Lawrence Kaplan writes that elites are much more concerned about military casualties than the American public. They are afraid that the public will lose faith in the operation. But, as long as the nation's leaders continually express their resolve and the rationale for our involvement in Iraq, the public will support it.
What do these numbers tell us about Iraq? For one thing, that the public may be less fearful of casualties than America’s political and military elites assume — and, indeed, less fearful than the elites themselves. In 1999 a massive opinion poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates for the Triangle Institute for Security Studies asked various groups what level of casualties they would be willing to tolerate in the event of war with Iraq. The survey found that military leaders consistently show less tolerance for casualties than civilian leaders, who in turn show less tolerance for casualties than the public at large. (In Iraq, the survey showed the public would tolerate, as a mean figure, 29,853 American fatalities; civilian elites would tolerate 19,045; and their military counterparts would tolerate 6,016.)
The data have obvious implications abroad, where Osama bin Laden boasted that the collapse of American resolve in Somalia “convinced us that the Americans are a paper tiger,” and at home, where 78 percent of officers and a nearly identical percentage of their civilian counterparts agree with this statement: “The American public will rarely tolerate large numbers of U.S. casualties in military operations.”