Three years after Pres. George W. Bush ordered U.S. troops into Iraq, public confidence in the operation is dwindling ever smaller, as is the belief that Bush’s stated reasons for going to war were sincere, according to a new poll released here Wednesday by the University of Maryland’s Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).
Only 28 percent of respondents said they were confident the U.S. will succeed in its aims in Iraq, down from 40 percent 18 months ago. And the public now believes by a two-to-one margin that the Iraq war was one “of choice” and that “it was not necessary for the defense of the United States.” By a 54-46 margin, however, Republicans believe it was a “war of necessity.”
In addition, one out of three respondents up from one in four in October, 2004 said Bush decided to go to war on the basis of assumptions that he knew were incorrect.
Still, most people here do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, according to the survey.
While more than two out of three respondents said they favored drawing down U.S. troops compared to 38 percent 18 months ago only one in four said they should be withdrawn within the next six months, and 44 percent still insist the decision to invade Iraq was justified, only two percent lower than the 46 percent who said so in late 2004.
“Most Americans have clearly given up on the idea that the operation in Iraq will have a Hollywood-style ending and are looking for a way out,” said PIPA director Steven Kull, who is also editor of WorldPublicOpinion.org which carried out the poll of 851 adult citizens during the first week of March with Knowledge Networks. “But they are also showing some patience and not demanding a hurried pullout.”
The survey, which also showed strong opposition to Washington’s retaining public permanent bases in Iraq, comes on the eve of the third anniversary of the 2003 invasion and when Bush’s public approval ratings, according to a number of recent polls, are at an all-time low due in major part to the perception that the Iraq war was a serious mistake.
“For the first time, a majority now believes that Iraq did not have a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program, though the public is still divided on whether Iraq supported al-Qaeda” the survey notes, adding that, “Such beliefs are highly correlated with support for the war.”
Only one in three respondents in the latest poll said they thought the invasion was the best thing for the U.S. to do, and a majority of 54 percent said the administration’s decision to invade was “wrong.”
Moreover, 59 percent, including 36 percent of Republicans, said it would have been better for Washington to have focused its military efforts on pursuing al-Qaeda and stabilizing Afghanistan, rather than opening a new front in Iraq.
Those beliefs, as well as the failure to curb the violence in Iraq, have clearly hurt the administration, which has just launched a major new campaign to persuade the public that its strategy in Iraq is working after all.
Kicked off by Bush in his national radio broadcast Saturday and a follow-up address Monday, the campaign features a series of presentations by top Cabinet officials and military brass designed to reassure the public that Iraq is not on the verge of civil war, despite the bloody sectarian violence that erupted after the bombing late last month of one of Shia Islam’s holiest shrines.
“I think it’s a long way from where we are now to civil war,” Gen. John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command told a Congressional committee here Tuesday.
However, he declined to predict when a government of national unity, which has been pressed with growing urgency by the Bush administration on Iraq’s main political parties since December’s elections, might actually be established. Efforts to form such a government have been at an impasse for weeks with few signs of a breakthrough.
In his appearance, Abizaid also suggested despite repeated administration assurances that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq once the country was stabilized that Washington intends to retain a permanent military presence in Iraq to prevent civil war, “deter ambitions of an expansionistic Iran,” ensure the “free flow of goods and resources on which the prosperity of our own nation and everybody else in the world depend,” and conduct counter-terror operations in the region.
“Clearly, our long-term vision for a military presence in the region requires a robust counter-terrorist capability,” Abizaid said in what was perhaps the most expansive public statement on the subject by a senior official since the invasion.
His remarks, however, are certain to fuel public skepticism about U.S. intentions both here and in Iraq if the latest survey results, as well as those of another in Iraq conducted by PIPA in January, are to be believed.
The survey found that 71 percent of U.S. respondents, including 60 percent of self-identified Republicans, oppose the creation of permanent U.S. military bases. Moreover, 86 percent of respondents said they would oppose U.S. military bases in Iraq if the elected Iraqi government were also opposed to them.
Nonetheless, a slight majority of respondents (51 percent) said they believed that the “U.S. government plans to have permanent military bases in Iraq,” while only 45 percent believed Bush’s assurances that Washington would withdraw all its forces once their Iraqi counterparts were able to take full control. In January, PIPA found that 80 percent of Iraqis believed that Washington intended to retain permanent bases on their territory.
Indeed, the two polls found a remarkable convergence on the part of both U.S. and Iraqi respondents regarding their doubts about the administration’s willingness to bow to the will of the Iraqi government on the question of withdrawing U.S. troops.
Asked whether the U.S. would withdraw all of its forces within six months if the new Iraqi government asked it to, an identical 76 percent of both sets of respondents said Washington would refuse to do so.
The latest U.S. survey found significant erosion in confidence about the war among Bush’s fellow Republicans. While the percentage of respondents overall who believed that the situation in Iraq was “worse” rose 11 points from 53 percent to 64 percent over the past 18 months, among Republicans the percentage almost doubled, from 22 percent to 42 percent.
The increased pessimism appears to have translated into much stronger opposition to any suggestion that the U.S. increase its troop presence in Iraq. Eighteen months ago, 28 percent of respondents said they favored at least some increase in U.S. troop strength. That has fallen to 10 percent today.
(Inter Press Service)