Will National Review correct Cliff May's false Iraq claims?

Right-wing war supporters continue, literally, to deny the reality that a solid majority of Americans favor withdrawal from Iraq.

Published April 2, 2007 12:16PM (EDT)

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV - Update V - Update VI)

In National Review's Corner yesterday, former New York Times reporter Cliff May repeated one of the most factually inaccurate standard pro-war talking points:

I noticed Rangel uses what has become a frequent talking point of the left: that in the last election the voters sent the message "Get out of Iraq."

Is there a shred of evidence for that? Yes, plenty of voters were undoubtedly registering disappointment with lack of progress in Iraq, and many clearly believed it was time for a new strategy.

But didn't the removal of Rumsfeld, Abizaid and Casey accomplish that? Is there really polling to suggest that most Americans are ready to pull the plug on Gen. Petraeus' strategy and mission?

If not, isn't it high time this talking point was challenged?

Wouldn't one expect that someone who goes to write on National Review's blog about American public opinion on the war in Iraq would have at least a basic working knowledge of that rather well-discussed topic -- or, at the very least, if they somehow managed to plug their ears and not hear the unpleasant news, just do a tiny amount of research before asserting something this emphatically? From the latest Pew Poll, released March 26, 2007:

A solid majority of Americans say they want their congressional representative to support a bill calling for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by August 2008. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) say they would like to see their representative vote for such legislation, compared with just 33% who want their representative to oppose it.

Sixty-one percent of Independents want their Representative to vote in favor of the Democrats' August, 2008 troop withdrawal mandate (along with 77% of Democrats and even 34% of Republicans). And this is after Rumsfeld's firing, the appointment of General Petraeus, the start of the Glorious Surge, the Declarations by all the war supporters that the Surge is Working, and whatever else May is pointing to as proof that Most People Agree with Him.

In sum, six out of 10 Americans favor a setting of a date certain right now for withdrawal of the troops -- exactly the fact for which May claimed there was not "a shred of evidence." And, from a post-Petraeus, post-surge March CNN poll:

Less than half of Americans think the United States can win the war in Iraq, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday.

Forty-six percent said the United States could not win the war in Iraq. . .

An even smaller percentage, 37 percent, said the United States will in fact win the war in Iraq; 54 percent said it will not. An all-time low of 29 percent said things were going well in Iraq.

Fifty-four percent of Americans said the Bush administration deliberately misled Americans about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the U.S.-led invasion.

Nearly six in 10 of those polled want to see U.S. troops leave Iraq either immediately or within a year. In addition, more people would prefer Congress to run U.S. policy in Iraq than President Bush. . .

Twenty-one percent of responders support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and 37 percent said troops should come home within a year.

And while May and the rest of the standard band of blindly loyal Bush-supporters have (needless to say) embraced all the cheerleading about the "surge" and how great it is working, most Americans live in reality and therefore reject those assertions -- again directly contrary to May's beliefs. From the Pew poll:

And there is plenty of other polling data demonstrating the same thing, and it isn't exactly in obscure venues. It's all over the place. The only way for the average news consumer, let alone an actual pundit whose job is to follow the news, could claim there was no such evidence is literally to ignore it on purpose because it is unpleasant.

It is an outright delusion to think that Americans secretly favor the Iraq war, that they are merely dissatisfied because they are impatient for a new strategy, and once they are shown that we are trying different things, they will finally unleash their suppressed love of this war and fervently cheer it on until the Triumphant end. Yet here is Cliff May expressing that view to National Review readers even in the face of ample empirical evidence to the contrary, the very existence of which he does not even recognize.

In Cliff May's mind (and he's hardly alone), he thinks the Iraq War is wonderful and that the only problem with it is that we have not been prosecuting it aggressively enough. Therefore, that simply must be what normal, regular Americans think, too, even if mountains of empirical evidence demonstrate exactly the opposite -- because, after all, May is a normal, regular American who believes in what normal, regular Americans believe in [or, as David Brooks calls them (i.e, himself), "the normal, nonideological people"]. May's deep-seated faith in that belief outweighs any empirical data.

The capacity of Bush followers literally to ignore facts that conflict with their convictions is truly extraordinary. In the weeks before the midterm election, all sorts of national Republicans were complaining anonymously in the press that Bush and the White House were genuinely living under the delusion that they were going to win the election even in the face of a consensus of evidence showing the opposite.

They lived in that illusory world by doing what Cliff May did here. Bush did not believe the polls because he was certain that Americans intrinsically prefer Republicans because of how Right they are. Hugh Hewitt was actually insisting that the poll data itself was biased against his movement and that polls that showed the candidates tied actually meant that the Republican was ahead, and polls that showed Republican candidates behind actually meant there was a tie. They literally do not recognize the existence of facts which negate their beliefs and desires about their own Rightness. That, of course, is how they continued to insist that things in Iraq were going great, and still are, despite the mountains of facts to the contrary -- the Iraq War is Right; therefore, it must be going well.

This might be a good opportunity to force into National Review an acknowledgment of the fact that a very solid majority of Americans are not merely "frustrated" with our lack of progress in the war, but they actually oppose the war itself and therefore favor a withdrawal of troops on a committed timetable, despite the really Great and Powerful Surge. May's claims were just factually inaccurate and someone at The Corner, if not May himself, ought to correct them by acknowledging reality.

May does not list an e-mail address, but you can write to Kathryn Jean Lopez here or Rich Lowry here and request a correction. It would be constructive if National Review were compelled to correct May's false claims and acknowledge that a very solid majority of Americans (a) do not believe in The Surge, (b) do not believe the claims that it is working or will work, and, most of all, (c) favor a right now setting a date certain withdrawal from Iraq. Those are just facts that no minimally honest publication should continue to deny.

UPDATE: From The Washington Post-ABC News poll, February 23-25, 2007:

7. Do you think the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored there, even if that means continued U.S. military casualties; OR, do you think the United States should withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties, even if that means civil order is not restored there?

Keep forces - 42%

Withdraw forces - 56%

8. Do you support or oppose Bush's proposal to send approximately 22,000 additional U.S. military forces to Iraq? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

Support - 32% (strongly: 20%)

Oppose - 67% (strongly: 56%)

It is incredibly dishonest to claim that there is not a "shred of evidence" showing that Americans favor withdrawal from Iraq and that, now that the Glorious Surge is in place, Americans are satisfied with our ongoing occupation. Will National Review allow May's false claims to remain standing, uncorrected?

Cliff May's email address has been found. You can request a correction by e-mailing him here (h/t RicK).

UPDATE II:More "shreds of evidence" (h/t: FMD)

Newsweek, March 28-29

"Do you support or oppose the legislation passed this week by the U.S. Senate calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by March 2008?"

Support - 57%

Oppose - 36%

It really is amazing how a policy that is supported by solid majorities of Americans in virtually every poll -- namely, Congressionally compelled withdrawal of troops from Iraq by a date certain -- is spoken of, not just by May, but by our national media, as some sort of politically extreme, super risky proposal which only war opponents on the Far Left fringe support. The disconnect between our political discourse and actual reality -- especially when it comes to how "Americans think" -- is hard to overstate.

UPDATE III: I was actually working on a post about Jonathan Weisman's horrific article in The Washington Post, which exhibits exactly the same flaw as May's argument. Weisman makes all sorts of assertions about what Americans believe that are the opposite of reality. Whereas May made such assertions about Iraq, Weisman invokes this tactic to warn of what he calls the "politically risky" challenges Democrats are planning to Bush's most controversial terrorism policies, such as planned efforts "to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; reinstate legal rights for terrorism suspects; and rein in what Democrats see as unwarranted encroachments on privacy and civil liberties allowed by the USA Patriot Act."

But both Greg Sargent and Matt Stoller now have posts up about this article documenting most of the points that need to be made. In the Beltway, it really is as if the November, 2006 election never happened, or at best, it is treated as some sort of Lottery-like event, an episode that was completely random and has no meaning whatsoever.

Shortly before the election, Rove engineered votes on both warrantless eavesdropping and the Military Commissions Act. As expected, most Democrats voted against them. As planned, Republicans then pointed to those votes to accuse Democrats of being "soft on terrorism." And then Republicans got stomped in the election. But for journalists like Weisman (and fear-driven Democrats like Leon Panetta), it's like none of that ever happened. They have not ingested the reality that Americans neither trust nor like George Bush -- in every area, including terrorism -- and are not going to punish anyone for opposing him.

UPDATE IV: May "responds" -- without linking to any of the evidence in this post (always the hallmark of a disingenuous reply), and thereby deprives his readers of the opportunity to see the evidence he pretended he was seeking. And it's not hard to see why May did that. This morning, I was willing to give May the benefit of the doubt -- that perhaps he was somehow simply unaware of all the evidence he asserted was non-existent -- but his "response" to this post reeks of dishonesty.

May claims that the polls asking Americans whether they want to leave Iraq do not reflect whether they would favor withdrawal even if the U.S. has not "completed the mission." He asks: "What do you think the answer would be if Americans were asked whether they favor getting out of Iraq ASAP b

That claim is just logically false. A solid majority of Americans favor setting a date certain now, which means compelled withdrawal on that date regardless of the situation in Iraq. People who favor withdrawal only once the "mission is complete" -- like May -- oppose setting a date certain for leaving, precisely because they don't want to leave on a specified date, but only once we've "won." That's just self evident.

But beyond being logically false, May's claim is also factually false. This is what the Washington Post poll quoted above asked:

7. Do you think the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored there, even if that means continued U.S. military casualties; OR, do you think the United States should withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties, even if that means civil order is not restored there?

Keep forces - 42%

Withdraw forces - 56%

It asked exactly the question which May dishonestly claims none of the polls asked. And it reveals that a substantial majority favor withdrawal even if the "mission" has not been completed.

It's fine to advocate a position that most Americans oppose. The fact that one's position is held by a small minority does not mean that it is wrong. But it is not fine to lie by falsely denying that one's views are opposed by a solid majority of Americans. It is now conclusively clear that May is doing exactly that, and he has plenty of company among war supporters, who constantly state or strongly imply that Americans agree with their views about wanting to stay in Iraq.

I think more e-mails to May are appropriate until he acknowledges these facts, and corrects his latest false statement about these polls. Everyone is entitled to whatever views they want about the wisdom of our ongoing occupation in Iraq, but nobody is entitled to lie about demonstrable, empirical facts about what Americans believe about the war.

UPDATE V: May responds again, principally by citing, for some reason, polls showing that a majority of Americans oppose immediate withdrawal (as in tomorrow) or de-funding the war -- as though anyone was claiming otherwise. The only issue from the beginning was May's factually false claim that there was not a "shred of evidence" to support the Democrats' "talking point" that Americans want to withdraw from Iraq.

Solid majorities of Americans are not merely vaguely annoyed with the Iraq war, but affirmatively support the Democratic bill just passed by Congress to compel a withdrawal in 2008, regardless of the conditions there. And they are solidly opposed to the "surge" and do not believe it will work, all of which demonstrates May's original post to be false. Those were May's points, and he offers no evidence to support them, because none exists. But that simply does not deter him and similar war supporters from asserting -- and, even more disturbingly, believing -- that most Americans agree with their views on Iraq.

I do, though, agree with May on one point. He says:

The question of whether most Americans want out of Iraq is not marginal. If members of Congress -- in both parties -- believe that is what their constituents are demanding, support for Gen. Petraeus and his mission will quickly disappear.

That is precisely why war supporters are so eager to deny the inescapable reality that Americans have abandoned this war and want the troops out, regardless of whether we have achieved "Victory" (using whatever definition is in vogue among war supporters on any given day). That's why I found this exercise today important -- acknowledging the reality of American public opinion on this war will bring us closer to an end to the war, and that is what war supporters fear more than anything.

Independently, the right-wing movement in this country has used as its principal rhetorical tactic over the last two decades the claim that they represent the "normal, mainstream Americans," while liberals are the subversive freaks on the coasts, hopelessly out of touch with mainstream American values. Hence, few things are more damaging to their political brand than for it to be acknowledged that on the most critical political issue of the decade -- Iraq -- they are about as isolated and fringe as a political movement can be. That is why they will deny whatever facts one presents, no matter how clear and compelling, which demonstrate just how repudiated their views are by the "normal, nonideological Americans" (h/t David Brooks).

Those facts squarely contradict the central politcal argument they have been making for two decades now, at least (which is really more a cultural argument than political argument). They now stand revealed as the fringe, out-of-the-mainstream movement, and they will do anything -- including just outright denying the clearest empirical data -- in order to prevent a recognition of that fact.

UPDATE VI: The sun sets at night. It rises in the morning. And factually false claims that are pleasing to the ears of Bush followers spread like wildfire -- the more false they are, the more rapidly they spread:

See also. Just think about that: the lesson which right-wing, Bush-following war supporters drew from the mountain of empirical evidence in this post, as well as from this entire day-long exchange with Cliff May (to say nothing of the November, 2006 election), is that Americans support the War in Iraq and do not want to withdraw the troops. That is beyond jarring.

By Glenn Greenwald

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