There was an interesting note a few days ago on Ruy Teixeira's blog, commenting on the recent Ipsos-AP poll. I'd heard there was something like this in the poll. But reading Ruy's post jogged my memory ...
First, consider the question of whether the Iraq war was a mistake. You know when more people than not starting thinking a war was a mistake (remember Vietnam!), the incumbent administration is in real trouble. And Ipsos now has the first example of this. They asked the question: "All in all, thinking about how things have gone in Iraq since the United States went to war there in March 2003, do you think the Bush administration made the right decision in going to war in Iraq or made a mistake in going to war in Iraq?" The response: 49 percent mistake/48 percent right decision. When Ipsos asked the same question four months ago, however, they got a lopsidedly positive reply: 67 percent right decision/29 percent mistake. Quite a change.
Note that this question specifically mentions "the Bush administration"; they also asked the same question with "United States" substituted for Bush administration. That question returns a more positive reply: 57 percent right decision/40 percent mistake. Interesting how the specific mention of the Bush administration apparently moves people toward the "mistake" judgement.
Ruy goes on to note that, at least from this poll, growing numbers of Americans think a) the war was a mistake and b) that it will lead to more <$Ad$>terrorism rather than less.
I've been giving this matter a lot of thought recently. And if John Kerry is going to win this election, he will have to make it, in large measure, an election about accountability.
The president seldom any more makes a positive argument for how things have been handled up till this point. He doesn't admit mistakes, certainly. But what he does and doesn't say is telling.
Most of the president's speeches amount to a) My heart was in the right place and, b) The past isn't what's important. Where we go from here is what's important.
(Look at his ads and you'll see he's making little attempt to make a positive case for himself.)
His partisans chime in with something similar, quickly dismissing any discussion of what's happened up until this point -- all the many mistakes made over expert advice counseling against -- and arguing, militantly, that all the matters now is who has a better plan on where to go from here, etc.
This is certainly true, to an extent. But there's that double matter of accountability. Accountability first, just as a matter of principle. But at some point you have to ask whether the crew that has gotten so much wrong -- making almost every mistake makable in Iraq -- is really the team to get things back on track, to walk the situation back from the precipice. As in so much else in life, we predict the future based on past performance. And if you look at what's happened over the last eighteen months, I think that's a very hard argument for the administration to confront. Some
are now arguing that to point these things out is to engage in a sort of grand Monday morning quarterbacking, judging everything with the benefit of hindsight, the hollow prize reserved for those who don't get 'in the arena' and all that.
That doesn't add up by a longshot. This isn't some replay of the 'Best and the Brightest', a case where the most experienced minds and the best ideas took us off in some foolish direction. These goofs weren't just predictable but quite clearly, widely and volubly predicted
(the Wolfowitz-Shinseki set-to was repeated endlessly across the board). What happened was the folks with their hands on the levers thought they knew better; only they were wrong.
Making that argument requires some rhetorical dexterity. And the opposition -- i.e., Kerry -- does
have to show that they, or rather he, could do better. But given what we've seen, that really should not be that hard.