The anti-Churchill party

Now I know Dean is a nutcase, but he is the head of the DNC. His guaranteeing US defeat is a little unseemly is it not?

Saying the "idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong," Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean predicted today that the Democratic Party will come together on a proposal to withdraw National Guard and Reserve troops immediately, and all US forces within two years.

Dean made his comments in an interview on WOAI Radio in San Antonio.

"I've seen this before in my life. This is the same situation we had in Vietnam. Everybody then kept saying, 'just another year, just stay the course, we'll have a victory.' Well, we didn't have a victory, and this policy cost the lives of an additional 25,000 troops because we were too stubborn to recognize what was happening."

While I think Ann Coulter is a nutcase as well, doesn’t this make her charges that anti-war liberals are tip-toeing on the borders of sedition slightly more credible? (And believe me, I'm glad no one like Ann is the head of the RNC)

UPDATE: Kerry intimating that US soldiers in Iraq are behaving unprofessionally – almost as if they were terrorists (If plumbers plumb; terrorists ________)
-- probably doesn’t weaken Ms. Coulter’s argument either.

Kerry: “there is no reason, Bob, that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of the--of--the historical customs, religious customs. ...Iraqis should be doing that.”

Ok so I now think that 2012 is probably the soonest I won’t be pants pissingly terrified of Democrats being in charge of national security. Anyone who views occasional lapses in cultural etiquette as reason enough to turn over a country with incalculable oil wealth to the next new-and-improved Taliban cannot be taken seriously.

UPDATE: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi claims over half of house Democrats favor "speedy withdrawl" (much to the consternation of the other half).

UPDATE: Dean changes his mind (again)
"We can and have to win the War on Terror." "We can only win the war -- which we have to win -- if we change our strategy dramatically. ... if we want to win the war on terror we cannot pursue the failed strategy we've pursued..."

UPDATE: This can be filed under Murtha’s “Democrats not sure what they believe at any given moment” category. Delaware Sen. Tom Carper seemingly criticized much publicized pro-withdrawal comments by Howard Dean and other Democrats after returning from a tour from Iraq which I first thought was a rare display of candor.

"I wish more of my colleagues, and folks like Howard Dean, would try going to Iraq to see the situation there for themselves"

Great! So he’s implying that what they said was poorly informed and incorrect. Err no.

“Anyone who has visited Iraq and talked to the people there, he said, is not going to come back thinking this thing is going to be won militarily. It's not."

Huh? Isn’t that exactly what Howard Dean said? (see above)

Has Rove figured out a secret weakness in the liberal mind that causes pandering engines to engage simultaneously in forward and reverse inevitably causing a full logic meltdown? Will we see Dean interrupted in a future speech on the necessity of the Iraq war by a rebellious left hand attempting to make a peace sign?

UPDATE: So while conservatives are actively trying to allow democracy to take hold in Iraq liberals are exporting well worn tactics to discredit democratic elections through claims of disenfranchisement.

Juan Cole: ”The only way the vote will happen at all is that the US military has forbidden all vehicular traffic, so everyone has to walk for the next few days. This tactic prevents car bombings from disrupting the elections, but it is a desperate measure and not a sign of an election that could be certified as free and fair.”

Goodness that’s sounds almost as bad as Ohio. Everyone knows inconvenience = Jim Crow unless you happen to be in country with a tin-pot socialist dictator and then it isn’t inconvenience but a valid cultural preference we’d be arrogant and ignorant to judge. Just ask Jimmah.

UPDATE: Holy cow. I was totally joking about the Iraq/Ohio comparison and Eric Alterman is actually making the comparison....seriously.


Ben said...

I find it damned unfortunate that the two "leading" Dems are Deaner and Kerry. I kind of like having two strong political parties to choose from. Options are nice, they give you flexibility. These fellows are edging their party towards political irrelevance at when the other guys need a kick in the pants. Actually, the other guys (whoever they may be) should always have the threat of a solid kick in the pants to keep 'em honest. Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit every now and again, tosses up a Kerry quote from a while back that was his response to the "exit strategy" question. It was, "the only exit strategy is victory." What victory means should be discussed and debated, but leaving Iraq in a state where it is by any stretch insecure (another term that should be debated) is unacceptable on basic humanitarian principles. That "you break it, you bought it" meme applies accross the board. Not just where Republicans are involved.

Andrew said...

I agree completely. If there was a principled debate on the war as opposed the cynical one occurring now I have no doubt that progress in Iraq would be coming more quickly. The problem is that the opposition party already utterly devoid of ideas is now displaying a remarkable gutless inability to stand by their principles. Based purely on political expediency they are willing to support the war and then call it deadly mistake, sponsor a bill to cause withdrawal and then unanimously vote against it (minus 3 brave souls), then wrap themselves in the flag to implore America to support the troops while characterizing them as illegitimate “terrorist” occupiers who cannot possibly win that are in Iraq involuntarily as victims of our materially unjust capitalist society. Well which is it? Either they’re largely on the same page as Bush and criticizing the war because it’s politically advantageous or they’re fervently anti-war but afraid to let their freak flag fly. I tend to believe they are the latter, which is a perfectly acceptable point of view – just not one the majority of Americans agree with.

Joe said...

You may be right that the "pull out" people are cynical. But saying, "ok, we tried our best. This isn't working and it's not getting any better" IS a legitimate point of view to hold. It's ok to change one's mind when new evidence comes to light. The longer the insurgency lasts, the more evidence there is that this isn't going to work.

I think Ben may be right that we have to stay on moral grounds, but that is predicated on the premise that our presence doesn't make things worse (which is the salient issue in the PR war that Andrew seems to dismiss). I certainly don't know the point at which our presence begins to hurt more than it helps, but I think that point does exist.

Andrew said...
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Andrew said...

Absolutely. And my second to last sentence in my comment expressly states that the opinion that the war is a bad idea for any multitude of reasons, including that the benefits no longer outweigh the costs is very much valid. The problem is that Democrats are trying to have things both ways. They want to appear principled for their anti-war base but also don’t want to appear weak on national security. So the net result is a party that appears to clearly care more about political gain than the overall wellbeing of the US war effort. If the Democrats truly believe that the war no longer works and needs to end – more power to them. If they want to continue supporting the war – fantastic. But it is absolutely reprehensible and borderline seditious when you have highly public political and government officials making potentially demoralizing (and largely false) statements about the war effort without willing to accept the consequences; statements that could embolden terrorists in Iraq to “stay the course” themselves. It’s like telling everyone at work a co-worker you hate is a sex offender only to see the guy quit and then go “oops! backsies” when your co workers discover otherwise and want to lynch you – or sort of like Dean today having a Sybil moment acting like winning the Iraq war is the most important thing in his life. No I hardly think what were seeing from the Democratic party is a principled change of opinion. I really wish the cliché “everyone has a right to a change of opinion would just die”. It really doesn’t apply when you’re changing your mind mid conversation (www.slate.com/id/2131597/&#murthavmurtha).

I think the “are we doing more harm than good” question was valid in say early 2004 but an awful lot of progress – many refuse to acknowledge (www.suntimes.com/output/steyn/cst-edt-steyn04.html) – has taken place there. I don’t think very any serious people are now debating whether the Iraqi people have benefited from the US removing the Baathist regime. They are clearly better off now economically, socially, and politically. I believe the debate has now shifted towards a cost/benefit analysis of being involved in a costly overseas nation building exercise in one of the most dangerous places on earth. This a debate we should be having, but it should be a debate based on true principles as opposed to shameless political opportunism.

Joe said...

I think the "doing more harm than good" argument isn't about the public service infrastructure stuff. I think it's about how much the insurgency is fueled by our presence (the Rashid Khalidi argument). So, yeah, it's a cost/benefit analysis situation, not just from our self-interested standpoint, but also from the moral standpoint. I frankly have no fucking clue what the relative consequences would be of staying and leaving at this point.

I think it's reasonalbe that our presence in Iraq fuels the notion that the U.S. is an imperialist power, which in turns stokes the fires of islamist extremism in Iraq, which in turn creates more terrorists. Therefore, the conclusion that our presence, at least in part, fuels the insurgency is pretty reasonable, and the further conclusion that the insurgency will not stop as long as we are there is also reasonable.

I also see that it does not follow from this conclusion that the insurgency will stop as soon as we leave, because there are other motivating factors for the insurgents. I just don't know the relative importance of these different motivating factors. Popular opinion seems to be that they are primarily Baathist holdouts, which would seem to indicate that they'll continue fighting regardless of our presence or absence.

Whatever their reasons, I'm pretty convinced that they aren't going to stop fighting any time soon, and we're nowhere close to stopping them from fighting. So, if we have to stay there until the place is stable, we're going to be there for a very long time, thus adding more fuel to the portion of the insurgency that fights because of our presence. If this portion is small, then the effect of our presence on stability will probably have a positive net effect, so, morally speaking, we should stay as long as we're helpful. If the portion of the insurgency that is fueled by our presence is large, however, we should probably get out pretty soon.

Regarding Dean and the bunch, what can I say, they're politicians. Politicians bullshit and pander. It's their nature. But, yeah, it's not very impressive when it happens.

Andrew said...

In my last comment when I said I didn’t think “any serious people” still debate whether the Iraqi people have/will benefit from the aftermath of the Iraq war I had hacks like Rashid Khalidi and Juan Cole in mind. Khalidi is well known for his repeated statements on the moral equivalency of the Israeli occupation and suicide bombings, that Islam has almost nothing to do with terror attacks on the US and Israel, and that the US government is nothing more than puppet of his hated Zionists. As an academic he has been under scrutiny repeatedly for publicly referring to Israeli students who had already performed their compulsory military service as murderers (www.campus-watch.org/article/id/1923) – in class -- and has been demonstrated to have plagiarized works of a Jordanian professor as his own (www.campusreportonline.net/main/articles.php?id=448). He’s in no way a serious intellectual but instead ideological hack whose chair at Columbia is being funded by anonymous sources with a clear anti-Israeli agenda.

Like the aforementioned democrats Middle East apologists like Khalidi wish to have things both ways. They alternately bemoan the horrible state of the region due to victimization by greedy Zionist/imperialist powers and the irreparable damage that will occur if we attempt any sort of remediation other than blindly sending money. I’m sorry but cultures are not these perfect and unique little snowflakes that must be kept intact at all costs – especially the festering turdpile we’ve had to deal with over the last several years. People are people; even ones that are stuck in the 155h century. While I suppose it’s possible that we could leave the Middle East in a worse state, I believe it would be quite hard. Politically every single country is a radical theocracy, corrupt monarchy or radical socialist state. Socially where honor killings are illegal they are not prosecuted, enemies of the state show up years later in mass graves and support for terrorism against innocents in Israel is part of government policy. Economically other than mineral wealth they produce next to nothing. The region is among the least industrious on earth. Where property isn’t owned by the state property rights are so flimsy no one dares invest what they can’t haul away on a cart. Militarily no professional armies exist. Other than a limited officer corps rife with cronyism all Middle Eastern armies are comprised of poorly trained conscripts. The Iraqi military for example didn’t want to waste bullets training marksmanship so instead they instructed conscripts to hold their guns over their head and fire at random while screaming a prayer to Allah. If Allah willed it they would hit someone.

Progress on all these fronts has been slow and there have been many setbacks along the way but in the last year there has been an undeniable amount of progress. This too was once the case in Afghanistan where there was much hand wringing first over whether our initial military efforts would be a “quagmire” and more recently charges like Khalidi’s that our efforts would ultimately fail and embolden groups hostile to us in Afghanistan and the semi-autonomous territories of Pakistan. That clearly has not happened: (abcnews.go.com/International/PollVault/story?id=1363276)
77 percent of Afghans say their country is headed in the right direction — compared with 30 percent in the vastly better-off United States. Ninety-one percent prefer the current Afghan government to the Taliban regime, and 87 percent call the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban good for their country. Osama bin Laden, for his part, is as unpopular as the Taliban; nine in 10 view him unfavorably.
Progress fuels these views: Despite the country's continued problems, 85 percent of Afghans say living conditions there are better now than they were under the Taliban. Eighty percent cite improved freedom to express political views. And 75 percent say their security from crime and violence has improved as well. After decades of oppression and war, many Afghans see a better life.

I would bet on similar results in Iraq when we’ve occupied for similar timeframe and then the Khalidis of the world will join his soviet apologist predecessors in the dustbin of complete irrelevance.

Joe said...

Fantastic ad hominem attack. But you didn't have a factual or logical counter to the argument that people, most of whom are skeptical of us at best, might be even more skeptical, perhaps even angry, that we've invaded and occupied their country, even if it IS better than it was. As you said, people are people, and the arab culture a "festering turdpile."

Bio of Rashid Khalidi

"Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Chair in Arab Studies at Columbia University. From 1987 to 2003, he was the Professor of Middle East History and Director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago, where he taught. He has also taught at the Lebanese University and the American University of Beirut — and at Georgetown and Columbia universities.

He received a B.A. in History from Yale University in 1970 and a Ph.D. in Modern History from Oxford University in 1974."

I think calling this guy a "hack" is something of an overstatement.

Andrew said...

Paul Krugman has a Curriculum Vitae at least as impressive as Dr. Khalidi (and doesn’t plagiarize; one of the greatest sins an academic can commit as ideas are their only product) and I’ve had no problem calling him a hack. A resume hardly makes a man and is hardly an argument. With both men I take issue with their slavish adherence to morally and intellectually questionable ideological positions. Positions not based on evidence or reason but on hatred and arrogance. Do you think it’s someone who asks kids simply doing the civic duty “How many Palestinians have you killed?” is not a hack? Do you think someone who says suicide bombings are an acceptable form of resistance in the context of the occupation is not a hack?

My factual counter to those concerned about our actions in Iraq are “hurting peoples feelings” or “giving the wrong impression” or “making them grumpy” or whatever it is you think people are concerned about over there was a poll taken recently in Afghanistan in the wake of similar concerns. The polls seem to indicate that concerns regarding Afghans perceiving the US as an imperialist power are unfounded. I contend that when we’ve spent an equal amount of time in Iraq as Afganistan its more likely than not we will see similar results. In other words critics like Khalidi have already lost round one and they haven’t provided a single substantive argument in the last year that suggest’s we won’t soundly win round 2. And when that happens people like Khalidi will become irrelevant and have to make a living dancing to code pink’s organ grinder just like the pinkos that made such a good living reveling in the obvious idiocy of Reagan’s policies.

And yes I have no problem stating that middle eastern culture (not just Arab – you forget Africans and Persians also live there) as it currently exists is largely a “festering turdpile”. I had my fill of fuzzy headed cultural relativism in college. I will no longer be shamed into not calling them as I sees them.

Andrew said...

Here's an article by Alan Dershowitz detailing the seriousness of Dr. Khalidi's plagarism.

Here's a serious fisking of a hacktastic Khalidi publication in the aptly named Radical History Review

Andrew said...

Turns out Dr. Khalibi’s a stopped clock on the whole “Middle Easterners getting mad at us if we do anything in the middle east” thing. Maybe he’ll be right this time though…
Khalidi also lashes out at his own country - repeatedly. During the Gulf War of 1991, he (wrongly) forecast that U.S. intervention on Kuwait's side would cause a "backlash" of Arab unity against America and a power imbalance in the Middle East.

As I mentioned earlier, his chair is funded by some rather unsavory sources:
While other donors to the endowment of the Edward Said chair are unknown, two of them are 1.) a foundation headed by Rita Hauser, whose former law firm, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, was registered with the Justice Department as an agent for the Palestinian Authority, and 2.) the Olayan Charitable Trust, a charity affiliated with the America arm of the Saudi-based Olayan Group.

Joe said...

Hey, call away. I was actually impressed by the poetic imagery of "festering turdpile." I think it's an huge overstatement that ignores the contributions of Arabs to culture over the years, but I see what you're getting at, and you're certainly entitled to your opinion.

Regarding Khalidi and academic credentials in general, I will only say this. I have not spent at least 6 years of my life in intensive study of Middle Eastern history, culture, and politics at one of the most academically rigorous institutions in the world, followed by a career where I deal with these issues every day. Nor have I grown up in the Middle-East. Therefore, I will choose to show some deference, (meaning that I will listen to and respect if not necessarily agree with) to people who have done one or both of those things (particularly the former). Given your skepticism of academia, I certainly understand your hesitancy to do that.

On the substantive point, though, I don't think the survey results you cited from Afghanistan (assuming they're accurate, from a well-designed study, etc) are a very good proxy for the situation in Iraq. Life in Afhanistan under the Taliban was unbearable. Life under Saddam was bad but nowhere near as bad as under the Taliban. They are very different places in a lot of other ways, probably most pertinently in that the resistance in Afhanistan was nowhere close to the resistance in Iraq. Also, the survey does NOT ask about Afghani attitudes toward the U.S. presence. It is quite possible, even probable, that people can enjoy the fruits of our actions there while still hating our fucking guts and wanting to blow us up. The survey should have asked,"Do you think Americans are infidels?" "Does it make you happy when Americans die?" "Would you be willing to kill Americans?"

"Making people grumpy" and "hurting their feelings" is a pretty big deal when the result of doing so is a sucicide bomber or an IED. Your allusion to Afghanistan is a weak comparison.

But, you may be right, and I hope you are. But you seem so confident that I will definitely have to remind you if you turn out to be wrong.

Out of curiosity, when do you think we should get out and under what circumstances? Is there any sort of ambient level of shittiness that would cause you to condone a "premature pull-out"? (This is my new favorite phrase connected with the war, by the way).

Andrew said...

I’m not sure I can agree with the statement that life under the Taliban was necessarily worse for those in Afghanistan than it was in Iraq. In a material sense yes, Iraq had an infrastructure while Afghanistan has donkeys and mud huts but that was more from 20 years of unrelenting war than what the Taliban did. The Taliban while extremely severe in their repression were stupid, corrupt and inconsistent. From everything I’ve read about their cyclopic leader he read did sound literally retarded. There were entire regions of Afghanistan that were largely untouched by their repression. Combine this with the fact that they were in power for little more than 6 years time (1994-2001) and you have more of an acute rather than systemic problem. Saddam created a repressive apparatus second to only the eastern bloc countries in it’s totality that lasted almost 30. While we could go back and forth over what is worse: rape rooms or soccer field executions I think it’s pretty clear that the US has been dealing with 2 countries dysfunctional for almost 30 years filled with broken people. I wish I could find the link for this, but last week I heard this story on Morning Edition from an Iraqi ex-pat whose now involved in a charity for Iraqi women. Apparently early on Saddam decided that he would adopt a Stalinist holiday in Iraq called “peoples day” where he would go around dressed in a plain white tunic visiting villages and talk to people about their problems and act like he cared. This quickly degenerated into Saddam and his entourage using this day as an excuse to rape or take away anyone they pleased. Out of fear of reprisal people were forced to go out in front of their homes and welcome “uncle Saddam” despite knowing that if Saddam did visit them their wives or daughters would likely be raped, taken away or both. Now getting your feet whipped by rubber hoses or getting gunned down in a soccer field would suck, but being so afraid that you’d welcome a rapist into your home because the alternative is worse (typically the alternative was having your entire extended family wiped out) is about as close to hell as I can imagine.

Actually the ABC poll did ask the sorts of questions you were interested in and is as statistically sound as any other poll used in poli-sci research and mass media. Here’s a description of it’s methodology:

This survey was conducted for ABC News by Charney Research of New York, with fieldwork by the Afghan Center for Social and Opinion Research in Kabul. Interviews were conducted in person, in Dari or Pashto, among a random national sample of 1,039 adults from Oct. 8-18, 2005. Sampling points were selected at random in 31 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, with households selected by random route/random interval procedures. The results have a 3.5-point error margin.

Actually if you read the article describing the study you would have seen the answers to the questions you felt needed to be asked.

You said: “ the survey does NOT ask about Afghani attitudes toward the U.S. presence. It is quite possible, even probable, that people can enjoy the fruits of our actions there while still hating our fucking guts and wanting to blow us up. The survey should have asked,"Do you think Americans are infidels?" "Does it make you happy when Americans die?" "Would you be willing to kill Americans?"”

The survey found: Some results may raise particular concerns. One is that, despite broadly favorable views of the United States, three in 10 Afghans say attacks against U.S. forces can be justified. There are about 18,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with more than 250 killed to date — including nearly twice as many in 2005 as in any previous year.
Acceptability of attacks on U.S. forces spikes among disaffected and socially conservative Afghans, who account for about 15 percent of the population. In this group, just 29 percent say such attacks cannot be justified, compared with 60 percent of all Afghans.
At the same time, even among all Afghans, 30 percent say such attacks can be justified. That may reflect social mores in a country where violence is not an uncommon means of settling disputes, and perhaps specific grievances in areas where administrative or legal remedies are lacking.

And: Eighty-three percent of Afghans express a favorable opinion of the United States overall, similar to the 87 percent who call the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban a good thing. That compares to favorable ratings of a mere 8 percent for the Taliban, and 5 percent for bin Laden. People who are unhappy with their local living conditions are twice as likely to have an unfavorable opinion of the United States.
Support for the United States is less than full-throated. Far fewer, 24 percent, regard it "very" favorably. And while 68 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively, that's well below the ratings given to Karzai, the United Nations or the present Afghan government (83 percent, 82 percent and 80 percent positive, respectively).
Still, an 83 percent favorable rating for the United States, and a 68 percent positive work performance rating, are remarkable — in sharp contrast to negative views of the United States in many other Muslim nations. (Another contrast is Karzai's job rating — 83 percent positive — compared with President Bush's in the United States, where 39 percent of Americans approved in the last ABC News/Washington Post poll.)
Given the Afghan public's security concerns — and distaste for the Taliban — there is little demand for prompt U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Just 8 percent say the United States should leave now, and another 6 percent say it should withdraw within the next year. The most common answer by far: Sixty-five percent say U.S. forces should leave Afghanistan "only after security is restored."

So yes, I think while Afghanistan isn’t a perfect analogue to Iraq I think it’s pretty darn close and this survey I think is as good a measure of sentiment towards the US as any. I think based on this most of the pessimism regarding attitudes or Muslims towards Americans in their country is largely unfounded.
Now in calling Khalidi a hack I’m not saying he’s not an extremely accomplished scholar with an obviously impressive mind. I happen to believe Krugman is a pretty sharp cookie also. However getting an Oxford Ph.D.. doesn’t turn you into a vulcan. In fact, in my experience, particularly in the challenge free zone of academia, the lies of “experts” are among the most brazen. Some feel it’s their duty to use their considerable brain power and mastery of a discipline to convince society of their point of view even if that means engaging in dishonesty. When the only people that review your work are allies, acolytes and people you can easily dismiss as being not worthy of debate it becomes very easy to make unsound arguments supported by little more that your agenda. Combine this with the fact that Khalidi’s pockets are being lined by the very countries he’s supposed to objectively studying and that it’s already been demonstrated that he’s engaged in at least one instance of academic dishonesty, simply giving him the benefit of the doubt is a very tall order; not one anyone particularly interested in knowing the truth should fill.
As for what circumstances would have to exist for me to support a “pre-mature withdrawal” would be pretty obvious for me. If current trends reverse themselves and it appears that US security efforts are losing ground then I think US forces should pull out. This could be determined by a steady decline in the kill ratio, secure territory and/or positive sentiment of peaceful Iraqi’s towards coalition forces. Now between now and whenever we pullout bad events will continue to happen so I would need 3-6 months to define a trend. For example, if the terrorists get lucky and blow up a mess hall with 300 troops, that isn’t a trend but if they’re picking off 20 soldiers in a convoy one month, then 40, then 60 and it doesn’t appear the military can do anything to protect them, then I would favor a withdrawal. Since about mid 2004 all the aforementioned metrics in Iraq have been pretty positive and certainly none would favor withdrawl.

Andrew said...

I found the link to the "peoples day" Saddam piece.

Andrew said...

Here’s another recent ABC poll (abcnews.go.com/International/PollVault/story?id=1389228) on Iraq that supports my contention that things have vastly improved in Iraq. The war and Americans still aren’t very popular there, but this was also the case in Afghanistan until recently. As the US’ role in Iraq governance declines so will the Iraqi’s animosity.

An ABC News poll in Iraq, conducted with Time magazine and other media partners, includes some remarkable results: Despite the daily violence there, most living conditions are rated positively, seven in 10 Iraqis say their own lives are going well, and nearly two-thirds expect things to improve in the year ahead.

Surprisingly, given the insurgents' attacks on Iraqi civilians,more than six in 10 Iraqis feel very safe in their own neighborhoods, up sharply from just 40 percent in a poll in June 2004. And 61 percent say local security is good — up from 49 percent in the first ABC News poll in Iraq in February 2004.

Nonetheless, nationally, security is seen as the most pressing problem by far; 57 percent identify it as the country's top priority. Economic improvements are helping the public mood.

Average household incomes have soared by 60 percent in the last 20 months (to $263 a month), 70 percent of Iraqis rate their own economic situation positively, and consumer goods are sweeping the country. In early 2004, 6 percent of Iraqi households had cell phones; now it's 62 percent. Ownership of satellite dishes has nearly tripled, and many more families now own air conditioners (58 percent, up from 44 percent), cars, washing machines and kitchen appliances.

There are positive political signs as well. Three-quarters of Iraqis express confidence in the national elections being held this week, 70 percent approve of the new constitution, and 70 percent — including most people in Sunni and Shiite areas alike — want Iraq to remain a unified country.

Preference for a democratic political structure has advanced, to 57 percent of Iraqis, while support for an Islamic state has lost ground, to 14 percent (the rest, 26 percent, chiefly in Sunni Arab areas, favor a "single strong leader.")

Whatever the current problems, 69 percent of Iraqis expect things for the country overall to improve in the next year — a remarkable level of optimism in light of the continuing violence there. However, in a sign of the many challenges ahead, this optimism is far lower in Sunni Arab-dominated provinces, where just 35 percent are optimistic about the country's future.