was the greatest beneficiary of the war, not the Iraqi people, and large numbers in each country felt that America had the worst impact on Iraq. All together that meant few in the survey believed that Iraq was a good example to follow. That undermined the belief of some that Iraq was an inspiration for the Arab Spring. With all the problems that beset the country after the fall of Saddam, that was understandable. Despite all these negative opinions however, most thought that Iraq could finally prosper after the U.S. withdrawal. This view was shared by Iraqis themselves, leading to some hope for the country.

SOURCES

Crabtree, Susan, “Lieberman: Iraq war was initial spark for Arab Spring,” Washington Times, 12/13/11

Reuters, “Witness report rioting in Tunisian town,” 12/19/10

Seitz-Wald, Alex, “Cheney Credits Iraq War For Helping To Start Arab Spring,” Think Progress, 8/31/11

Zogby, James, “Iraq: The War, Its Consequences & the Future,” Zogby Research Services, 11/20/11

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"With Iraq going through looting, an eight-year American occupation, an insurgency, and a civil war, it's no wonder that many in the region thought that Iraq was worse off after the 2003 invasion. "

That isn't why they are seen as worse off. They are seen as worse off because Iraq is now ruled by Shiites.

bb said...

Joel with respect, you are setting up an "inspired by" strawman and then drawing conclusions from it.

The connection between spectacular outbreak of popular revolts against authoritarian dictators across the sunni arab middle east demanding democracy and freedom and the removal of Saddam/Baath/establishment of constitutional parliamentary democracy was more like the breakup and democratisation of Yugoslavia and its provinces after the removal of Milosovic by Clinton/Gore/Blair.

ie the peoples of those Yugo provinces got their democracies because they believed they could! Sensed that "democracy" might be the outcome not the imposition of another dictator. But not because they appreciated or were "inspired" by the US war, Joel.

In the sunni arab middle-east, Saddam was the symbol Sunni tyrant of all tyrants. Like Milosevic he cultivated aura of always being able to outsmart the superpowers, even the dreaded US, and get their backing no less. But once Saddam met his ignominious end, dragged out of a rat hole, put on trial by a democratically elected Iraqi govt then executed, buried and the world didn't end -then all things might be possible.

How can the effect be calculated of the images of Gadaffhi being dragged out of his rathole - so similar to those images of Saddam -on the morale, determination, solidarity of the Syrian revolutionaries bent on overthrowing the Alawi regime?

And speaking of Libya - US, Brit and France combine to put in place a typically spurious UN resolution as cover to bomb the shit out of that country for 5 consecutive months,insert special forces and ensure regime change. Sound familiar? All this from the successors of Bush, Blair and even Chirac only 8 years after the successful Iraq invasion.

And right now, the conditions are being set for similar western action in Syria.

Can you imagine the Arab League being in the forefront of these actions if Saddam/Baath or another tyrant regime was still in power in Iraq?

Joel Wing said...

"Can you imagine the Arab League being in the forefront of these actions if Saddam/Baath or another tyrant regime was still in power in Iraq?"

Yes. By the end of the Saddam regime, Iraq was not playing a large role in the Arab League, so even if he was still in power, he would not really have any allies in trying to stop this, and he might even support the Arab League going into Syria because the Assads were a rival of his.

"then all things might be possible."

All the negative things released with the fall of Saddam might be possible as well.

We've had this discussion before in other forums. You acknowledge all the bad that happened in Iraq post-2003, but still seem to think that the idea of democracy that was planted in Iraq was more important than any of that. You know 66% of Iraqis in this same survey said that democracy would either fail or didn't believe in it to begin with.