Over the last eight years, most Democratic politicians have made a distinction between The Good War (Afghanistan) and The Bad War (Iraq). That very much includes Barack Obama.
As an Illinois state senator, he spoke out against military action in Iraq in 2002. And as a U.S. senator at a September 2007 hearing, he offered a blisteringly negative assessment of Iraq so lengthy that it left no time for Gen. David Petraeus to reply. But he has always said he supported military action in Afghanistan as a valid response to the Sept. 11 attacks that were planned there. So it is a little surprising to see in the results of this month's ABC/Washington Post poll that most American voters are not making the Good War/Bad War distinction.
Has the war in Afghanistan contributed to the long-term security of the United States? Some 53 percent say it has, while 44 percent say it hasn't.
Has the war in Iraq contributed to the long-term security of the United States? Some 50 percent say it has, while 48 percent say it hasn't.
Those are virtually identical numbers. It seems that about half of Americans think both were Good Wars and about half consider them both Bad Wars.
Substantial majorities of Republican voters consider both to be wars worth fighting, while majorities of Democratic voters disagree. What's most interesting is the switch among Democratic voters. A year ago, 41 percent of them thought Afghanistan was worth fighting for, while only 12 percent felt that way about Iraq. In this month's polls, the corresponding numbers were 36 percent and 29 percent. The Good War-Bad War distinction is disappearing.
One reason for this is that things have been going pretty well in Iraq, while things in Afghanistan look dicey. The ABC/Post poll reported that 71 percent of Americans oppose immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and 60 percent favor keeping 50,000 non-combat troops in Iraq in a supporting role. Keeping U.S. troops there seems hardly more controversial than keeping them in Germany.
But there is something more fundamental here. The Good War-Bad War distinction was based in large part on the argument that George W. Bush lied about Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Of course, Bush didn't lie. He relied on the same intelligence that many Democrats and leaders of foreign nations did. But, as Karl Rove wrote in his Wall Street Journal column this week, the Bush White House never pushed back against the Bush Lied claim when it was advanced by prominent Democrats like Edward Kennedy, John Kerry, John Edwards and Al Gore.