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Americans Concerned About Rift With Europe; Want Allied Backing For Iraq War

February 20, 2003
Hispanic Vista

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Secretary Powell’s two-hour briefing from double-spaced notes on loose leaf paper persuaded President Bush to go to the UN to support a war against Saddam Hussein, according to the now-famous account by Washington insider, Bob Woodward. But judging from the results of a new poll by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the Council on Foreign Relations, the views of the American public may have also played an important part in the President’s decisions last fall and again this month to follow the UN track.

Americans continue to back military action against Saddam Hussein, according to the latest poll, conducted immediately before and just after Hans Blix’s equivocal Valentine’s Day report to the Security Council. But Americans also say they remain concerned about the lack of backing from our allies, and most oppose military action without them.

Roughly two-thirds (66 percent) say they favor “military action in Iraq to end Saddam Hussein’s rule,” a number which has grown since last fall, when the President first challenged the UN on Iraq.

Then, as now, however, the majority support for US military action dissipates over concern about the lack of international backing, raising the stakes in the administration’s current effort to marshal support for a second Iraq resolution despite opposition from France, Germany, and others.

Only two-fifths (38 percent) of Americans, up from 26 percent last month, say they would support military action “even if Allies won’t join.” The ten percent spike follows a month of acrimony between the United States and its traditional NATO allies in “old Europe.” Even with the increased willingness to go-it-alone, however, a plurality, about half, of those surveyed (48 percent) either opposed a war or would support one “only if allies agree.”

Americans detected the setback to US goals following last week’s Security Council debate and Hans Blix’s report, which offered little backing this time for the administration. The number of those surveyed who said the United States now “has enough international support” to use military force against Iraq declined from 41 percent before the Blix update, to 34 percent after.

Despite the greater difficulty of getting the UN on board, those surveyed still indicated they supported the effort to get a second resolution to use force. A majority (57 percent) said that the United States “should first get a UN resolution” to use force before taking military action.

But while most believed allied support was a prerequisite for American military action, only one-fifth (22 percent) said the United States should “not use force” in the event of a Security Council veto or rejection.

The acrimony in New York and Brussels appears to have raised concerns about the broader relationship with America’s traditional allies. Americans expressed concern about the widening transatlantic rift, at a time when Secretary Powell warned allies against “breaking up NATO.” Two thirds (62 percent) of those surveyed said they want the partnership between the United States and Western Europe to “remain as close as it has been,” a remarkable endorsement in light of the cross-Atlantic trade in insults. About the same number (66 percent), however, said they believed the relationship was “moving apart,” indicating surprising sensitivity to an aspect of foreign policy, alliance management, which rarely rates much public attention at home.

The latest survey results convey a picture of a public that is paying a lot closer attention to international issues (42 percent of those surveyed said they heard “too little” about Iraq and only half (52 percent) say the President has “explained clearly what’s at stake”).

It shows continued strong support for ousting Saddam, but concern about the cost to America’s relationships with its trusted partners.

It shows the American people strongly support the President’s decision to go the UN for a second resolution.

Finally, it suggests that the President’s effort to prepare for a possible war with Iraq will be easier abroad – and at home – if he is successful in winning UN backing or, at least, the support of our allies.

In a speech at a US university last week UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said, “When there is strong U.S. leadership, exercised through patient diplomatic persuasion and coalition building, the United Nations is successful – and the United States is successful.” That is a sentiment, based on these poll results, that appears pretty close to what most Americans seem to be saying as well.

Click here for full poll results.

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