DEPUTY DEFENSE Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has said, "The polls do show that most Iraqis want us to stay as long as necessary."
Chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita has said, "You look at the polls. The Iraqis want us there." White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said, "The Iraqi people have indicated in a number of different ways, if you look at polls, if you look at the Governing Council representatives, that they want us to stay until the job is finished."
A serious look at the polls raises serious questions of how much the Iraqi people truly want us.
Wolfowitz, Di Rita, and McClellan were citing a September Gallup poll of nearly 1,200 residents of Baghdad. The survey found that 62 percent of the city's residents thought the immediate hardships caused by the US invasion of Iraq were worth it to oust Saddam Hussein. That poll also found that 67 percent of the residents thought Iraq will be better off in five years.
The White House glee over those numbers glossed over warning signals in the poll. The Washington Post story pointed out that the same poll found that 47 percent of residents thought they were worse off at the moment, compared to only 33 percent of residents who thought they were better off. Nearly everyone (94 percent) said Baghdad was more dangerous now than before the invasion. The United States cleaned up one mess, but has replaced it with chaos of its own.
A worse case of poll abuse also occurred in September. On "Meet the Press," Vice President Dick Cheney cited a Zogby poll commissioned by the conservative American Enterprise Institute as "very positive news." Cheney singled out a question that asked what kind of government Iraq should replicate. Cheney said, "The US wins hands down."
That was another Cheney lie. Of specific countries named, the United States was the "winner," but the favorite of only 21.5 percent of 600 Iraqis. In second place at 16 percent was the monarchy of Saudi Arabia. In third place at 11 percent was the dictatorship of Syria, which the White House and the US Congress have vilified in recent months for not helping us in the war on terrorism. Add in another 9.3 percent of Iraqis who favor an Egyptian or Iranian style of government and Iraqis actually favor less-democratic models of governments in the Arab world over the US model by 34.3 percent to 21.5 percent.
Cheney failed to cite the finding that only 31.5 percent of respondents said the United States and Britain should help make sure a fair government is set up in Iraq, compared to 58.5 percent who say Iraqis should be left to "work this out themselves." Most startling of all was a comparison of which countries Iraqis believe will help or hurt them over the next five years.
In the comparison, 60.2 percent of Iraqis said Saudi Arabia will help Iraq. Only 7.3 percent said Saudi Arabia will hurt;
50.2 percent said the United Nations would help; 18.5 percent said the UN would hurt. But 50 percent said the United States will hurt Iraq; only 35.3 percent said the United States would help.
That does not stop the White House from spinning "very positive news" out of the polls. In his Thanksgiving trip to Iraq, President Bush said, "To a person, the Iraqi leadership I met with are incredibly thankful and generous with their praise of what America has done for them." But in the newest and biggest survey yet of Iraqi sentiments, Oxford Research International found that while 42.3 percent of Iraqis say the best thing that happened to them was the demise of the Saddam regime, 35.1 percent said the worst thing that happened was the war, the bombings, and the defeat of the Iraqi army.
Even though it was the United States that got rid of Saddam, 78.8 percent of respondents say they have little or no confidence in the US and British occupation forces. The organization having by far the most trust was Iraq's religious leaders. Almost 70 percent of Iraqis had a lot or a great deal of trust in their religious leaders. Of foreign influences, Iraqis had more trust in the United Nations (34.6 percent) than the United States and British occupation forces (21.2 percent).
The United States, in its paternalism of declaring how much the Iraqis want us, is playing with cultural fire. In one question in the Oxford poll, nearly all Iraqis (90.3 percent) want some form of democracy. But in another question, which asked what Iraqis need most in 12 months, democracy garnered only 35.1 percent of the responses, compared to 29.3 percent who want a single strong Iraqi leader and 12 percent who want a government led mainly by religious leaders.
Only 1.1 percent of Iraqis said the US-led reconstruction efforts is what Iraqis need most in the next 12 months. With every American military action that takes out Iraqi civilians along with Saddam loyalists, that number may soon plummet to zero.
Soon, the White House will be saying, "You can't trust the polls."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.