"I am not opposed to doing something, but it would have to be in the right circumstances," said Geoff George, a 20-year-old independent from Albany, Ore. "I would probably be a little more supportive if the U.N. and the rest of the world united and we all decided to do it together. But [if we act] as one nation, I don't think there would ever be enough evidence for me."
However, at least theoretically, Americans agree with the administration's argument that sometimes preemptive or preventive war is justified. Sixty-four percent of respondents, including 49% of Democrats, believe the United States should reserve the right to launch a preemptive attack against regimes that threaten the country. Only 25% said they opposed such a policy, and 11% said they did not have an opinion on the issue.
If the United States does go to war, the decision is likely to have serious ramifications at home and abroad, respondents said. Sixty-seven percent said war is likely to increase the threat of terrorist attacks in the United States; 51% said they feel it would destabilize the Middle East; and 45% said it will have a negative effect on the U.S. economy.
They are also concerned about the possibility of military casualties. Of those who initially said they support a ground attack against Iraq, 18% said they would do so only if no American soldiers are killed. However, support falls off gradually as the theoretical death toll is raised, but 29% said they would support war no matter what the cost in American lives.
Finally, in the wake of a war, the vast majority of Americans -- 70%, according to the poll -- feel the country has an obligation to stay and rebuild Iraq.
The Times poll was conducted Dec. 12 to 15 and interviewed 1,305 adults nationwide. Margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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War with Iraq?
Q: Have President Bush and his administration formulated a clear policy for dealing with the war on terrorism, or are they reacting to events as they happen?
Reacting to events: 54%
Clear policy: 39%
Don't know: 7%
Q: Agree or disagree: "The U.S. should take military action against Iraq only if that military action has the support of the international community."
Agree strongly: 44%
Agree somewhat: 24%
Disagree strongly: 13%
Disagree somewhat: 13%
Don't know: 6%
Q: Is it inevitable that the U.S. will take military action against Iraq, or do you think there is a possibility that will not happen, or do you think the U.S. definitely will not take military action against Iraq?
Inevitable (feel strongly): 49%
Inevitable (feel not so strongly): 14%
Might not happen: 27%
Definitely not: 4%
Don't know: 6%
Q: Would war be justified if Iraq leaves a few items out of the weapons declaration sent to the United Nations, or would war be justified only if there is a pattern of serious violations by Iraq?
Leaves a few items out: 22%
Pattern of serious violations: 63%
Depends on what's left out (volunteered): 6%
Don't know: 9%
Q: Suppose U.N. weapons inspectors conduct inspections in Iraq and find no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Would you then favor or oppose invading Iraq with U.S. ground troops to remove Saddam Hussein from power?
Favor strongly: 25%
Favor somewhat: 16
Oppose somewhat: 22
Oppose strongly: 27
Don't know: 10
Q: Suppose U.N. weapons inspectors find no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Do you think Bush has already provided enough clear evidence to go to war with Iraq, or does he need to provide more hard evidence before war is declared on Iraq?
Has provided enough: 23%
Needs to provide more: 72%
Don't know: 5%
Q: If the U.S. were to take military action against Iraq, would that be more likely to stabilize the situation in the Middle East, or to destabilize it, or would it not have an effect on that region one way or the other?
No effect: 19%
Don't know: 10%
Q: Suppose Bush decides to order U.S. troops into a ground attack against Iraqi forces. Would you support or oppose that decision?
Support strongly: 30%
Oppose somewhat: 13%
Oppose strongly: 22%
Don't know: 7%
Times Poll results are also available at www.latimes.com/timespoll.
How the poll was conducted: The Times Poll contacted 1,305 Americans nationwide by telephone Dec. 12-15. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the nation. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and unlisted numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.