May 30, 2004

MARK STEYN:

It is already worth it for Iraq. There are more than 8,000 towns and villages in the country. If the much predicted civil war had erupted in any of ‘em, you’d see it. Not from the Western press corps holed up with its Ba’ath Party translators at the Palestine Hotel, but from Arab television networks eager to show the country going to hell. They cannot show it you because it isn’t happening. The Sunni Triangle is a little under-policed, but even that’s not aflame. Moqtada al-Sadr, the Khomeini-Of-The-Week in mid-April, is al-Sadr al-Wiser these days, down to his last two 12-year-old insurgents and unable even to get to the mosque on Friday to deliver his weekly widely-ignored call to arms.

Meanwhile, more and more towns are holding elections and voting in “secular independents and representatives of non-religious parties”. I have been trying to persuade my Washington pals to look on Iraq as an exercise in British-style asymmetrical federalism: the Kurdish areas are Scotland, the Shia south is Wales, the Sunni Triangle is Northern Ireland. No need to let the stragglers in one area slow down progress elsewhere. Iraq won’t be perfect, but it will be okay – and in much better shape than most of its neighbours.

So I’ve moved on. I am already looking for new regimes to topple. . . .

In other words, don’t make the mistake of assuming that Bush’s poll numbers on Iraq have fallen because people want him to be more multilateralist and accommodating. On my anecdotal evidence, they want him to be more robust and incendiary.

And evidently John Kerry’s internal polling is telling him the same thing. Hence, his speech in Seattle on Friday.

It’s not just anecdotal, and it’s not just internal — just look at this poll:

30. When you hear about the continuing violent attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq, are you more likely to think the United States should be pulling troops our of Iraq or that the United States should be using more force to help stop the attacks by Iraqi insurgents?

1. Pull troops out 32%
2. Use more force 52
3. (Neither) 9
4. (Not sure) 7

Several other questions in the poll are consistent. This suggests that among those who disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war there may be as many who think he’s too soft as too harsh. And I agree that Kerry’s new stance (noted here earlier) suggests that Kerry sees a market for toughness, or at least the appearance thereof.

Steyn thinks that Kerry is just being a weathervane, and that may be true. But you can learn things from watching weathervanes. Tim Blair, meanwhile, is hosting an interesting discussion.