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September 10, 2003

Red Letter Day

This is what vindication sounds like:

Iraqis are optimistic. Seven out of 10 say they expect their country and their personal lives will be better five years from now. On both fronts, 32% say things will become much better.

The toughest part of reconstructing their nation, Iraqis say by 3 to 1, will be politics, not economics. They are nervous about democracy. Asked which is closer to their own view--"Democracy can work well in Iraq," or "Democracy is a Western way of doing things"--five out of 10 said democracy is Western and won't work in Iraq. One in 10 wasn't sure. And four out of 10 said democracy can work in Iraq. There were interesting divergences. Sunnis were negative on democracy by more than 2 to 1; but, critically, the majority Shiites were as likely to say democracy would work for Iraqis as not. People age 18-29 are much more rosy about democracy than other Iraqis, and women are significantly more positive than men.

Asked to name one country they would most like Iraq to model its new government on from five possibilities--neighboring, Baathist Syria; neighbor and Islamic monarchy Saudi Arabia; neighbor and Islamist republic Iran; Arab lodestar Egypt; or the U.S.--the most popular model by far was the U.S. The U.S. was preferred as a model by 37% of Iraqis selecting from those five--more than Syria, Iran and Egypt put together. Saudi Arabia was in second place at 28%. Again, there were important demographic splits. Younger adults are especially favorable toward the U.S., and Shiites are more admiring than Sunnis. Interestingly, Iraqi Shiites, coreligionists with Iranians, do not admire Iran's Islamist government; the U.S. is six times as popular with them as a model for governance.

Our interviewers inquired whether Iraq should have an Islamic government, or instead let all people practice their own religion. Only 33% want an Islamic government; a solid 60% say no. A vital detail: Shiites (whom Western reporters frequently portray as self-flagellating maniacs) are least receptive to the idea of an Islamic government, saying no by 66% to 27%. It is only among the minority Sunnis that there is interest in a religious state, and they are split evenly on the question.

Perhaps the strongest indication that an Islamic government won't be part of Iraq's future: The nation is thoroughly secularized. We asked how often our respondents had attended the Friday prayer over the previous month. Fully 43% said "never." It's time to scratch "Khomeini II" from the list of morbid fears.

You can also cross out "Osama II": 57% of Iraqis with an opinion have an unfavorable view of Osama bin Laden, with 41% of those saying it is a very unfavorable view. (Women are especially down on him.) Except in the Sunni triangle (where the limited support that exists for bin Laden is heavily concentrated), negative views of the al Qaeda supremo are actually quite lopsided in all parts of the country. And those opinions were collected before Iraqi police announced it was al Qaeda members who killed worshipers with a truck bomb in Najaf.

And you can write off the possibility of a Baath revival. We asked "Should Baath Party leaders who committed crimes in the past be punished, or should past actions be put behind us?" A thoroughly unforgiving Iraqi public stated by 74% to 18% that Saddam's henchmen should be punished.

Posted by mbowen at September 10, 2003 08:58 AM

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I am not sure how much I trust anything written on the WST editorial pages, which are known to be as looney and biased as anything you'll ever see in the absolute worst of the left wing alternative press. (just to be fair and balanced about it :-)) Especially when it's written by someone associated with the American Enterprise Magazine. And we all know how polls tend to reflect the opinions of the organization commisioning the poll.

But for the sake of argument, let's take this poll at face value. It would be mad to think that Iraqis would not delight in seeing the overthrow of Saddam, who was a certified madman. And to concede that after all is said and done, America and American values are still admired by people around the world. So, in fact I'm really not surprised by the responses to this poll. Especially if the questions were asked in such a way (as the article seems to imply) as to force people to choose between a murderous madman and/or extreme theorcracy versus democracy.

But the point that people like myself who have opposed this war all along make is that the ends, no matter how laudatory, do not justify the means.

That America should be looking to fix what needs to be fixed here and not squandering hundreds of billions of dollars overseas. Or at least, if we're going to be spending hundreds of billions overseas, let's put the money toward humanitarian causes, and not in war making machinery.

That whatever goodwill our military occupation is engendering among the Iraqi people (and that point is eminently debatable) we're paying for it with even greater anti-Americanism and risk of terrorism in the entire region, if not the rest of the world.

And lastly, Bush lied to us. No president should be allowed to invade another country in a preemptive war by bolstering his cause through lies and deception. No cause can be ultimately just if it is waged unjustly.

I'm as happy to see Saddam overthrown as anyone else. But who in the rest of the world is going to believe an American president, especially THIS American president, when he comes crying wolf over Iran, or North Korea, or Pakistan or Colombia or a dozen other places he claims we need to send military assistance and troops to fight a War On Terrorism?

Posted by: don at September 11, 2003 04:48 PM