Vox Populi
A Letter to the Editor

The American Public's 'Soft' Support for a War with Iraq
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

by Henri-Paul Bolineau

I want to thank Mr. Berg-Andersson for so quickly- as well as comprehensively- responding to my recent 'vox Populi' [that of 24 February] regarding the issue of why can't President Bush bring himself to ask Congress for a Declaration of War before sending American troops into Iraq. I also read carefully what Mr. Hendricksen had to say in his 25 February 'vox Populi' and the only thing I can add to what he has already written is that I don't really care that Mr. Berg-Andersson often goes on too long: there's quite a lot in there, if you are willing to dig it all out, and it is all rather educational!

Little things I didn't before know- or at least haven't recently thought of- about History and Politics seem to get thrown into Mr. Berg-Andersson's writings and I also like his not appearing to always take things much too seriously, like far too many political commentators seem to do, as well as his even being able to laugh at himself. I actually learn quite a lot from what he writes- even when I don't necessarily agree with him- and also often get a much-needed chuckle or two! (For instance, I liked Mr. Berg-Andersson's recent off-hand remark about the White House Press Corps writing down whatever the President says, no matter how simplistic, "as if Moses had just arrived with two stone tablets" [in his 25 February response to Laura Stormont's 'vox Populi']-- how true!-- and no matter which Party the President of the United States represents!!)

I have two quick points to make, each related to things that Mr. Berg-Andersson has recently written about, and I would be curious to see what he might have to say about each of them, if he doesn't much mind:

1. He used what he called "ball park" figures of 65% of Americans currently for war with Iraq, 28% against and correctly noted that the 65 in favor is "underbelly soft"-- I have no quarrel with his figures (as these seem to be as good as anyone else's poll-based numbers I've seen lately) but I have, over the last day or so, been hearing that those among this 65% who would not favor war in Iraq without UN approval actually make up at least a bare majority of those Americans who support going to war in general. If even a mere 1/2 of the 65 don't support the U.S. going to war if the UN doesn't approve (and I would assume that this would hold even if a strong ally like Britain does join the war effort), that leaves- if I have done the arithmetic right- less than 1/3 of Americans overall supporting the U.S. going to war pretty much no matter what (and it might, in reality, even leave less than that)... Soft, indeed!

2. I have seen some of the more conservative "talking heads" on TV (frustrated that Iraq has not yet been attacked, perhaps?) making their usual complaints about the United Nations when other countries in that body don't seem to be going America's way and now beginning to suggest that the UN be completely done away with. A few even suggested that a new "league" of what they call "liberal democracies" (I assume, these I've seen being representatives of conservative publications and think-tanks, they are here using the term "liberal" in a broader sense than just the political ideology they oppose!)- led by the U.S., of course- now begin to replace the UN in order to form the basis of a new international organization which will be more likely to have what they are calling "moral authority".

Henri-Paul Bolineau

Mr. Berg-Andersson responds:

Thank you for your very kind comments. I will only refer you to my response to the equally kind words about my work for 'The Green Papers' from Daryle Hendricksen in his own 25 February 'vox Populi' (which I assume Mr. Bolineau has read, since he specifically referred to Mr. Hendricksen's piece) and leave it at that!

As to your two points:

1. You are, indeed, correct: of the 65% (give or take) of those Americans who currently seem to support the concept of war with Iraq in general, a healthy chunk is lukewarm to downright chilly to the idea of doing so without UN sanction or, at the very least, a coalition which includes a few key allies (Britain clearly being one of these). The numbers, however, are a bit fuzzy: I have seen numbers that would suggest that as many as- roughly- 55% of my "ball park" 65% in favor of war with Iraq would oppose that same war without some kind of international support, even if it be short of UN approval; this would bring the "in favor of war no matter what the international community does" number down to below 30% to the point where it is actually competing with the admittedly "ball park" 28% of Americans opposed to war with Iraq in any event! Yes... soft, indeed... but I have also seen numbers as low as approaching 35% of my "ball park" 65 which could be the only ones placed in that same category!

However, it must also be borne in mind that, as with some of the higher-priced bathroom tissue sold in this country, there is "another layer of softness". Putting aside the fact that different polls ask similar questions of those polled in different ways (one pollster's "would you be as supportive of the war without international community support?" is another pollster's "would you be as supportive of the war without UN approval?") with concomitant wide effects on the resultant breakdowns by percentage (which is why the original "softness" of my "ball park" 65% in favor is so hard to get a real good "read" on), one has to ask the related question: how many Americans among the 65% in favor of war with Iraq who are also among the 55%- or 45%- or 35% (depending on the poll and its questionnaire) who would not be as supportive if the international community- or the UN- or, for that matter, the UK- does not also approve would actually, once troops are actually on the march toward Baghdad, willingly say "I'm now dead set against this war!" Rather few, I would think.

In other words, the original "softness" within the current supermajority in favor (in the form of lessened support without strong international backing among Americans who otherwise support a war with Iraq) is itself rather "soft"!

I am inclined to think- knowing, as- admittedly- only one American who happens to also be a rather regular observer of the direction in which his country's political weathervane seems to usually be blowing, the ethical values and general interests of the "bell curve" of my fellow countrymen- that very few people who tell a pollster "Yes, I support the idea of going after Saddam militarily- but, no, I can't continue to support that if the UN does not come out and back America's decision to go to war" would really be able to bring themselves to "pull the trigger" re: their non-support of a war if the U.S. were to go in without clear international support- at least during its early going. Those brave military men and women out there- highly trained and now preparing for possibly being in battle soon enough- are our own sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, nephews and nieces, brothers and sisters, neighbors, friends, acquaintances and co-workers... or, at least, they could be! If the order to attack is given, the battle is then joined, and President Bush appears on American television to tell us all about it a short time after the first strike against Iraqi forces, I don't think all that many of those who have, in fact, been the "soft" among the supermajority in favor of war with Iraq will be able to at all remain all that "soft" at the outset (which is why I don't think the supermajority has any real chance of melting away to even a mere majority during the early stages of the war; I don't even think the supermajority generally in support right now would significantly disappear [if it is going to disappear, it would have to be before President Bush gives the order to attack]).

No, I rather think President Bush's problems maintaining the current supermajority in support of war- however reluctant much of that support might actually be- will likely come as the war progresses (and, of course, only if it begins to progress badly): he is highly unlikely (unless, again, this supermajority should- for some reason as yet unseen- melt away before the war even starts) to have any problem having enough support at home in the first hours and days- and even weeks- American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines engage the Iraqi forces.

I do worry some that, assuming this same political calculation has already been made in either the White House or the Pentagon or both, there might be a temptation to rush things once troops are in there precisely because of the original "softness" I am perceiving in the supermajority. I have little doubt that all levels of the American Chain of Command have been well-trained to do whatever they need to do: at the same time, the adrenalin rush of battle- combined with certain political considerations inherent in the American system of civilian control of our Military- could merely exacerbate those two little bugaboos of History (including Military History)- as they are bugaboos in everyday civilian life (where they are usually combined into "Murphy's Law"): 1. the Law of Unforeseen Circumstances and 2. the Law of Unintended Consequences. Getting a war over with quickly (before the casualties get too high, before the conquest of Iraq takes too long, before the "soft" underbelly of the supermajority in favor starts to peel away) always has the potential to cause decisions to be made- whether in the field, at command HQ or in the Pentagon or White House itself- that might actually only serve to increase the chances that- yes- the casualties will get too high, the conquest of Iraq will take too long, the "soft" underbelly of the supermajority in favor will peel away to mere majority or even mere plurality! I sincerely hope that the Bush Administration has done all it can, ahead of time, to have prepared the Chain of Command to not so readily punt the "game plan" (while, at the same time, recognizing under just what circumstances the "game plan" should be punted!) should things not go anywhere near as well as planned and the politics back home then get rather dicey!

Again, I still think that President Bush should seriously consider getting a formal Declaration of War from Congress (besides Daryle Hendricksen's argument that such a Declaration is not a mere formality to begin with and my own previous argument that it would allow the President to spread the responsibility among more of the Federal political apparatus, it would also force the President and his Administration to- much better than I think they have so far done so- "join the issue" and, therefore, explain better to the American People just why we would be attacking Iraq and what we all might expect once the war were underway [bad as well as good]; in other words, the President's request for such a Declaration [which I would assume would be accompanied by a speech before a Joint Session of Congress]- along with the ensuing debate in each house- would probably actually help the Administration better prepare the American People for the possible "down" side [thus reducing the political diceyness should that "down" side actually come to pass-- not that I at all hope it ever does!]); unfortunately, I think the Administration is already hell-bent on getting this one by Congress much like the Mets' Al Leiter trying to get his slider past Cubs' slugger Sammy Sosa! Once more I say, his not doing so means George W. Bush is taking a huge gamble, politically and otherwise: I only hope the President has well kept in mind the maxim that Taking the Smart Risk is Good Leadership/Taking a Dumb Risk is NOT!

2. There is already such a "league" of "liberal democracies" in place... it's called "the European Union"... somehow, however, I don't think that's what the conservative pundits Mr. Bolineau has cited at all had in mind!


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