Printer Friendly Page Will Iraq become another Vietnam? ~ #25

Will Iraq become another Vietnam? ~ #25

By Alan F. Kay, PhD
2003, (fair use with attribution and copy to authors)
Sep. 3, 2003

Everybody in the U.S. mainstream agrees that the United States must not, cannot, and will not be driven out of Iraq by such attacks as blowing up UN headquarters, cutting major oil, power, and water lines, and the daily random killing of some U.S. soldiers and others. As long as guerilla activities or random killings continue, both Republicans and Democrats will be very slow to concede that it is true that Iraq is another Vietnam. This apparent agreement of the two parties will conceal the fact that they strongly disagree about what "another Vietnam" means. This disagreement will not be noted until it bursts upon us, whether in a few months or years, but probably well short of the 26 years U.S. troops were in Vietnam prior to withdrawal in 1976.

Hawkish majorities of Republicans believe that Vietnam was a tragedy because we could have won if we had gone all out to do so. Dovish majorities of Democrats believe that Vietnam was a tragedy for different reasons. Each of the two attitudes evolved over the years with its own dynamic. The concern of the Democrats focused more on avoiding the "3 Ds" of the longest U.S. war: never ending Death (U.S. and enemy), escalating Destruction (of Vietnam and Cambodia), and growing Danger (of splitting the American people). Many of those attitudes finally crystallized as: "We should have withdrawn long before we did."

No question that confirmed the Republican view was asked by pollsters until nine years after the war ended. Such a question was asked first in 1985 and then on two other occasions, showing majorities between 53% and 73% of all Americans, not just Republicans, agreeing with the idea that we could have won if we had really tried.

That's reminiscent of the sports world, where a team loses the big game and over the years the players convince themselves that they would have, could have, should have and probably did win.

Before the first Gulf War, a December 1988 survey asked a series of questions exploring what the public thought the "lessons of Vietnam" were. Three characteristics of that war were uncovered that majorities agreed showed the war was a mistake, but did not shed light on when or how to cut losses.

The 73% peak support, noted above for the Republican view, was found in Q46, ATI#14, in the field Sept. 20-26, 1990, in the short interval when the first Gulf War was looming, but the land war had not started. The public was concerned with the possibility of a long stalemate as in Vietnam and Q46 was phrased to reflect that attitude.

Q46: "Let's imagine that after some time a war between the United States and Iraq has started but is dragging on with no end in sight. Under these circumstances, do you think we should or should not launch a massive all-out attack to win against Iraq?" The response, as noted above was "Should, 73%"

In 1990, on the sands of Saudi Arabia, the allies had begun a build-up of a half million troops preparing an Iraq invasion that offered a unique opportunity for polling the public. A follow-up of Q46 was:

Q52: "Suppose that we are in such a stalemate, when do you think - and try to be as realistic as you can - that you would want us to pull out of Saudi Arabia; if there has been no change for the better".


"One month or less" 12%
"Two or three months" 13%
"Four to six months" 14%
"Six months to a year" 25%
Up to a year 64%
"More than a year" 20%
"Do not pull out (Volunteered) 10% 10%
DK/refused 6% 6%

I believe we can extrapolate from Q46 and Q52 that when a war is dragging on with no end in sight, a record high 73% of Americans are ready to launch a massive all-out attack to win, and under the same conditions, 64% are ready to withdraw if a stalemate drags on for more than a year and there is no change for the better. Asking respondents to assume that the war will drag on would seem meaningless and ridiculous to a significant number of respondents after the Gulf War ended so quickly. A four-day war closed the window of polling opportunity, and it has remained closed until a new one opens sometime in the future.

We have had two Iraq wars, 1990-91, and 2003, the second likely morphing into a long guerilla war in Iraq and perhaps elsewhere, reminiscent of the Vietnam war. Beyond that, we will ultimately withdraw from Iraq even if it takes as many years as President George W. Bush warns us it is going to take to end terrorism. Years after that withdrawal, a scenario for a third round of the war is not hard to imagine. The results of a few poll questions that are already a dozen years old is all that we know about how the American people will react to whatever looms ahead in the unfolding Iraq story — and all we will ever know — unless some pollsters figure out a way to conduct a thoughtful, deep poll that get mainstream media's attention for its findings. One-hundred thousand dollars carefully spent might do it. Any takers?



>>> 2.5  The Polling Critic

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