Debra J. Saunders

When a New York Times poll found that the number of Americans who think it was right for the United States to go to war in Iraq rose from 35 percent in May to percent 42 percent in mid-July, rather than promptly report the new poll findings, the paper conducted another poll. As the Times' Janet Elder wrote Sunday, the increased support for the decision to go to war was "counterintuitive" and because it "could not be easily explained, the paper went back and did another poll on the very same subject."

Round Two found that 42 percent of voters think America was right to go into Iraq, while the percentage of those polled who said that it was wrong to go to war had fallen from 61 percent to 51 percent. The headline for Elder's piece read, "Same Question, Different Answer. Hmmm." But it should have read: "America's Paper of Record Out of Touch With American Public."

Elder wrote that growing support for the war seemed odd: "Once in a while a poll finding doesn't make sense." It occurred as Congress was debating the war and the Bush administration had to report that Iraq had failed to meet a number of benchmarks for progress.

Too true. But at the same time, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari had begun warning the public of the consequences of a premature withdrawal. Brass serving in Iraq were explaining why they wanted more time to let the surge work, as they were making inroads in fighting insurgents and winning support from the Iraqi public. Most important: President Bush had responded to criticism of the administration's erstwhile undermanned whack-a-mole Iraq strategy, which had depressed U.S. troop morale, by putting Gen. David Petraeus in charge of Iraq and implementing his nuanced counterinsurgency and no-retreat surge plan.

To assume that this change in leadership made no difference is tantamount to admitting that the criticism of the Bush administration's policies was designed more to hurt Bush than to win the war. (Be it noted, many San Francisco Bay Area readers are so averse to the idea of victory that they will challenge me to define it. That's because they do not want to imagine an Iraq in which citizens are secure, Iraqi forces operational and U.S. troops can begin to withdraw without fearing genocide.)

While the Petraeus strategy does not quite bolster the decision to go into Iraq -- Elder noted that, oddly, the poll did not find a change in voter approval of Bush' handling of the war -- war polling always has been problematic.

Debra J. Saunders

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