New York Times reporter John F. Burns turned in a piece on Sunday about the debate in Britain over the Afghanistan war ("Criticism of Afghan War Is on the Rise in Britain," 7/12/09), in light of the increase in British casualties in recent weeks. Burns writes:
So far, however, the reaction in Britain has not run to the kind of popular groundswell for withdrawal that President George W. Bush faced when the war in Iraq worsened after his re-election in 2004.
To careful readers of the Times, this is more than a little jarring. While there is certainly some truth to the idea that there was a "popular groundswell" in the United States in favor of withdrawal, the paper spent quite a bit of time after 2004 trying to convince readers that withdrawing troops from Iraq was a terrible idea, and not a very popular one (among Americans or Iraqis). It's nice that in 2009, in a story about a different country and a different war, this reality is finally allowed to slip into the paper's reporting.
What Burns is really seeing in Britain is something else entirely–an "outcry from those who say the government must answer for the growing number of soldiers killed because of what they describe as an underfinanced defense budget, $55 billion this year." It's hard to say how prevalent these feelings are, but the assumption is that support for withdrawal is minimal. Recent polls suggest otherwise, however; while the recent British deaths have not pushed the public firmly in either direction, those who want to get out of that country are a sizable share of the population.
As the Guardian reported yesterday on its new survey, "Today's poll findings show that 42 percent are in favour of the immediate withdrawal of British troops, and a further 14 percent want them home by the end of the year." This was the same finding that the pollsters had recorded in 2006. In what year this pro-withdrawal majority will be noticed by the Paper of Record is anyone's guess.