The Politico claims the Iraq war will help McCain

Drudge's favorite political newspaper distorts all relevant data to advance this pro-war, pro-GOP fantasy.

By Glenn Greenwald
Published March 13, 2008 1:44PM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

The Politico today published one of the most blatantly one-sided, journalistically flawed "news" articles on the Iraq War in quite some time and promoted it as its featured story, filled with dramatic proclamations certain to attract (by design) significant attention. The central theme is one which the political establishment is most desperate to believe -- that Americans are now supporting the Iraq War again and this will drastically re-shape the presidential race in favor of the pro-war McCain. Here is the first paragraph:

American public support for the military effort in Iraq has reached a high point unseen since the summer of 2006, a development that promises to reshape the political landscape.

It repeats this pro-GOP assertion over and over. "The repercussions will be most acutely felt in the presidential contest." And: "Democrats' resolute support for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces may soon position them at odds with independent voters, in particular, a constituency they need to retake the White House." And: "The uptick in public support is a promising sign for Republican candidates who have been bludgeoned over the Bush administration's war policies. But no candidate stands to gain more than McCain."

The whole article cites only one on-the-record source: the media's favorite all-purpose war cheerleader Michael O'Hanlon, who warns -- yet again -- that the public will soon come to see McCain's pro-war views as the "correct narrative." O'Hanlon: "How could Democrats possibly hand McCain a better issue than to let him run on his record of advocating a robust U.S. presence in Iraq with all the positive battlefield news that is filtering out of that country?" So according to the Politico/O'Hanlon, Iraq isn't just a good issue for the Republicans; it's the best issue Democrats could possibly hand them.

With very bad timing for The Politico, a new USA Today/Gallup poll was released today and here are the results for the key question:

Which would be better for the United States?

Keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation there gets better: 35%

Set a timetable for removing troops and stick to it regardless of what is going on in Iraq: 60%

That comes as close as possible to tracking the Iraq positions of McCain and the two Democratic candidates -- stay for as long as necessary until stability is achieved (McCain) or effectuate a timetable for withdrawal regardless of events in Iraq (Obama/Clinton). The Democratic position on Iraq has a 25-point lead. But the Politico and O'Hanlon screech today that the Iraq debate will be a major asset for McCain's campaign and is a serious threat to Democrats, because Americans are now supporting the war again.

The entire Politico article -- every assertion -- is based on a single, cherry-picked outlier Pew poll from February which found that a "slim majority" now believe "the U.S. will ultimately succeed in achieving its goals" in Iraq. The "trend" on which The Politico exclusively relies is, in fact, negligible, within the poll's margin of error, and, more importantly, is contradicted by virtually every other poll, which they steadfastly and inexcusably ignore.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted after the Politico's poll found that Americans believe we are "not making significant progress" in Iraq, by a 51-43 margin. And a Newsweek poll from last week found that 43% believe things are the same in Iraq while 25% believe they are getting worse. Only 29% believe things are improving. Why would The Politico just ignore all of that to create its "Americans-love-the-war-again" narrative?

But what matters even more is that perceptions of "progress" do not mean that Americans support McCain's position and want to remain in Iraq indefinitely or even until stability is achieved. Polls -- all ignored by The Politico -- have continuously shown that even when American perceive that the "surge" has decreased violence, they still are against the war as much as ever before and support withdrawal. USA Today's poll from today shows a 25-point gap with Americans overwhelmingly wanting a timed withdrawal regardless of conditions there.

Moreover, Americans still believe by huge margins that the war -- which McCain cheered on and continues to cheer on -- was a mistake and, regardless of perceived progress, don't believe that the "benefits" were worth the costs. The Post poll asked:

All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not?

The Democratic position has a 29 point lead, with 63% answering "no" and only 34% answering "yes." Also, there are no discernible pro-war trends at all. Quite the opposite: those numbers from two weeks ago show record highs for war opposition. How could a war that is so deeply unpopular -- and that remains so regardless of claims of "progress" -- possibly benefit the candidate and party perceived as being responsible for that war?

Worse still for the Politico, the very same Pew poll on which the whole Politico article is based found that Americans trust Democrats over Republicans by a 47-37% margin to "do a better job making wise decisions about Iraq." It also found that Americans, unlike McCain, overwhelmingly think the invasion was the wrong decision (54-36%), with the 36% who believe it was the right decision a record low for the Pew poll.

What is the point of writing a big feature article claiming that Americans are moving towards support for the Iraq War again and this is dramatically re-shaping the political landscape in McCain's favor while purposely ignoring the mountain of extremely recent empirical data completely negating that claim? One could justify such blatantly dishonest presentations from pro-war propagandists like Bill Kristol and Michael O'Hanlon, but shouldn't a newspaper with pretenses to being a news organization do a better job of pretending?

UPDATE: From today's Wall St. Journal:

At the five-year anniversary of the Iraq war, the conflict remains as unpopular as ever, despite the military progress of Mr. Bush's troop buildup of the past year -- of which Sen. McCain was the chief promoter. A majority still wants to start withdrawing troops in 2009 rather than stay indefinitely until Iraq is stable, as Sen. McCain suggests.

There's no better, more natural pairing than The Politico and Michael O'Hanlon. They both propagandize without shame and without even minimal regard for facts.

UPDATE II: The Politico reporter who wrote the article in question, David Paul Kuhn, sent me a lengthy email just now responding to the criticism here. I will address the bulk of his points a little bit later this afternoon, but he did point out two errors in what I wrote that, in fairness, I wanted to acknowledge right away.

In addition to the Pew poll on which he primarily relied, Kuhn also referenced a CBS poll in his piece (so that's two polls he cited). And he did acknowledge, towards the end of the article, that "Democrats remain in step with the public mood on the question of the decision to go to war," as "Pew and CBS have found that a majority of Americans, including independents, continue to believe that the choice to wage war with Iraq was 'wrong.'" Those facts don't meaningfully alter the central problems with the journalism that produced his article, but I appreciate his bringing those corrections to my attention.

UPDATE III: Less than a week ago, Democrat Bill Foster was elected to Congress in Denny Hastert's long-time, bright red district in Illinois. The centerpiece of his campaign was opposition to the Iraq war, and he defeated a pro-war candidate whose policies mirrored those of John McCain. Might that development have merited a mention by The Politico in this piece? Public opinion on the Iraq War is "re-shaping the political landscape" alright -- just in exactly the opposition direction as Kuhn claimed here.

Glenn Greenwald

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