December 29, 2003


Fairfax circulation barrier Robert Manne likes to keep things simple, so he carefully limits the amount of information to which his readers are exposed:

While it proved relatively easy to remove Saddam Hussein, to introduce even the foundations of democracy proved a considerably more difficult task. With the abolition of the Iraqi army and police force, law and order simply broke down. Largely because of robbery, rape and murder, 94 per cent of Iraqis surveyed said they now felt less secure than they had under the gruesome regime of Saddam.

Manne cited that same figure in an earlier piece:

In a recent Gallup poll, 94 per cent of Iraqis said they felt more insecure now than under Saddam; 86 per cent said they or their families felt fearful about leaving their homes at night.

Gallup’s poll wasn’t all that recent when Manne first mentioned it on November 17; it had been conducted between August 28 and September 4. More significantly, it didn’t reflect the broad views of Iraqis, as Manne has twice claimed. This USA Today item explains:

The 1,178 in-home interviews were all in Baghdad, so the results are not a scientific glimpse of all Iraqis' opinions.

Omitted from Manne’s latest column is the same survey’s finding that “most Baghdad residents thought getting rid of Saddam Hussein was worth the hardships they are enduring.” In fact, 67% of Baghdad residents surveyed thought Iraq will be in better condition five years from now than it was before the US-led invasion.

The number that expected things to get worse? Just eight per cent. Another early survey found a similarly tiny number wanting to return to life under Saddam:

We pressed the issue a little further: “If you HAD to choose, would you rather live under Saddam or the Americans?” The good news is that very few want Saddam back – just 7 per cent.

”Good news” is Manne’s least favourite phrase. He claimed in his November 17 piece that, according to the Gallup poll, “only 40% believe democracy can work in Iraq”. But that’s not what Gallup itself found:

Respondents were most supportive of those systems that would seemingly provide the most public participation: either a multiparty parliamentary democracy, or a system based on the Islamic concept of shura (whereby leaders work through a process of consultation and public consensus) ... A follow-up question asked respondents to identify the one form of government they would most like to see established in Iraq. There is no clear leader, but the largest segment, 39%, prefers multiparty parliamentary democracy. A system based on the Islamic concept of shura comes in second, with 29% in favor.

Manne seems to have interpreted “39% prefer multiparty parliamentary democracy” to mean “only 40% believe democracy can work in Iraq”. Moreover, Manne declined to mention that 53.1% of those surveyed would find a multiparty parliamentary democracy “acceptable”.

A broader, more up-to-date survey (involving 3,000 respondents across Iraq) reveals an even greater desire for democracy:

Asked to choose the form of government Iraq needed now, 90% of those interviewed - in their own homes - said an Iraqi democracy, and overwhelmingly rejected the idea that democracy was only for Westerners and would not work in Iraq.

Deal with it, Robert. People like democracy. They tend to prefer accurate information, too.

Posted by Tim Blair at December 29, 2003 01:55 AM

Now that was a "Savage fisking"!

bravo Tim..

Posted by: Arvin at December 29, 2003 at 02:30 AM

Hey! Democracy is vastly overrated if it keeps people like Robert Manne from running countries the way they should be run. By what right do you claim to know more about what you need and what is useful than the all-knowing Robert Manne? Just shut up, you plebe, and let your betters take care of things. This goes for those stupid Iraqis, too. They should just shut up and let Robert Manne take over from Saddam. They'd probably never notice the difference (assuming one existed).

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at December 29, 2003 at 03:24 AM

Funny, I remember law and order broke down for a while after the SS was removed from Germany.
Could be onto something here

Posted by: Osamas Psychotic Proctologist at December 29, 2003 at 09:02 AM

Good take down TB.
Moore's the "94% feel more insecure" figure figure stuck out like the proverbials. The guy needs to get a grip on google.
The American Enterprise reports a Zogby poll that is a little bit more uptodate, and optimistic, than Manne. This poll indicates that Iraqis prefer democracy to dictatorship - and an ecumenical secular, rather than Islamic sectarian, kind of democracy.
Zogby criticises the White House's optimistic spin on this poll. Iraqi's want democracy, but they don't really want the US to manage the introduction of it:

What the Iraqi people appear to be telling us is that they have hope for the future, but they want the help of their neighbors more than that of the US.

As the example of Turkey shows, if you support people's freedom, they may not be grateful to you.

Posted by: Jack Strocchi at December 29, 2003 at 10:23 AM

If I were them I wouldn't trust their neighbors.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at December 29, 2003 at 11:48 AM

Manne' column comes beneath a picture of John Howard as Gollum. Gollum was a Hobbit who fell under the influence of the Ring of Power. Manne was an academic of social-democrat inclinations who fell under the influence of Australia's leftist intellectual and media establishment. In seems to me the parallel between Howard and Gollum in a lot less exact than the parallel between Manne and Gollum.

Posted by: sue at December 29, 2003 at 01:40 PM

Further to my above post, is there a parallel between Gollum's efforts to split Frodo and Sam and Manne's efforts as editor of Quadrant to take up and promote causes - the Republic, Trade Protectionism, Aboriginal History etc, likely to split the no-Left side of politics?

Posted by: sue at December 29, 2003 at 01:43 PM

Unlike Robert Manne, I found the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq neither 'unsettling' or 'strange'. How about 'reassuring' or 'inevitable'? What truly is strange is a world where 'multiculturalist' Robert Manne believes an Arab country is incompatible with Western-style democracy and 'neoracist' John Howard thinks it can be.

Posted by: Softly at December 29, 2003 at 10:16 PM

I wish I was still teaching statistics. Manne sounds like a great candidate for my "detecting bullshit in survey methodology and reporting" lecture. Getting students to stop and think about the numbers they read is easier when I can demonstrate how biased, incomplete reporting like this can lead them far astray.

Posted by: Kimberly at December 30, 2003 at 01:50 AM

Baghdad sounds pretty safe to some people.

Posted by: Theodopoulos Pherecydes at December 30, 2003 at 02:29 AM

Sorry. Baghdad sounds pretty safe to some people.

Posted by: Theodopoulos Pherecydes at December 30, 2003 at 02:33 AM