War in Iraq going better, but people still are tired of it

The Columbus Dispatch – September 10, 2008

We acknowledge that things are going better in Iraq and that the troop surge arguably is working.

But we still want out — soon, if not right now. In fact, more of us than ever say the war has not been worth the cost of American lives and money.

And now we think that the Iraqi conflict has improperly diverted our attention from Afghanistan.

On the eve of the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attack, Columbus-area residents polled by Saperstein Associates seem just plain weary of the Iraq war.

“I’ve known too many people who’ve been over there in the service, and they need to come home,” said New Albany respondent Janice Harris, 47, a project manager for a financial institution.

“We didn’t go to the right place. What ever happened to ‘We’re going to get bin Laden’? You never hear about that anymore.”

But Jeanne Cummins, 83, a former radio and TV entertainer who lives on the West Side, said, “I think we have to be there (in Iraq).”

American troops have brought numerous improvements to the country, such as enabling women to attend school, she said.

“Look what we’ve saved over there but we don’t hear about it,” Cummins said. “We’re the best country that’s ever been, and we’ve always helped people and we should continue to do that.”

Poll participants generally agreed that conditions have improved in Iraq. The percentage who say things are going at least “somewhat well” leaped to 43 from 26 a year ago.

Nearly half agree that the surge of more than 25,000 troops made things better; a year ago, only a quarter expected that it would.

Even President Bush, whose poll numbers have fallen dramatically since the Saperstein surveys for The Dispatch began shortly after 9/11, got a spoonful of lovin’: His approval rating for handling Iraq climbed 3 points to 31 percent in the past year. Still, that figure pales next to the 66 percent approval he got just after the war began in the spring of 2003.

“Last year, there wasn’t a lot of confidence that anybody knew what they were doing over there,” said the head of the Columbus polling firm, Martin D. Saperstein.

But he said the success of the troop surge might be generating a little more patience — at least the percentage demanding an immediate withdrawal has shrunk a bit.

“People’s attitudes are not fixed, they do react to events on the ground,” he said.

A slim majority thinks the United States has focused too much on Iraq at the expense of combating a terrorist resurgence in Afghanistan. Only 30 percent say the balance between our efforts in the two countries has been proper.

Saperstein says some of the sentiments about Afghanistan seem to be Monday-morning quarterbacking. But the renewed strength of the Taliban will present a dilemma for John McCain or Barack Obama.

Exactly half of those polled support sending more troops to the central Asian nation.

Even respondents with a family member in Iraq or Afghanistan seem to have become disenchanted. The results from that 17 percent slice of the poll sample were generally in line with those of all respondents.

For example, 53 percent of all those polled agree with a 16-month timetable to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq; 49 percent of military families agree.

And when asked whether the Iraq war has been worth the price in U.S. lives and other costs, 70 percent (a new high) of all respondents said no; 66 percent of the military families gave the same response.

The telephone poll of 402 adults with Columbus phone exchanges was taken from Aug. 26 through Sept. 2. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.