Poll: Majority back Obama's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq

Condoleezza Rice might say that no one in the Bush administration seriously thought the U.S. would withdraw from Iraq by 2011 — and critics might point out that Barack Obama made the decision to withdraw less to fulfill a campaign promise (as he has since spun it) than because negotiation failures left him with no other choice — but the American people still by and large approve of the troops coming home.

According to a new Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans approve of the Iraqi troop withdrawal. Not surprisingly, Democrats are more pleased with the president’s decision than Republicans: 96 percent of Democrats enthusiastically endorse the withdrawal, while just 43 percent of Republicans do. Independents favor withdrawal by a whopping margin of 77 percent to 17 percent.

Gallup speculates Republicans oppose the withdrawal less because they want the troops to remain in Iraq as because they dislike the concept of a timetable for withdrawal, in general:

Thus, Republicans’ disapproval of Obama’s withdrawal policy may partly be influenced by their more general opposition to setting hard deadlines for withdrawing troops, rather than an actual desire to keep U.S. troops in Iraq. Their opposition to his policy may also be related to their broader disapproval of Obama — 9% of Republicans have approved of the job Obama is doing in each of the last three months.

Indeed, the administration’s inept handling of negotiations to extend the U.S. presence in Iraq ought to give Republicans (and Democrats) little reason to approve of the job Obama did there. Some have argued that the Iraqi government’s position in the negotiations proves that Iraq has at last begun to act as a sovereign nation — beholden neither to the United States nor to Iran. But Iraq was able to withhold immunity for any residual U.S. troops only because the U.S. “was eager to exit Iraq and lacked the stomach to confront Iran,” as The Heritage Foundation’s James Phillips put it.

Thus, the ultimate outcome of the discussions between Washington and Baghdad — the complete withdrawal — puts U.S. interests abroad at risk, not least because it leaves a partial power vacuum for Iran to exploit.

Security should never rest on political calculations: Security interests justify broken campaign promises, as well as acting in the face of popular disapproval. Republican members of Congress have criticized the administration for its decision to withdraw — and, in light of this poll, that criticism appears especially important. Far easier for them to acquiesce to the administration’s decision to benefit from the popularity of it. Far better for them to stand up for U.S. interests abroad.