Gen. Petraeus Buys Time for Iraq War, But Not Support

by Lydia Saad

Most Americans side with the level and pace of Petraeus' proposed troop reductions

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

"In describing the recommendations I have made, I should note again that, like Ambassador Crocker, I believe Iraq's problems will require a long-term effort. There are no easy answers or quick solutions. And though we both believe this effort can succeed, it will take time. Our assessments underscore, in fact, the importance of recognizing that a premature drawdown of our forces would likely have devastating consequences."

Gen. David Petraeus; testimony before Congress, Sept. 10, 2007.

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans may not like the war in Iraq, and they continue to say they want U.S. troops brought home on a timetable, nevertheless, they are responding favorably to the recommendations of the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq for a gradual withdrawal of troops on a very limited timetable. Most Americans say that Gen. David Petraeus' plan, which President George W. Bush has adopted, is either about right or is too aggressive in terms of withdrawing enough troops and bringing them home soon enough. Only one-third or so agree with the administration's critics who want a more rapid pullout of more forces.

Petraeus' testimony before Congress on Sept. 10 clearly seems to have elevated his own image with Americans. The percentage viewing him favorably jumped from 52% in the days just before his testimony to 61% the weekend following it [see Related Items]. That he is an effective spokesman for the war is evident in the percentages backing his plan. Nevertheless, the general failed to turn public opinion around on several key aspects of the war.

According to a Sept. 14-16, 2007, USA Today/Gallup poll, only one-third of Americans are optimistic the United States will win the war in Iraq; nearly two-thirds generally think the U.S. will not win. These figures are virtually unchanged from the previous poll, conducted Sept. 7-8.

Gen. Petraeus' plan calls for gradually pulling U.S. surge forces out of Iraq by next summer, but calls discussion of further troop reductions "premature." Despite this, and in spite of his report of certain security improvements resulting from the surge, most Americans continue to favor setting a timetable for withdrawal. Only 38% of Americans prefer keeping U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely until real progress is achieved, essentially no different from the 35% in early September.

According to the new poll, barely one-third of Americans agree that the U.S. troop surge is making conditions in Iraq better. This is higher than the 22% found in July, but not appreciably different from the 31% and 32% found in August and early September.

One finding tempering Americans' otherwise negative views of the war -- perhaps a key finding -- is that most of those who favor setting a timetable for withdrawing troops (70%) believe the pullout should be gradual, not immediate. Thus, overall, only 18% of Americans favor withdrawing all U.S. troops as soon as possible. Another 41% favor setting a timetable for a gradual withdrawal, while 38% favor keeping troops in Iraq for as long as it takes to reach certain goals. These results also haven't changed spanning Petraeus' testimony.

 

View What to Do About U.S. Troop Levels in Iraq, Based on National Adults

 

2007 Sep 14-16

2007 Sep 7-8

 

%

%

Keep troops in Iraq until situation gets better

38

35

     

Set time-table for removing troops from Iraq

59

60

(Withdraw troops as soon as possible)

(18)

(21)

(Set timetable for gradual withdrawal)

(41)

(39)

(Unsure)

(*)

(*)

     

No opinion

4

5

* = Less than 0.5%

From this data, one could argue that most Americans are in agreement with Petraeus' long-term goal of withdrawal and transition of security to Iraqi forces. Indeed, when asked about the pace of Petraeus' troop reductions, only 36% of Americans say his plan calls for too few troops to be withdrawn. The plurality -- 43% -- say it calls for the right amount of cuts while an additional 9% say it calls for too many.

Similarly, only one-third of Americans think Petraeus' troop cuts are set to happen too slowly; the plurality say his plan sets the right pace while 12% say it goes too quickly.

By contrast, Americans are much more critical of the U.S. for holding Iraq politically accountable for the problems in that country. Only one-quarter of Americans say the U.S. is doing enough to hold Iraq accountable, while 71% say it is not doing enough.

With Petraeus focused on the military mission of establishing a secure and stable Iraq, not on the political question of why the U.S. invaded Iraq, it is perhaps not surprising that the public's underlying support for the Iraq war has not changed. Americans are no less likely today than they were in early September to say the original decision to send U.S. troops to Iraq was a mistake. At 58%, the percentage holding this view is similar to where it has been throughout 2007.

Bottom Line

Americans are sending ambiguous messages about what to do in Iraq. On the one hand, they think going to Iraq was a mistake, are dubious the troop surge has been effective or that the war will be won, and would like to start withdrawing U.S. troops on a timetable. Most of these positions run contrary to the message delivered by Petraeus to Congress last week. At the same time, Petraeus is increasingly well-regarded by the public, and his plan for a long-term incremental pullout of Iraq is generally supported. Most Americans come down on the side of saying Petraeus' plans for withdrawal are about right, if not too aggressive. Thus, it appears that Petraeus has bought the war some more time.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 14-16, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

46. If you had to choose, which do you think is better for the U.S. -- [ROTATED: to keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation there gets better, even if that takes many years, (or) to set a time-table for removing troops from Iraq and to stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq at the time]?

 

 

Keep troops in
Iraq until situation
gets better

Set time-table
for removing
troops from Iraq

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

2007 Sep 14-16

38

59

4

       

2007 Sep 7-8

35

60

5

2007 May 4-6

36

59

5

2007 Apr 13-15

38

57

4

2005 Jun 29-30

48

49

3

2005 Jun 24-26

44

51

5

47. Based on what you have heard or read about the recent surge of U.S. troops in Iraq, do you think the increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq is -- [ROTATED: making the situation there better, not making much difference, or is it making the situation there worse]?

 

 

Better

Not making much difference

Worse

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 14-16

35

43

21

1

         

2007 Sep 7-8

32

44

19

5

2007 Aug 3-5

31

41

24

4

2007 Jul 6-8 ^

22

51

25

2

         

^ = Asked of a half sample

Trends for Comparison: Based on what you have heard or read about the recent surge of U.S. troops in Baghdad, do you think the increase in the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad is -- [ROTATED: making the situation there better, not making much difference, or is it making the situation there worse]?

 

 

Better

Not making
much difference

Worse

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

2007 Jul 6-8 ^

17

49

30

3

2007 Apr 13-15

26

41

29

4

2007 Mar 23-25

29

43

22

5

         

^ = Asked of a half sample

48. (Asked of those who say it is better for the U.S. to set a time-table for removing troops from Iraq and stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq at the time) Do you think the United States should withdraw all of its troops from Iraq as rapidly as possible, starting now, or should the U.S. set a timetable that calls for a more gradual withdrawal of troops from Iraq?

Based on 582 adults who say it is better for the U.S. to set a time-table for removing troops from Iraq and stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq at the time (moE: ±4 PCT. PTS.)

 

 

Withdraw troops as soon as possible

Set timetable for gradual withdrawal

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

2007 Sep 14-16

30

70

*

       

2007 Sep 7-8

34

65

1

* = Less than 0.5%

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