Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with President Obama today in Washington, reportedly to request assistance in the form of advanced military aircraft to counter the reactivated insurgency in Iraq. Maliki also took this request to the American people - or at least to readers of The New York Times - in his op-ed published October 29th, which linked American to Iraqi interests in combating Al Qaeda and resolving the situation in Syria:
"These mutual interests include combating terrorism and resolving the conflict in Syria. The war in Syria has become a magnet that attracts sectarian extremists and terrorists from various parts of the world and gathers them in our neighborhood, with many slipping across our all-too-porous borders. We do not want Syria or Iraq to become bases for Al Qaeda operations, and neither does the United States."
Prior to the meeting, a group of senators including Carl Levin, John McCain, and Lindsay Graham sent a letter to President Obama criticizing Maliki's unwillingness to share power with Sunni and Kurdish minorities. They pitched the upcoming meeting as a chance to “re-engage with the American people about the continuing strategic importance of Iraq."
Based on recent surveys, it's not that likely that Americans would show enthusiasm about re-engaging. For starters, a June 2013 Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans consider Iraq either unfriendly (40%) or an enemy (35%) compared to two in ten who consider it friendly but not an ally (17%) or an ally (4%).
Majorities in both an identically-wordede 2013 ABC News poll (58%) and the 2012 Chicago Council Survey (67%) said the Iraq war was not worth the costs. Moreover, in the Chicago Council poll, seven in ten agreed that the Iraq war worsened America's relations with the Muslim world and that the experience of the Iraq war should make nations more cautious about using military force to deal with Rogue states. Seven in ten also disagreed that the war will lead to the spread of democracy in the Middle East and that the threat of terrorism has been reduced by the war.
Other recent surveys with completely different wordings have found somewhat narrower divisions. A Pew 2013 survey also found the US public divided on whether the US made the right (41%) or wrong decision (44%) in using military force in Iraq. And another 2013 Gallup poll found that a slim majority of Americans believe the US made a mistake sending troops to fight in Iraq (53% vs. 42% not a mistake).
In his editorial, Prime Minister Maliki clarified "we are not asking for American boots on the ground." Good thing. But the Chicago Council survey did show continued majority concern among Americans about international terrorism - which is still the top threat - and some willingness for certain military actions against terrorism (especially airstrikes and targeted assassinations). So in this case, if the target were truly Al Qaeda, perhaps Americans would endorse sending Apache helicopters, certainly instead of boots.