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Is Iraq Our Enemy?


Commenting on this Gallup Poll, Matthew Yglesias notes, "Americans don't just dislike the Iraq War, they downright dislike Iraq. ... [W]hen asked to name America's top enemy in the world Iraq took second place (have people not heard that Saddam's been deposed) behind Iran but ahead of China and North Korea." I'm not all that surprised by this. It's easy to see how the media narrative of the war in Iraq, which tends to be framed around the questions of, "Are we winning? Can we win?" (even Democrats often couch their rhetoric this way), would give the impression to low-information poll respondents that our military is fighting Iraq's military and the question is whether we'll prevail or whether they will. I haven't seen any polling data on this, but I'd be curious to see what percentage of the American public can correctly identify our campaign in Iraq as a nation-building and counterinsurgency operation as opposed to an old-fashioned interstate conflict. Any confusion that exists probably hurts the antiwar cause. For obvious and legitimate reasons, the notion that we're losing a war to a country like Iraq is far more difficult to stomach than the reality that we're struggling to help establish a functioning national government and fight a bunch of non-state actors with complex motivations in a conflict where even war supporters agree that traditional conceptions of "victory" and "defeat" don't really apply.

On the other hand, this poll is also slightly unfair by design, in that it asks respondents to identify the country that's our top enemy in the world, at a time when the main enemy in our most salient conflict isn't a country. 

--Josh Patashnik