Why is it that, making a case for one thing or another, people will often cite the fact that the way public opinion divides, more people are for that thing than are against it? The answer may seem obvious. We live in a democracy; majority opinion must surely count for something. Well, yes it must. But it counts for something and not for everything. We all know this. We don't appeal to the majority view when we think that that view is deeply wrong. We also know, if we know anything, that political decisions aren't taken by instant telephone or internet poll. Representative institutions can put some distance between those making key decisions and the opinions of the electorates they represent. This is so in every area of policy. But there's one area of policy in which, one may think, it cannot but be so. I mean the conduct of war. As a general rule committing a country to war is not something that can be done just for a week, or even a month, or two. And strategies in war can't be settled by telephone or internet polling. If public opinion shifts, it shifts, and that may have an effect on future decisions. A political campaign against an unjust war may be critical in bringing the war to an end. Or it may fail. Or a campaign against a war that is just may either succeed in shortening it or not succeed. The threads of cause and effect are, in any case, multiple, as are the normative considerations in play.
The above reflections are prompted by a post by Seumas Milne, who seems to be unaware of all this. Milne writes as if an opinion survey ought to settle the question of whether British troops should now be in Afghanistan. I presume that he wouldn't - on similar grounds - support a continuation of the interrogation practices authorized under the Bush administration. And I know that he didn't support the Iraq war, not at any stage; though, as he tells us in the post in question, there was majority support for it in Britain 'during the initial months of attack and occupation'.