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Public Still Backs Military Move on Iraq

Foreign affairs: But that majority support by Americans will hold only if the U.S. first gets the support of resistant allies, survey finds.


WASHINGTON — After weeks of debate in foreign-policy circles, a solid majority of Americans continue to support military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, The Times Poll has found.

But most of those who support a strike against Iraq also want the United States to win support from allied nations before launching military action, the poll shows.

That poses a potential problem for the Bush administration, which has met resistance from such allies as Britain, France and Germany to its calls for forceful action to overthrow Hussein.

Still, the poll suggests that President Bush starts with a broad base of support from the American public as he makes the case for toppling Hussein.

The poll found that 59% of Americans believe the U.S. should take military action to remove Hussein from power; 29% were opposed; and 12% were unsure.

An even larger majority, 64%, said they would support a ground attack on Iraq if Bush decided to launch one, with 28% still opposed.

However, 61% of those who support military action said they believe the United States should attack Iraq only if the international community supports the move.

"I think we ought to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but it would be a terrible mistake to do it unilaterally," said Dewey Paugh, 65, a retired U.S. Postal Service manager in Columbus, Ga., who was one of the respondents to the poll. "I think it would just about ruin us in getting any help in the war on terrorism from the Arab nations."

The poll also found that support for war with Iraq might drop significantly if U.S. forces suffered significant casualties. When asked whether they would support a ground attack on Iraq if casualties were high, 45% said yes; 41% said no.

The poll's findings suggest that public support for military action against Hussein has diminished somewhat over the last six months. After Bush denounced Iraq as a major threat to U.S. security in his State of the Union address in January, The Times Poll and other surveys found that more than 70% of the public backed military action.

But even at 59%, the level of support for military action--before the president has decided to send troops into battle--is unprecedented, public-opinion experts say. Ever since the first opinion surveys were taken in the years before World War II, polls usually find most of the public opposed to military action before it begins.

"This is more conceptual support for military operations than we ever saw in the 1990s, when the Clinton administration was considering intervention in the Balkans," noted Andrew Kohut of Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. "One of the real legacies of the Sept. 11 attack is that people are willing to accept the idea of preemptive military action."

Kohut said the poll's finding that most Americans want global support for any military action fits a more traditional pattern. "The public doesn't like the idea of going it alone," he said.

"Bush has a lot to work with here in terms of potential public support ... but it's not a done deal. He's going to have a hard time holding it if he doesn't have allied support, if he doesn't get support from Congress, if he doesn't touch all the bases."

The Times Poll also found that 60% of the public believes Bush is considering an attack against Iraq because he genuinely believes Hussein is a threat to U.S. security, against 27% who say the president is acting for political motives.

And a large majority, 79%, said they believe Hussein supports the Al Qaeda terrorist group that launched the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Bush administration has charged that Hussein is linked to Al Qaeda, although little specific evidence of a connection has surfaced.

The poll found that 77% of the public believes that U.S. military action against Iraq is likely in the next year--and 66% believe that if a war occurs, it will increase the likelihood of terrorism against Americans. Among those who support military action against Iraq, 61% believe it will increase the risk of terrorism but are apparently willing to run the added risk.

One of those is Kammi Vaux, 25, a financial counselor in Ogden, Utah. "I support going after Saddam Hussein," she said. "I think we should have handled it years ago." Asked whether she believed the U.S. should wait for support from other countries first, she said: "I'd like to, but I don't think it's going to happen. And if it doesn't happen, I still think we should go ahead."

The Times Poll also asked Americans how the events of Sept. 11 had affected their lives--and most respondents said, in effect, "not much."

Asked whether their lives had changed, 47% said no; 36% said they had changed a little; and only 16% said they had changed a lot.

Asked whether life had returned to normal, 68% said yes; 14% said their lives hadn't changed in the first place; 13% said their lives have begun returning to normal; and 5% said they were still having difficulty getting back to normal.

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