Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 16, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

ARAB PUBLIC OPINION....Marc Lynch points us to the latest poll of Arab public opinion from Shibley Telhami, and for the most part not too much has changed since 2006. Support for Iran's nuclear program is a bit higher than before (and suprisingly high in absolute terms given that this poll was limited to the Arab public); Hamas is twice as popular as Fatah; the U.S. continues to be viewed extremely unfavorably; al-Qaeda has lost popularity but still retains a fairly sizeable base of sympathy; China is more widely liked than we are; and al-Jazeera remains the most popular news channel by a mile.

But here's an interesting chart. Asked what would happen if the U.S. "quickly" withdraws from Iraq, hardly anyone thinks the Iraqi civil war will expand. The percentage who think "Iraqis will find a way to bridge their differences" grew from 44% two years ago to 61% this year. What's more, the most optimistic countries tended to be the ones closest to Iraq (Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia). Obviously the Arab public could be wrong about this, but this strikes me as a mostly pragmatic question, not the kind of thing driven either by dislike of the U.S. or weird conspiracy mongering. Given that, it's perhaps telling that the opinions of ordinary Arabs who are close to the scene (and who would bear the brunt of a widened civil war if it happened) are so at odds with the nearly unanimous opinion of U.S. foreign policy opinion leaders.

The full report is here.

Kevin Drum 1:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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Comments

The Lebanese certainly have an informed opinion, given their nation's recent past.

Posted by: David W. on April 16, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

No polling of Syria?

Posted by: sniflheim on April 16, 2008 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect that same polling sample would have produced a high rate of agreement with the statement "Muslims do not kill other Muslims."

It is still worth considering these results, seeing as the American commitment in Iraq long since passed the point at which any outcome could be worth the price paid to achieve it, leaving the avoidance of some horrific disaster as the principle reason to keep the American army where it is.

Posted by: Zathras on April 16, 2008 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

The contradiction you found, that Arabs think Iraq is more stable vs they still think we are fools, is an Arab contradiction.

Clearly, looking right at the interviewer, the Arab is in denial that these two beliefs contradict.

A common human fallacy, but one which, my science tells me, is more common among people with water shortages.

Posted by: Matt on April 16, 2008 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

in the words of our non-elitist VP:

So?

nobody cares what they think. our government knows better.

Posted by: cleek on April 16, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Well, they might have heard (though I'm not sure what Arab media covers) that US justification for remaining in Iraq is that if we withdrew, the civil war would worsen.

And if they don't buy that explanation, if they think it's a bullshit excuse, their first thought upon hearing "will the Iraq civil war get worse if US forces leave" is "bullshit!"

So, I'm saying that it might not be as "pragmatic" a question as you think, it might be colored by dislike for American actions over there.

But, hopefully not. Maybe they do have some more insight than our foreign policy wonks and neo-con (liberal hawk) press. Maybe they, like many of us, believe that the main problem with the country is American presence, and if we left, things would get better.

Posted by: luci on April 16, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

...the most optimistic countries tended to be the ones closest to Iraq...

Yes, that is very striking. I think this may have a lot to do with the refugee populations in those countries as well. There has been some tension in Jordan about rents and competition for jobs. I'm not certain, but I believe they are no longer accepting any more Iraqi emigres. The question I have now is: Do the Jordanians (in particular) feel confident that if we left Iraq quickly that the refugees would feel like going home?

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on April 16, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Matt: "The contradiction you found, that Arabs think Iraq is more stable vs they still think we are fools, is an Arab contradiction."

What contradiction? I think they insert an "and" where you put a "vs".

Luci: "Maybe they do have some more insight than our foreign policy wonks and neo-con (liberal hawk) press."

They'd just about have to.

Zathras: "I suspect that same polling sample would have produced a high rate of agreement with the statement 'Muslims do not kill other Muslims.'"

No. Leave that to the God-fearing Christians.

Posted by: Everyman on April 16, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

The British invaded/bombed/gassed/occupied Iraq before (3 times in fact).

They left.

The Iraqis sorted it out... and were actually not doing too badly until the USA instigated a coup and intalled a dictator who promised he would execute all socialists named by the CIA.

Yup, just like in neighboring Iran.

Like Iran, the eventual outcome was... er... shall we say, 'sub optimal' for peoples of those countries.

It has turned out to be pretty much a disaster for the people of the USA too.

Posted by: Buford on April 16, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

It would certainly be hard for many Washingtonians to admit that the war was a mistake and the occupation counterproductive. Sort of like telling the soldier boys and taxpayers that the high cost was for naught in the end.

Posted by: Luther on April 16, 2008 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

I think what's interesting about the question in the chart is that no one really has any way of knowing whether our leaving is going to make the situation better or worse-- neocons' claims thet our leaving is going to turn the place into a mess really are perhaps as speculative as the more optimistic opinion represented for the most part by the poll (however, one could argue that Arabs probably know Arabs better than white-guy spoiled-brat wannabe American war-mongering neocons, so that the optimistic assessment is more realistic for that reason-- remember, it was the neocons' whose speculations have been wrong about the Iraq war so far).

Posted by: Swan on April 16, 2008 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Why do we say "Arab public opinion" instead of Arabian? Isn't that kind of like "the Democrat congress"?

Posted by: Jim Strain on April 16, 2008 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Why do we say "Arab public opinion" instead of Arabian? Isn't that kind of like "the Democrat congress"?

Posted by: Jim Strain on April 16, 2008 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

Jim Strain, I think either one can be the adjective form. It's very different from the "Democrat" word, because the Arab one is an established usage, while the "Democrat" one is something someone just thought up recently to spread around to pander to people because they heard some uneducated, hill-billy types say it a couple of times and thought they could make Republican politicians look genuine by having them repeat it.

Posted by: Swan on April 16, 2008 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on April 16, 2008 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

I would have liked to see the US poll here too. Just for comparison. Lebanon: 88/1/3, US 3/1/88?

Posted by: Zit on April 16, 2008 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Did no one consider polling the Iraqi's? Or would that just make too much sense.

Posted by: optical weenie on April 16, 2008 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's likely that no one felt polling the Iraqis was worth the risk to their lives.

Posted by: mwg on April 16, 2008 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK
Why do we say "Arab public opinion" instead of Arabian? Isn't that kind of like "the Democrat congress"?

Because Arab, Arabic, and Arabian are all adjectives (though the first is also a noun form), with different connotations; Arab first and foremost, as an adjective, for "of or pertaining to the Arabs", Arabic for "of or pertaining to the language or literature of the Arabs", and Arabian for "of or pertaining to the place known as Arabia (aka, the Arabian Peninsula)."

Each of them has secondary and tertiary adjective meanings including the primary meanings of the other, but communication is most clear when you use each as an adjective in its main role, rather than in a sense where one of the others would be more clear.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 17, 2008 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

Well, of course they think Iraqis could work out their problems. They're Arabs. They're no more competent to express an opinion on Iraq than the people of Iraq are to solve their own problems. That's why the poor children need our help.

Posted by: Bob on April 17, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK
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