700 Club's Robertson and Webb: Americans "don't have a clue" for thinking Iraq is on verge of civil war

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

On the Christian Broadcasting Network's (CBN) The 700 Club, news anchor Lee Webb and host Pat Robertson asserted that recent public opinion polls indicating that the majority of Americans believe that Iraq is "heading for civil war" show that Americans "don't have a clue." In fact, American public opinion is in line with numerous military and Middle East experts who agree that Iraq is either in a civil war or on the brink of one.

On the March 14 broadcast of the Christian Broadcasting Network's (CBN) The 700 Club, news anchor Lee Webb and host Pat Robertson asserted that recent public opinion polls indicating that the majority of Americans believe that Iraq is "heading for civil war" show that Americans "don't have a clue." Commenting on how "the so-called mainstream media is playing up these polls that show the majority of Americans believe that Iraq is heading for civil war," Webb added: "I'm not sure if the rank-and-file American is an expert on whether civil war is going to happen there." Agreeing, Robertson twice stated of the American public: "They don't have a clue." In fact, far from not "hav[ing] a clue," American public opinion is in line with numerous military and Middle East experts who agree that Iraq is either in a civil war or on the brink of one.

Several recent public opinion polls, to which Webb and Robertson were apparently referring, indicate a majority of Americans believe Iraq is nearing civil war. For instance, a CBS News poll conducted March 9-12 found that 71 percent of respondents felt that right now, "there is a civil war going on in Iraq among different groups of Iraqis." Similarly, an Associated Press/Ipsos poll conducted March 6-8 reported that 77 percent of those surveyed believed it was likely that "civil war will break out in Iraq," and a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll (subscription required) conducted February 28-March 2 found that 73 percent believed "major civil war involving ethnic or religious groups in Iraq" was likely to occur within the next year.

While Pentagon officials have denied that Iraq is in civil war, Army General John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 9 that "[t]here's no doubt that the sectarian tensions are higher than we've seen," and added that "sectarian violence is a greater concern for us security-wise right now than the insurgency."

But numerous military and regional experts have joined the American public in assessing that Iraq is on the verge of a civil war; some have even gone a step beyond, asserting that Iraq is already engaged in civil war. ABC News reported on March 5 that, despite Pentagon officials' "optimistic assessments that the sectarian violence in Iraq had dissipated," other military experts contended that the "Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq already are engaged in a civil war, and that the Iraqi government and U.S. military had better accept that fact and adapt accordingly." For example, retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, a former military commander in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told ABC that Iraq is "in a civil war now" but that "[t]he failure to understand that the civil war is already taking place...means that our counter measures are inadequate and therefore dangerous to our long-term interest." Anthony H. Cordesman, holder of the Arleigh A. Burke Chair of Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told ABC: "If you talk to U.S. intelligence officers and military people privately, they'd say we've been involved in low level civil war with very slowly increasing intensity since the transfer of power in June 2004."

According to a March 12 report in the San Francisco Chronicle, Larry Diamond, Hoover Institute senior fellow and former senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, declared: "In academic terms, this is a civil war, and it's not even a small one." Further, a March 12 Newsday reported that W. Patrick Lang, the Pentagon's former top Middle East intelligence official under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said: "It's just political rhetoric to say we are not in a civil war. We've been in a civil war for a long time." The report continued, noting:

Other experts said Iraq is on the verge of a full-scale civil war with civilians on both sides being slaughtered. Incidents in the past two weeks south of Baghdad, with apparently retaliatory killings of Sunni and Shia civilians, point in that direction, they say.

New York University law professor Noah Feldman reportedly told Newsday, "I think we are really on the edge" of civil war in Iraq. Stating that the insurgent violence was "getting stronger every passing day," Feldman also claimed, "[w]hen the violence recedes, it is a sign that they are regrouping." Feldman formerly served as a senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and helped draft Iraq's constitution.

From the March 14 broadcast of CBN's The 700 Club:

WEBB: Pat, have you noticed the so-called mainstream media are playing up these polls that show a majority of Americans believe Iraq's headed for a civil war? I mean, they're interesting surveys, but I'm not sure if the rank-and-file American is the expert on whether civil war is going to happen there.

ROBERTSON: They don't have a clue. But I do remind you, Lee, that some years ago, as we were thinking about this, I had grave misgivings in my heart about this whole endeavor, and I still do. But I do believe by summer, like it or not, we're gonna start pulling troops out of that place because we're coming into an election, and the president is going to be forced to do it. And, we don't cut and run, but at the same time, we've got to send a message to those Iraqis, like, "Fellas, you get yourself a government and get your troops in order, and it's your country, and you run it." And we just can't stay there forever, and I believe the American people are going to say, "We want at least some of our troops home." I think the British populace is saying the same thing.

Although you're exactly right, Lee. The American people take a poll of what's going to be civil war. They don't have a clue. But nevertheless, the insurgents are giving trouble. But what's going to happen, and the danger is, is that Iran with the Shiite majority will be linking up -- they're already sending agents in the border to Iran. They probably control the area around Basra -- that's now an Iranian territory. And little by little, the majority Shiites will turn the screws on the Sunnis. Unless they will be willing to give the Sunnis a decent shot at the key positions in the government and a fair shake of the oil revenues -- if they'll do that, they'll probably have some peace. If they won't do it, then it's going to be a civil war. And who knows whether the United States needs to stay in it to, you know -- you can't win a civil war of that nature, a religious insurgency, with the kind of modern troops we have. Lee?

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