In early January 2007, 71 percent of Americans said the Iraq war was going moderately badly to very badly. Indeed, the war had been unpopular for much of the previous years, at times deeply so. But by this past September, a nationwide Pew survey found “a striking rise in public optimism about the situation in Iraq.” According to the poll, 58 percent of Americans now believe the war in Iraq is going well or very well, and the same percentage now also say that the U.S. will definitely or probably succeed in Iraq.
This news is encouraging–and not terribly surprising. After all, most Americans have assessed the situation in Iraq based on a reasonable interpretation of events on the ground. And since the January 2007 announcement of the “surge”–President Bush’s decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Iraq, armed with a fundamentally new counterinsurgency strategy–the situation on the ground has, by every conceivable measure, improved. In some cases, the progress has been stunning.
And yet, no matter what most American believe or what reality tells us is so, leading liberal observers and politicians, long in the vanguard of opposition to the war, have denounced the surge at every point. Even as some, in the face of overwhelming evidence, have been forced to concede a modicum of American progress, they have done so reluctantly and have downplayed the role played by administration policy in achieving that progress. Others have denied that significant progress has been made at all.
Why they have responded in this way is a question worth exploring. But first it may be useful to establish the record.