November 25, 2005

The Afghanistan Effect

Hatched by Dafydd

John over at Power Line has just posted what I consider to be the most engrossing and fascinating blogpost of the past twelvemonth... and he decided to write it on Thanksgiving Day, when everybody's page views, even including a powerhouse blog like Power Line, is way, way below normal. The fool!

Since John has always been my mentor in everything (unbeknownst to him, the fool!) -- if John jumped off a cliff, I would definitely dive off in slavish imitation -- I shall likewise follow suit by posting my own sparklingly original observation about the same Pew Center survey that John discussed... also on Thanksgiving Day. Hey, turkey see, turkey do!

[Oh well, as the poet (Bobbie Burns) says, "the best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men gang aft agley." This was meant to be posted before midnight, but well, we got to watching Danny Kaye in the Court Jester, and I was tending the turkey, and of a sudden, I had no time. Pretend it's still yesterday, and before you know it, tomorrow will be upon you! -- the Mgt.]

Every four years from at least 1993, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (in collaboration with the Council on Foreign Relations) has conducted a series of surveys called America's Place in the World; the most recent was polled from September 5th through October 31st this year (the link is to the Iraq War section of the poll; there is an index, so you can check out the rest of the questions, too).

Pew asks a number of questions not only of the general public but also of a number of selected groups of "opinion leaders" in various fields; that is, besides regular blokes, they also queried journalists, foreign-affairs specialists, security specialists, state and local government officials, academics and members of think tanks, religious leaders, scientists and engineers, and retired generals and admirals.

Hardly surprisingly, every group but the last clocked in much further to the left than the ordinary Joe and Jane. This is especially unsurprising considering the way these elites were selected, which I'll let John explain:

Now the survey's results are less mysterious. If you define leaders in foreign affairs as members of the Council on Foreign Relations, it is no surprise that surveying the group generates liberal results. (It would be interesting to poll the same people on a question that has nothing to do with foreign relations--say, abortion. My guess is that the results would be identically left-leaning.) Likewise, liberal as academia no doubt is, it would be hard to find a more left-trending group than "officers (President, Provost, Vice-President, Dean of the Faculty) of the most competitive schools." It's not hard to see why "military leaders" divide so equally on the war, either; those "leaders" turn out to be mostly the retired talking heads, many with an axe to grind, that we see on television. As for those left-wing engineers, Pew didn't survey rank and file members, or even the most eminent members, of the profession; rather, their "leaders" are the 2,000 members of a group that exists largely to advise the federal government on issues relating to science. And, as we have noted before, the professional hierarchies of America's religious denominations are far to the left of their churches' memberships.

John is interested in this precise aspect; and he brilliantly analyzes the difference between self-appointed elite opinon leaders, especially those who have spent their entire lives trying to achieve that status, and the general public on a host of issues -- why the elites are typically so much more liberal than hoi polloi. You must read this post; it's very insightful, even for John (and that says a lot, as John is an unusually perceptive blogger).

But a completely different aspect of this survey struck me, and I instantly thought of what, twenty years ago, I dubbed the Afghanistan Effect.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas eve day in 1979, they clamped down hard on any press coverage. Not a word of the war was published throughout the Evil Empire except for the propaganda scripted by the Politburo... which was of uniform victory, massive destruction of the Mujahideen enemy, and a swift, triumphant end to the war. But the years passed, victory continued to elude the Soviets, and the losses began to mount. Eventually, the Reds were in a desperate strait: helos were shot down, transport aircraft exploded in balls of fire, and whenever they tried to send a tank column from Pakistan across the Hindu Kush along the Khyber Pass, they would be set upon by hundreds of jihadis shooting Stinger man-fired missiles... supplied to the Mujahideen by the United States, courtesy of Ronald Reagan.

The Soviets struggled to keep word of this from their people; and for a while, they were successful, and the Soviet subjects thought the war was going well. But you cannot keep troops in the field forever; eventually, they must rotate home to be replaced by fresh soldiers. And that was the downfall of the Empire.

For when the soldiers returned home, the tales they told of collapse and catastrophe, death, defeat, and disaster, so markedly contradicted the pravda (literally "official truth") that the people lost all confidence in the government. Perversely, besides taking out their ire on Gorbachev, the Soviet people also turned on their own soldiers -- the very ones who had brought the news of defeat. They were reviled as cowards and incompetents... and this, along with economic depression and the inability to keep up with the United States in the nuclear race (and the prospect of missile-defense via the Strategic Defense Initiative) completed the collapse of the Empire. The Kremlin bosses launched their eleventh-hour abortive coup against Gorbachav; Boris Yeltsin climbed atop the tank; and the Soviet Union fell.

The war in Afghanistan had a major impact on domestic politics in the Soviet Union. It was one of the key factors in the de-legitimization of Communist Party rule. Civil society reacted to the intervention by marginalizing the Afghan veterans. The army was demoralized as a result of being perceived as an invader.

And all because the returning troops told the real story of the debacle of Afghanistan. That is what I dubbed the Afghanistan Effect: when the lies of the government are exposed by the eyewitness evidence of the soldiers themselves.

I believe what we are seeing in Iraq is the Afghanistan Effect in reverse. Only this time, it's the lies of the liberal elites that are being exposed, as more and more soldiers and Marines return home from the war. In response to ludicrous fairy tales of bitter defeat, the troops are educating their families, friends, and neighbors about the tremendous victories we've won: the terrorists killed, the territory captured, the schools, dams, and generating plants rebuilt. They're telling everyone about the joyous Kurds and Shia, so glad to be rid of that vontz who lorded it over them for so many decades. Even many of the Sunni have embraced the Americans, thankful for the end of the monster and his spawn.

Our troops are extolling the virtues of the new Iraqi Army, and how well they fight against the butchers and beheaders. They've made tremendous and enduring friendships, the kind that can only be forged in the flames of side-by-side combat.

But against all this, the politicians (even on the Right), the religious and foreign-policy leaders, and academe, all led by the "news" journalists, are insisting that not only is the war a "quagmire" and "unwinnable," we already lost it.

So you have a choice. Who will you believe -- Chris Matthews, John Kerry, and Professor McQuisling... or your own son, brother, husband, sister, cousin, best friend, or next-door neighbor? What brought this to mind is the extraordinary similarity in the Pew Research study between the opinions of the ordinary Mooks -- and the "military elites," as selected by Pew: the "retired generals and admirals quoted in American news sources in the past year."

Asked about whether we should have gone into Iraq, the right decision/wrong decision split was 48 right, 45 wrong among the general public -- and 49 right, 47 wrong among the retired flag-ranks. Within all the other elites, wrong wins out over right. Wrong decision wins by a moderate 59 over 34 among government officials (that includes at least a few Republicans!); wrong wins big, by 70-something to 20-something, among all the other elites... except scientists and engineers, who say we shouldn't have invaded Iraq by a whopping 88-11.

Will we achieve success in Iraq? The general public says 56 yes, 37 no; the generals and admirals say 64 yes, 32 no. Among the other "opinion leaders," the only group that is optimistic, even slightly so, are government elites by 51 to 45. All other elites are wildly pessimistic, from 41 to 56 for religious leaders to a huge 13 to 84 pessimistic by (again) scientists and engineers.

On all the most important issues, the opinion of the retired military leaders neatly echoes the opinion of the general public. The most likely explanation to me is that that's where the public is getting its information... from the military. Not from the military elites, the generals and admirals, but from the men and women on the front lines themselves. Nevertheless, the opinions of men with stars on their collars more or less matches up with the opinions of the rank and file soldiers, enough so that the generals are reasonable proxies for the general public.

And just as the Afghanistan Effect was the beginning of the downfall of the Soviet Empire, with its Ministry of Truth that told only lies, so too will the Reverse Afghanistan Effect be the beginning of the end of mainstream media hegemony over "the truth." People have already lost confidence in the news media (note how out of synch the media journalists are with the American people in this poll). And in just a few short months, when massive numbers of troops begin returning home, having secured a tremendous victory in the Mesopotamian heart of the Middle East... well, the MSM may never again regain its face.

[Hat tip to Patterico for correcting a Yeltsin mistake of mine.]

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 25, 2005, at the time of 12:47 AM

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The following hissed in response by: ThomasJackson

Very nice post and analysis. When the Left floats the usual memes such as the willie pete story who can doubt what side they are on. Or when the media dwells on the military's inability to attract enough recruits only to drop the story when they exceed their goals we again get to see what their agenda is. But what bothers me most is when the Left trots out some "war hero" like Murtha and protrays him as some sort of recognized expert or big wheel. I doubt a week ago most America's could identify Murtha as a Democrat or Republican while most would probably have identified him as some major league coach.

The blogs and video have done a great job in revealing the lies of the Left. Nice blog you have.

The above hissed in response by: ThomasJackson [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 25, 2005 1:26 AM

The following hissed in response by: bullwinkle

It's also interesting that they used a Lexis-Nexis search of retired generals and admirals who had been quoted in the press to represent the military and included a group of officers the Council on Foreign Relations has selected. The press has been much more likely to quote anti-war sentiment and the Council on Foreign Relations' is also much more likely to pick liberal officers. It seems to be another junk poll with a predetermined outcome.

The above hissed in response by: bullwinkle [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 25, 2005 1:36 AM

The following hissed in response by: Patterico

Nice post. One minor correction: Yeltsin didn't stand on the tank in Red Square, but outside the White House (of Russia).

The above hissed in response by: Patterico [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 25, 2005 9:21 AM

The following hissed in response by: paul

The strangest part of the survey with the huge negative opinion among scientists and engineers. This should be a dead giveaway of how biased the survey was. Scientists, maybe, especially among the biologists who for some reason tend to the left. Physical sciences are much more balanced. But engineers, it's ridiculous, they are quite conservative by nature. And huge numbers are employed by the defense industries.

The above hissed in response by: paul [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 25, 2005 10:19 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Thanks; I made the correction.

Incidentally, I haven't blown off your last comment on the "beyond any possible doubt" debate; but I probably won't be able to get to it until either late tonight or maybe Saturday. But I will!


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 25, 2005 12:37 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

Thanks for an excellent analysis, Dafydd. Anything that helps the public quit trusting the MSM more than they should is a cause for good. It's time for them to start telling us the pure unspun truth or go out of business. If it were up to me at least half of our big name "reporters" would be taken out and shot for treason (along with a whole slew of congresscritters). I've linked to your post from The Afghanistan Effect In Reverse.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 25, 2005 9:30 PM

The following hissed in response by: beebop

Excellent post. A couple of comments at random:

1) I read somewhere that the scientist/engineer figures were based on polling the activists at their national organization. This would be like getting the opinion of lawyers by polling the ABA or National Lawyers Guild.

2) I really wish that your main premise was correct -- that a large segment of middle America still had substancial contact with the military -- but I feel it's mostly wishful thinking. The profound common sense of the average person in seeing through the bias of the MSM is a much more likely explanation.

The above hissed in response by: beebop [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 26, 2005 6:41 AM

The following hissed in response by: LiveFreeOrDie

Jay Tea over at Wizbang wrote that this was a great analysis, and I have to concur.

It's an angle I had not considered, and a very significant one. Nice work.

The above hissed in response by: LiveFreeOrDie [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 26, 2005 8:35 AM

The following hissed in response by: Seixon

You know, I was thinking about this Thursday night. I titled a topic on a message board "Democrats vs the military in 2006?" It seems I'm not the only one who sees an impending wave of military folks coming home and blowing the media and the Democrats out of the water for all their pessimism and naysaying.

You'd almost think the Democrats might want to keep the soldiers in Iraq longer, past the election, so that they don't come home and tell their stories.

Or perhaps they believe their own BS and think that everything in Iraq has gone to hell and that the military will be parroting the same thing they have for almost 2 years.

I hope they will be unpleasantly surprised.

The above hissed in response by: Seixon [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 26, 2005 10:00 AM

The following hissed in response by: Alexandra von Maltzan

All Things Beautiful TrackBack 'The Thanksgiving Gift From Al-Qaeda':

"FURTHER UPDATE: Jay @ Wizbang weighs in on Dafydd's great article 'The Afghanistan Effect', and my dear friend @ Media Lies summs it up beautifully: "Dafydd, keying off John's analysis, discusses the "Afghanistan effect" and opines that, as our troops return from the war and tell family, friends and neighbors the truth about Iraq, the destruction of the old media's hegemony will be a fait accompli."

The above hissed in response by: Alexandra von Maltzan [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 26, 2005 10:47 PM

The following hissed in response by: Jem

A couple of minor nits on your initial comments regarding Afghanistan:

- The Soviet forces most certainly did not enter from Pakistan at any point...they'd have entered through Tajikistan and/or Uzbekistan. Pakistan was our ally and the resupply point for the mujaheddin the US was supllying.

- Stingers are useless against tanks. They are, however, quite effective against helicopters.

The rest of the comments were very interesting. Keep up the good work!

The above hissed in response by: Jem [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 27, 2005 7:00 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Thanks, Jem; I corrected the errors and HTed you at the bottom.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 27, 2005 12:46 PM

The following hissed in response by: 2Hotel9

Having served in the US Army from '79>'85 I am glad to see this finally put into words that civs can understand. We saw the wall John was careening toward as early as '83. When you mentioned this to people, they would laugh hysterically. Then the SovUn collapsed. And everyone yawned in unison. I email and speak face to face with alot of troops, across the water and here in The World, and they are uniformly PISSED. And they are, on the whole, far more educated than any other soldiers in human history. They will use this to take the truth and use it to hammer MSM, and the left in general, into the ground. BBOOYYAA!!!

The above hissed in response by: 2Hotel9 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 29, 2005 12:13 PM

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