Friday, September 10, 2004

And why should this be a surprise?
A steady procession of U.S. military deaths, which this week resulted in the passage of the grim milestone of 1,000, has so far not caused an obvious backlash in public opinion against Bush's handling of Iraq. This support has steadily weakened over the past two years, but not in ways that suggest a direct correlation between casualties and political support.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Bush with a 53 percent to 37 percent advantage over Democrat John F. Kerry when voters were asked who they think would do a better job handling the situation in Iraq.
The very popular "democratic peace" literature in the field of International Relations suggests that democracies do not fight one another. It also suggests that democracies are much less war prone; although they do fight wars, and fight very popular ones at times, they are less likely to plunge into conflict. Why? Some argue that the transparency of democratic institutions offers opposing governments more complete and reliable information, preventing mistakes and building confidence across the war table.

Another popular explanation for the supposed "democratic peace" is that democracies are ruled by the people, and in war, the people pay the costs in both their blood and their treasure. If the people feel a war is worth the costs, they will pay them and often do so enthusiastically (e.g. WWI). If they feel a war is not worth the costs, they will oppose it with every ounce of their being.

The great shortcoming of this version of the democratic peace hypothesis is seen clearly in the Iraq War, where the people are presented with a war in which they are asked to sacrifice neither blood nor treasure. Or perhaps one should say, not their blood or treasure. The treasure part is easy. This was is being paid completely on credit. Whereas LBJ had the audacity to demand tax hikes to pay for the Vietnam War, GWB simply borrows and makes a future populace pick up the tab. Of course, that future someone is probably today's voters, but the profoundly myopic American can only see today, not tomorrow.

The blood part is easy, too. There is no military draft, and all those who are fighting and dying in Iraq are volunteers. Even those victims of stop-loss and all the other irregular ways Rumsfeld has used to keep troops in uniform are in their position because they volunteered in the first place. The US contractors strung up in Fallujah were volunteers, too, after all.

In short, if you don't want to pay either blood or treasure for this war in the present, you don't have to! One thousand deaths of heroes who volunteered to defend America is a cause for solemn reverence, but hardly a cause for revolution. For the average American, the US soldier in Iraq (or Afghanistan for that matter) is a symbol, not a real person.

And remember this: in April 2003 a Los Angeles Times poll showed that 25% of Americans could accept up to 5000 American casualties to overthrow Saddam. Among men it was 30%, and among Republicans it was 33%.

For George W., this is a healthy-sized base of support which will take the flow of a hell of a lot more blood to erode.


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