Iraq Seen as Weakening Terror War

A plurality of the U.S. public now believes that Iraq war has undermined U.S. prospects for victory in the larger war on terrorism, but a majority still believe that Washington should not yet begin withdrawing its troops, according to a major new poll released Thursday shortly after Britain reported four new bombing incidents in London.

The survey, by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, also showed, however, that a slight plurality of respondents (49 percent) now believe that Washington should set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, which is strongly opposed by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, compared to 45 percent who disagree.

After heated debate Wednesday, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted 291-137 in favor of a nonbinding resolution opposing "premature withdrawal" of U.S. troops from Iraq and declaring that setting a date for withdrawal would "embolden" terrorists.

The findings of the latest survey, which was conducted July 13-17 among 1,502 adults, were generally consistent with those of a Gallup poll that was released just before the July 7 London bombings that killed 56 people, suggesting that the impact of those incidents on public opinion here has not been as great as might have been expected.

That earlier poll found that a small plurality of respondents had already come to believe that the war in Iraq had made the U.S. less safe from terrorism. It also found that only a third of the public (36 percent) believed that the U.S. and its allies were winning the war on terrorism, while an all-time high of 20 percent of U.S. citizens said the "terrorists" were winning.

The new poll found that nearly half (47 percent) of the public now believes that the war in Iraq has actually undermined the war on terrorism, the highest percentage expressing that view since the war was launched in March 2003.

In addition, it also found a higher percentage of respondents now believe that the war in Iraq has raised the risk of terrorism in this country. Nearly half of respondents (45 percent) said they believe that the war has increased the chances for terrorist attacks in the U.S., up from 36 percent last October.

Currently, only about one in five (22 percent) of citizens were found to agree with the Bush administration’s thesis that the Iraq war has lessened the chances of terrorist attacks in the U.S.

In addition, an all-time low of just 27 percent of the public – and an even lower 23 percent of political independents – said they believe that Bush has a plan for bringing the war in Iraq to a successful end. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64 percent) now believe that Bush has no clear plan.

The new poll also confirmed Gallup’s finding that more U.S. citizens are skeptical about Bush’s handling not only of Iraq, but also terrorism, which has long been one of the president’s main strengths.

Since January, the percentage of respondents who have voiced approval of the way Bush has handled the situation in Iraq has fallen 10 points – from 45 percent to 35 percent. Over the same period, according to the new poll, public confidence in Bush’s handling of the war on terrorism has fallen from a strong majority of 62 percent to a bare plurality of only 49 percent.

Despite the view that the war in Iraq has, at best, diverted the U.S. from more effectively prosecuting the war in Iraq, as well as the declining confidence in Bush’s leadership in both wars, public opinion remains remarkably upbeat.

Just over half (52 percent) of respondents said they believe the war is going "very" or "fairly well," as against 44 percent who said they believe it is going "not too well" or "not well at all." That split has been relatively stable since June last year.

Similarly, a small plurality (49 percent) still believe the decision to resort to military force in Iraq was correct, compared to 44 percent who believe it was wrong. That split is largely consistent with findings since last September, although, earlier this month when violence in Iraq captured more headlines, 53 percent majority told a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll that they believed the war was mistake.

The new poll also found that 60 percent of respondents believe that the U.S. will eventually succeed in establishing a stable government in Iraq, while 33 percent believe that it will not.

Skepticism was considerably higher among self-described Democrats; people aged 50 years or older – presumably those with a stronger memory of the Vietnam War; and those who believe that most Iraqis oppose U.S. policies in Iraq than among self-described Republicans, younger respondents, and those who believe who believe that most Iraqis support U.S. policies.

On the question of whether and when to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, a narrow majority believes the U.S. should remain until the situation there has "stabilized," while 43 percent favor bringing home troops as soon as possible.

Those who believed that the war in Iraq is going at least fairly well and were optimistic about successes were more inclined to keep the troops in place, while those who took the opposite view were more inclined to favor withdrawal. The survey found a sizable gender gap on this question as well, with women roughly evenly divided and men – particularly military veterans – more inclined to want the troops to stay.

On the question of setting a timetable for withdrawal, a suggestion that has gained considerable support over the last several months, the public roughly evenly split.

A growing number of Democrats and even some Republicans who have argued in favor of a deadline for withdrawal say they believe the very presence of U.S. forces in Iraq is acting as a recruitment tool for the insurgency and for al-Qaeda.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.