Heavily criticizing the Bush administration’s Middle East policy, pollster John Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International, spoke yesterday evening at the Alice H. Cook House to a large group of faculty and students in a lecture entitled “The Political Landscape: The United States and the Middle East.”… “When you stop and weigh [the war] and think in terms of the lives being lost and weigh it against Saddam’s crimes, yes, there might be a rationale, but you’ve got to know where you’re going; we’ve had no plans other than to bomb the hell out of Baghdad, paint targets on our troops – I feel no glory or justification [in this war] … I want to pound some sense into those people,” Zogby said.
Zogby examined public opinion trends in the U.S. and Middle East since President George W. Bush’s election in 2000, comparing Bush’s approval ratings to a “bouncing ball,” bouncing high in the air at first, but eventually bouncing lower and lower and falling faster. On 9/11, Zogby said Bush got his first “bounce” of the ball as citizens bonded with leaders and themselves, resulting with Bush obtaining approval ratings as high as 90 percent. Yet only two weeks after the attacks, Zogby noted in a poll that only 50 percent of Americans supported the war on terror if it would last over two years.
“[Americans] want the war won, the war over and our troops out of harm’s way … I learned that the US was still very much in the post-Vietnam era,” Zogby said.
According to Zogby, Bush’s second “bounce” of the ball occurred when troops invaded Iraq in March of 2003, with his approval rating bouncing up to around 68 percent. His third “bounce” occurred with the capture of Saddam Hussein in December of 2003, with his rating going up to around 55 percent.
“But like this ball, [Bush’s] surges were smaller each time and lasted shorter,” Zogby said.
Zogby also examined the Democratic campaign for president in 2004, starting with the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2003. Zogby noticed as the campaign went on that early frontrunner Governor Howard Dean lost more and more points to Senators John Kerry and John Edwards.
“When we first polled the voters in the caucuses, most voters said they wanted a candidate that said what they believed in. But after [Saddam’s] capture, 84 percent of them said they wanted somebody who could defeat George W. Bush,” Zogby said.
Zogby called the 2004 presidential election an “anomaly,” noting that despite 51 percent of Americans giving Bush a negative job rating, and 55 percent saying the country was going in the wrong direction, Bush was able to grab 60 million votes and win 51 percent of the electorate.
Zogby blamed the outcome on John Kerry’s inability to connect with the five percent of undecided voters.
“John Kerry’s poll numbers were like a flat line on an EKG – always hovering around 48 percent. You get the bare minimum and nothing more. That’s what you get when you’re not George Bush. Kerry did not do enough to capture those undecided voters,” he said.
Zogby then moved to the topic of Middle Eastern attitudes and beliefs, harshly criticizing the government for its lack of communication in this area. He claimed that a culture of “betrayal and humiliation” permeates the area.
“[Bush] said ‘they hate us for our freedom and democracy, they hate us for our values.’ With all my experience with the Middle Eastern world, I find this very hard to believe,” he said.
Zogby cited polls taken in 2000 that showed a majority of Arabs held favorable views on American culture and values. But in a poll taken in the build-up to war, 89 percent of Arabs held unfavorable views towards the U.S.
“People don’t like being associated with an Axis of Evil – when they hear this, nationalism triumphs. In one fell swoop, we alienated most of the Middle Eastern world,” Zogby said.
Zogby severely condemned U.S. policy, claiming it is undoing any goodwill Arabs hold towards the US. He called attempts to reach out to the Muslim world “ham-handed.”
“We are selling our values like Uncle Ben’s Rice – Arabs are so easy to read, but we’re not communicating at all – Good police work will find the terrorists; you breed more terror by shutting off people,” he said.
Zogby claimed that Arabs held negative opinions of Bush due to his bonding with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the intense lead-up to war, and the Abu Ghraib scandal.
“We have no idea how devastating [the Abu Ghraib scandal] was. To many Arabs, we train our troops on how best to humiliate them,” he said.
Zogby held yet more criticism for the Bush administration during a question period following his lecture, painting a dark picture for postwar Iraq, and saying that the United States’ exit strategy must be to leave immediately. political capital” to appeal to the center. He also predicted a “rendering apart” of the Republican base as the Christian right battled against other conservative intellectuals.
“What darkens things is the Christian right. They’re a contradiction to what the conservative ideology has always been about; they’re trying to impose their value system on everybody else and utilize the government to do so. They’re very similar to Wahhabism is this way,” he said, speaking of the fundamentalist Islamic movement.
Zogby also claimed that the word “liberal” has become dirty and “bankrupt of new ideas.”
Zogby was pessimistic of the future situation in the Middle East, saying that the next president would be likely to continue to hold a presence in the Middle East.
“We’ve managed to piss off the entire rest of the world,” he said. Zogby’s speech was well-received among students.
“He had some very insightful comments. I think he gave students a more global perspective of the changing Middle East,” Rahul Shah ’08 said.
Ahmed Mousa ’06, co-president of the Arab Students Association, considered the speech a rousing success.
“John Zogby is the perfect example of who we try to bring; not only because he is a Lebanese-American, but because he is a prime pollster and at the center of a lot of issues. His talk was excellent,” Mousa said.
Called the “prince of pollsters,” Zogby is a noted pollster who has correctly predicted the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections as well as elections in Canada and Mexico, and has polled in over 62 countries. He holds degrees in history from Le Moyne College and Syracuse University. He is listed with Leading Authorities and the Capitol Speakers Bureau in Washington, D.C. Although Zogby has appeared on many news stations and newspapers, including NBC, ABC, Fox News, and Gannett News Service, he still claims the highpoint of his life was an October 2004 appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
Sponsored by the Alice H. Cook House, the Arab Students Association, and the Department of Near Eastern Studies.
Archived article by William Cohen
Sun Staff Writer