Friday, June 16, 2006

Of Course They Haven't; Who, After All, Would Be Interested in Polls on the Iraqi Crisis from Iraq?!

Thank you for sending your article to the IHT. Unfortunately the editors have not been able to find a place for it.
In response to an International Herald Tribune front-page article concerning a poll showing that the global image of the United States has (again) fallen, I submitted the following Op-Ed article. As the information contained therein was obviously not of much interest to the general public, the piece was turned down. (Incidentally, here is more on polls that fail to rouse the interest of the MSM.)

How about the polls from Iraq?

Erik Svane

I understand fully well why so many people hold a dim view of the U.S. (or its leaders) and feel the war in Iraq has made the world a more dangerous place (Image of U.S. falls again, June 14). After all, we keep hearing and reading about polls showing how vast majorities in Europe distrust Bush and the reason for the Iraq war, how vast majorities in the Arab world distrust Bush and the reason for the Iraq war, and how America is divided over Bush and the Iraq war.

Now, if Brian Knowlton thought it necessary to mention that Spain was "deeply affected" by the March 2004 bombings in Madrid, one might think that he might point out that the very least that an organization could have done while gathering material for a global opinion poll centered on the war in Iraq would be to attempt to include a number of Iraqi nationals in said poll — who, if I am not mistaken, happen to be the population most affected by the current situation in Mesopotamia. Rather than interview people nonchalantly sharing their facile opinions that "the world has become more dangerous since Saddam Hussein's removal from power in 2003" and that, from the safety of their armchair in their comfortable living room (most of them living in Western democracies), the Pew Research Center might have questioned people who had to fend for themselves in what can only be called a barbaric police state.

Indeed, one reason that "the global image of America has slipped," that "pessimism about the future of Iraq was widespread," and that "Iraq is sapping good will to the United States" may be that they see so few polls from Iraq. As it happens, polls from Iraq — both Western and Iraqi — do exist. To mention only four (that are quoted in my book on anti-Americanism in France and Europe, La Bannière Étalée): in March 2004, a BBC poll found that 56% of Iraqis said life was better than before the war (only 17% thought it was worse) while 71% said life would improve and only 15% wanted foreign troops to leave the country. A January 2005 poll by the Iraqi daily Sabah found that 88% of respondents supported military action against the so-called "insurgents," while only 13% in a poll by the Al Midhar newspaper wished for the immediate departure of foreign troops. In polls conducted by Iraqi universities in the Fall of 2005, two thirds of respondents said life was better than under Saddam while no less than 82% expected their personal lives to be even better one year in the future. (Oh, and in case anyone is interested, a BBC poll from Afghanistan in October 2005 reported that 87% of respondents thought that Bush's overthrow of the Taliban was a good thing and that 83% of Afghans had a favorable opinion of the United States.)

Of course, were Western citizens slightly more aware of such viewpoints (rather than the hand-wringing, the tch-tching, and the apocalyptic scare-mongering of their own élites), their opinions of America, Bush, and/or the war might be neither so definite nor so negative. Then again, if Iraqis' (and Afgans') views had mirrored those of the members of the ever-so-lucid European élite more, you can bet that European editors would be all over themselves printing and reprinting them all over their front pages. (Pew might even have sent one of its research teams to Iraq.)

As France heads the list of nations thinking that the Iraq war has made the world a more dangerous place, it is instructive to mention how the war has (not) been reported there. When the French daily of reference asked its Baghdad correspondant to question common Iraqis about their opinions of the war on the first anniversary of the invasion, it apparently expected to get confirmation of its (self-serving) view of the situation which it systematically describes with expressions such as "chaos," "violence," "massacres," and the "reign of insecurity." Not only did Rémy Ourdan report in Le Monde that the vast majority of Iraqis thought the invasion was the best thing to happen to Iraq in the past 30 years, he also reported that if Iraqis questioned any country's policies and second-guessed anybody's reasons for their decisions with regards to the crisis, it was not those of the allegedly oil-hungry Americans but those of the allegedly principled members of the so-called "Peace Camp" who, directly or indirectly, ended up defending Saddam Hussein (oil-for-food and UN corruption ring a bell?).

The Baghdad correspondant was soon "promoted" to a desk job in Paris and Iraqis' views have rarely been seen in the French media since. With partial (and partisan) reporting like that (the October 2004 discovery of a mass grave in Hatra, with nine trenches near the northern Kurdistan village including the skeletons of toddlers, pregnant women, and unborn babies, went totally unreported in the French press), no wonder people the world over have a dim view of the United States and/or its president and his policies.

Once, when Churchill was treated to yet another harangue about the evils, the failures, the mistakes, and the inequalities of democracy, the old statesman acquiesced with his idealistic interlocutor: "Democracy is the worst form of government," the Old Lion agreed, pausing before adding, "except for all the others." That expresses exactly how I feel when I hear the umpteenth litany enumerating the so-called sins of America, its awful leaders, its lying politicians, its cowering press, its unjust foreign policy, and/or its clueless citizens.

A Danish-American journalist living in Paris, Erik Svane is the author of La Bannière Étalée, a book on anti-Americanism in France and Europe. His latest book is Général Leonardo.