Partisanship and the Speed of Withdrawal

by Brian Vogt | January 31st, 2008 | |Subscribe

Jonathan Rauch had a very thought provoking article about partisanship and the Iraq war in the most recent issue of the Atlantic.  For anyone interested in the intersection of these two issues, this is a worthwhile read.  Rauch uses the historical comparisons of the Gulf War, the Vietnam War, Kosovo, the Korean war, etc to emphasize the point that the partisan divide on the Iraq war is something that is actually quite unprecedented.  When we have gone to war previously there certainly has been a partisan divide, but the Iraq war has the largest partisan divide of any war in recent history. 

What this means is that Democrats and Republicans seem to be living in completely different realities when it comes to the war.  Public opinion polling demonstrates that many Democrats who are now antiwar claimed never to have supported it, when they actually did.  A third of Republicans still believe that we found WMDs in Iraq.  Another third thinks that they were there but they just haven’t been found.  In 2006, 5 years after 9/11 and 3 years after the invasion of Iraq 65% of Republicans still believed that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.  It is clear that to a certain degree, regarding the war, Democrats and Republicans are still living in separate realities.

A January 18-22, 2008 Bloomberg/LA Times poll continued to show the partisan divide that Rauch describes in his article.  Look at these numbers: 

“In your opinion, should the United States withdraw troops from Iraq right away, or should the U.S. begin bringing troops home within the next year, or should troops stay in Iraq for as long as it takes to win the war?”


Right Away
Within Year
Stay as Long
As It Takes
    % % % %  
        ALL reg. voters 20 43 31 6  


32 58 8 2  


19 47 26 8  


8 24 61 7  

Overall the consensus is to withdraw within a year.  If you look at the breakdown between Republicans and Democrats, the majority of Democrats are in this category, yet the majority of Republicans still believe that we should stay in as long as it takes.

Of course, what this means for the Presidential election is that at least in terms of Iraq the Democrat candidates are much more in line with overall public opinion than the Republicans.  Although, McCain’s quote about staying in Iraq for a 100 years if necessary likely plays quite well with the Republicans base, it will receive few standing ovations in a general election.

The lesson of these polls, however, is not to point out who can win the general, but rather that once a candidate does win, and right now it’s looking more and more likely that will be a Democrat, the candidate will not only be faced with what to do in Iraq, but also with the partisan baggage that goes along with that decision.  This decision will have deep ramifications for years to come in the partisanship surrounding US foreign policy.   If done incorrectly it could poison future policy debates into a blame game about who “lost the war”. 

It seems that if a Democrat is elected in 2008, the question will not be, will we withdraw, but how quickly.  I agree with Rauch that the Democratic presidential candidates must consider how a straight party line decision to withdraw immediately could poison foreign policy decisions for years to come.  Granted, the Republicans had very little problem with using the September 11 to make a partisan decision to go to war.  Remember, even though many Democrats voted for war, the majority of Democrats in Congress did not (House + Senate votes).   It will be vitally important for the next President to make his/her decision on the speed of withdrawal from Iraq based not just on the party’s hard core partisans, but also on the party’s moderates and the moderates from across the aisle.  If the president fails to do so, he/she risks continuing the polarization on US foreign policy… and continuing the blame game that we see today. 

We all own Iraq at this point whether we supported the invasion or not.  Nevertheless, I still believe that the appropriate course of action is to get out.  However, we must remove ourselves in a manner that both minimizes further harm and recognizes that we must all take responsibility for these past actions and the future ones. 

1 Comment »

  1. Kirsten Derynioski wrote,

    That Democrats and Republicans can afford to live in such completely different realities is due in large part to the fact that the war is not a reality to the vast majority of Americans. It’s an abstract concept that we can either tune out or take in at our leisure, which is why it’s so much easier to revert to political gamesmanship over the “facts.”

    I just came across an article in an online publication that claimed we were in a Second Cold War. Clearly, the student who wrote it is completely confused over the definition between a hot and cold war. Perhaps it is “cold” in his academic setting, but others sent to fight have fired, been fired upon, and in some instances injured, maimed, or killed, thereby making this War on Terror most definitely “hot.”

    Comment on February 12, 2008 @ 10:10 am

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