Last week I wrote about some recent polling which suggests the American public, contrary to the collective narrative we hear about, is relatively supportive of military action against Iran in order to prevent it attaining nuclear weapons. Daniel Larison thinks that support is much weaker than it seems, given the wording of the questionnaire:
First, the wording suggests that military action can prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but that is misleading. It is much more likely that military action will do nothing more than delay Iran’s nuclear program and make it even more likely that Iran will decide to build nuclear weapons (which it has not done yet). The alternative being offered is avoiding war even if it means that Iran develops nuclear weapons, but it is not necessarily the case that Iran will build nuclear weapons in the future. Because the wording exaggerates the efficacy of military action and also inflates the risks associated with avoiding war, the result is bound to be skewed in a more pro-war direction.
Yes, the wording seems to make certain fundamental assumptions which may be misleading to the interviewee. Unfortunately, that is sort of the point. I’ve written endlessly about how military action against Iran is unlikely to prevent it from getting nuclear weapons and may even propel it toward that end quicker than otherwise. I’ve written even more about how, in fact, Iran is not developing nuclear weapons and has not demonstrated any intention of doing so, according to the U.S. military and intelligence community. I’ve also made the point that Iran is on the defense instead of the offense, contrary to the frightening way supposed Iranian aggression is commonly portrayed in the media and by Washington. All these things are important if we’re going to answer questions about how much or how little we support a war on Iran. The trouble is, Americans don’t seem to care about that. The misleading presumptions the questions seem to make are exactly the kind the public will be exposed to if war with Iran becomes imminent. And if history is any guide, they’ll buy into those presumptions, skewing, as Larison says, the results in a more pro-war direction.
In fact, one of the points I made in my previous post on this was the one that Trevor Thrall at The National Interest made, noting that “support for military action against Iran today is almost exactly the same as support for the invasion of Iraq right before the war began.” And that was after one of the most coordinated and aggressive propaganda efforts in American history. There is all sorts of pro-war propaganda on Iran happening right now, some of which certainly contributes to the pro-war slant of public opinion polls. But remember, this is while the administration is decidedly against war with Iran (preferring instead to cripple the Iranian economy and support proxy terrorism against Iranian civilians). Think of the onslaught of propaganda we’d see if the administration changed its mind. Think of how skewed public support for war would be then.
Unfortunately, I have a hard time believing Americans are suffering from Vietnam syndrome even after the disasters of the last decade. Although I do buy into Larison’s second point about Americans being much less supportive of taking sides in an Israeli-Iranian conflict.
Update: From Michael Calderone, a case in point: “…public misinformation about Iran’s nuclear project remains exceedingly high: in a 2010 poll, 7 in 10 Americans said they believe Iran already has the weapons. (In the Iraq War’s early days, 81 percent of Americans said they believed the country likely possessed WMD’s, an understandable conclusion given Bush administration statements and the media’s coverage).”