This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: September 4, 2007): A9.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
(Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401)
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference:
How late will be “too late” for American success in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? For American voters in 2008, that moment may already have passed. Yet, recent signs from the battlefields indicate current strategy may be working.
Polls show the public most to prefer a quick end to the Iraq mission our troops have pursued since 2003. In mid-summer 2007, Opinion Dynamics reported that nearly twice as many Americans (61 percent) favored withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by April 2008 than opposed such a timetable (32 percent). Trust in the President’s wartime judgment also has worn thin. Nearly half (48 percent) want President Bush to heed their views, and to stop “following his gut instincts” on the war. An identical number would prefer to “get out now” from Iraq.
Nor is there much greater support for the military mission we and our NATO allies have pursued in Afghanistan since the attacks on America in September 2001. A Pew Global Attitudes study released in late June 2007 found only a bare majority of Americans (50 percent) to approve keeping the troops there until Afghanistan stabilizes, compared to 42 percent who prefer to pull them out and bring them home right now. This division among us six years after Afghan-based terrorists killed 3000 Americans shows the costly social impact of waging war on terrorism on several fronts. Nearly four thousand dead American soldiers, and over 28,000 wounded, apparently represent the limit to our national tolerance for sacrifice.
Yet, the news from the war zones should not so discourage us. The theocratic and pro-terrorist Taliban regime we removed from power in Afghanistan remains a guerrilla threat, no doubt. But the authority of the pro-U.S. and elected Karzai Government in Afghanistan continues to grow in many parts of that diverse country. The Al Qaeda terrorists once hosted by the Taliban no longer reside openly in Afghanistan, but hide across the mountains in Pakistan. Liquidating them there will require patience and continued cooperation from a weakened and unpopular ally, the Pervez Musharraf Government and the Pakistani military. Few experts expect any rapid change, but earlier fears of an imminent ascent by the Taliban and other Islamist forces also seem misplaced.
As we await General David Petraeus’ mid-September interim report on his efforts in Iraq, there already are encouraging developments that, taken together, should sweeten Americans’ sour national mood. Al-Anbar province, once the site of repeated, pitched battles in 2004-06 between U.S. forces and Sunni insurgents backed by Al Qaeda, now enjoys relative calm thanks to U.S. agreements with tribal leaders who have turned away in droves from Al Qaeda and its ugly tactics. On the Shi’ite side of the Iraqi civil conflict, recent changes also point toward potential progress. In late August, Moqtada Sadr, leader of the dangerous militia known as the Mahdi Army, announced suspension of hostile actions against U.S. and coalition troops. Disquieting developments, such as the unhelpful handing over of Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, to competing Shi’ite gangs by our British allies, continue to cloud any picture of overall success. But the uniformly dismal impressions most Americans have come to believe to define the Iraq War simply no longer square with the mixed record of some progress in the war zone.
The late Jack Valenti once said, “if people believe something to be real, those perceptions have real effects” even if they are falsely based. George H. W. Bush, father of our current president, learned this lesson the hard way. Voters in 1992 punished that popular war-leader for an economic downturn that, we now know, certainly had ended by Election Day. People simply clung to a belief that we were mired in recession, heard the “it’s the economy, stupid” message his opponents relentlessly repeated, and threw him out of office by electing Bill Clinton. Similarly, the public today seems strongly inclined to elect in 2008 only public officials who promise sharp breaks from the unpopular war policies of George W. Bush. Much as was the case for his father in 1992, Republican candidates in 2008 seem likely to pay a heavy price for our public’s inability to stay current. A mixture of progress and setbacks is the actual legacy of our current administration’s war policies, but the public already seems to have stopped listening.
Gordon L. Bowen, August 30, 2007
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