Rove: Democrats Should Follow The Polls On Iraq

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, former Bush adviser (and current Fox News analyst and adviser to John McCain) Karl Rove serenades us with one of the conservative classics of yesteryear, claiming that “Democrats are still weak on security”:

One out of five is not a majority. Democrats should keep that simple fact of political life in mind as they pursue the White House.

For a party whose presidential candidates pledge they’ll remove U.S. troops from Iraq immediately upon taking office — without regard to conditions on the ground or the consequences to America’s security — a late February Gallup Poll was bad news. The Obama/Clinton vow to pull out of Iraq immediately appears to be the position of less than one-fifth of the voters.

Rove’s appeal to poll numbers in order to attack Democrats on foreign policy is interesting for a number of reasons. The administration he served has, when crafting its disastrously counter-productive foreign policy of the last seven years, consistently and arrogantly rejected the opinions of Americans. Confronted by massive protests on the eve of the Iraq invasion, Bush simply dismissed them, claiming ‘’Size of protest — it’s like deciding, well, I’m going to decide policy based upon a focus group.”


Just two days ago, Vice President Dick Cheney, when asked by interviewer Martha Radditz about the fact that “two-thirds of Americans say [the Iraq war] is not worth fighting,” responded “So?”:

RADDATZ So? You don’t care what the American people think?

CHENEY: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.

White House press secretary Dana Perino later defended Cheney’s contemptuous dismissal of Americans’ views by stating that Americans “had input” in the 2004 elections. The 2006 elections, which were taken largely as a national referendum against the Iraq war, were apparently meaningless.

Rove is on very shaky ground when referring to polls, many of which reflect massive dissatisfaction among Americans with the way his party has screwed up in Iraq and the Middle East. A March 15–18 2008 CBS poll found that 65% of adults surveyed “disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq.” 59% say that the U.S. “should have stayed out of Iraq.” And fully 64% of Americans feel that the war in Iraq has either made them “less safe” or made “no difference” against the terrorist threat. This, needless to say, does not suggest a record of foreign policy success.

I do agree with Rove, however, on this:

Elections are rarely decided over just one issue; to win, candidates don’t need to have a majority of Americans agreeing with them on every big issue. But when it comes to choosing a president, Americans take seriously the candidates’ views and experience on national security. Voters instinctively understand a president’s principal constitutional responsibility is protecting the country.

Unfortunately for Rove, the polls indicate that a majority of Americans understand that the Bush Administration has failed in that responsibility. Why should they support someone like John McCain, who only offers more, much more, of the same? Whose so-called experience hasn’t enabled him to distinguish between different groups and actors in Iraq and the Middle East? And whose views on “the transcendental struggle” of our time suggest the dangerous and poorly informed conflation of these actors into a single, elusive enemy?