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Confronting Iraq:
War & Public Sentiment

With Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi
Professors, Duke University

Thursday, March 6, 2003; 11 a.m. ET

How important is public sentiment to the Bush administration as the U.S. heads into war with Iraq? A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll completed Sunday suggests that while 59 percent of Americans favor using military force against Iraq, even without the support of the U.N. Security Council, more than six in 10 Americans harbor at least some doubts about the use force and only a third are unequivocally behind going to war.

Duke University professors Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi, authors of the upcoming book "Choosing Your Battles: American Civil-Military Relations and the Use of Force," were online Thursday, March 6 at 11 a.m. ET, to discuss public sentiment and war.

Feaver is an associate professor of Political Science at Duke University and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies (TISS). He has published several books and monographs, and over thirty articles and book chapters on nuclear proliferation, civil-military relations, information warfare, and U.S. national security. He has additionally published some two dozen opinion pieces in The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Weekly Standard, Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere.

Gelpi is also an associate professor of Political Science at Duke University. His primary research interests are the sources of international militarized conflict and strategies for international conflict resolution. He is currently engaged in research projects on American civil-military relations and the use of force, the influence of democracy and trade on the use of force, and the forecasting of military conflict. He has also published works on the role of norms in crisis bargaining, alliances as instruments of control, diversionary wars, deterrence theory, and the influence of the international system on the outbreak of violence.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Washington, D.C.: In responding to a question about the largest worldwide antiwar demonstration in history, President Bush compared the participants to a focus group. Do you think this was an intentional jab at protestors or a legitimate misunderstanding about the dedication and strong belief of these protestors?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: Neither. I think President Bush was making the legitimate point that war protests are only one indicator of public opinion (like focus groups) and in a healthy democracy such protests should never be the decisive factor driving policy (just like focus groups should not). Public opinion should matter in a democracy, and does matter in our democracy. But a wise Administration uses all the tools for assessing the public mood. Moreover, a wise Administration sometimes follows public opinion and sometimes seeks to lead public opinion.

That said, I do suspect the President views the protestors with somewhat of a jaundiced eye. What will matter for this President is not the intensity of the protests but the quality of the reasoning and argument presented at the protests. From what I have seen, the protests were passionate and sincere, but largely lacking in any constructive contributions about what to do with the Iraq problem.

Cumberland, Md.: Since U.S. public opinion was opposed to the U.S. entry into WW 2 even in the face of FDR's desire to enter early to aid Churchill -- public opinion forced him to wait for a caucus Belli(Pearl Harbor) -- in view of what our delay meant for History, would you not agree that Public Opinion ( which never has all the facts), should not be allowed to influence decisions which concern National Security and War?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: The public is not always wise on foreign policy (or domestic policy, for that matter). But a hallmark of our representative democracy is that ultimately voters have the right to be wrong – they have the right to put in office the "wrong" leader for the "wrong" reasons. Because we are a representative democracy, however, that means that the leaders have the time in between elections to lead and use their judgement, which may involve making decisions that run contrary to the apparent preferences of a majority of the public (as measured in a poll).

Arlington, Va.: Are there any polls that have asked people whether they favor more inspections, and those who support more inspections "with reservations" (e.g. only if the force is mandated for non-compliance, etc.)? It seems that the media is making a big deal about the lack of across-the-board support for war, yet makes little mention of what support (or lack thereof) might exist for maintaining the status quo, as the Europeans seem to advocate.

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: I have not seen a poll that is worded as you suspect, but there may have been one. You are almost certainly correct in your hunch: virtually every preference is conditional to some extent and especially on tough issues like this. So if properly prompted, most people would express reservations and caveats about literally every possible course of action on Iraq.

Rochester, Minn.: What percent of Americans think we should overthrow other totalitarian Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia once we are finished with Iraq?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: I have not seen a poll asking that question. Polls rarely ask questions about policies that are not even remotely in the realm of possibility. A military march through the Middle East like you suggest is a good example of a silly policy that no responsible Administration official would promote and so would rarely occupy space on a poll. It is, however, precisely the kind of extreme caricature that the war protestors have promoted – one reason why they have been less persuasive than they otherwise might have been (see earlier responses).

Alexandria, Va.: The Post's coverage of the brouhaha at the Islamic meeting yesterday skipped the good part, about cursing the Kuwaiti's mustache. I later heard on CNN that there may have been a translation issue as to whether he was cursing his honor, instead. Could you address this, as well as the ongoing enmity between Iraq and Kuwait? For example, does Iraq feel entitled to Kuwait's territory for some reason?

washingtonpost.com: Iraqi Hurls Insults at Kuwaiti Delegate, (Post, March 6)

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: Sorry, but I am not familiar with the translation issue. With regard to Iraq’s feeling entitled to Kuwaiti territory, Iraq has claimed that Kuwait is rightfully a province of Iraq and that Britain wrongly separated the countries. Few think that this claim has any international legal basis. It seems more likely to me that Iraq claims rights to Kuwait as an excuse to gain access to Kuwaiti oil.

San Francisco, Calif.: Militarily the U.S. is about to go to war with Iraq when the war in Afghanistan and the war against al Qaeda's terrorism have not been won and when North Korea is pushing the limits in a way that can lead to war. Politically the U.S. had near unity shortly after 9-11 but besides pushing for a war against Iraq, Bush is picking unnecessary fights with Democrats and Independents over the Estrada judicial nomination and over tax and budget issues. What are the chances that by trying to do too much too soon, and being too extreme on too many issues, Bush is alienating people who would otherwise support him on Iraq, and what could be the effect of his losing their support?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: I think there is some threat of overstretch here. In particular, if the Iraq war becomes expensive, then Bush's tax cuts become a very tough sell. Moreover, there is a threat of overstretch internationally too. I think part of the reason Bush is going slow on North Korea is because the administration can only cope with so many issues at once.

Cumberland, Md.: Aren't polls a poor guide to public opinion, since they depend heavily on not just the questions asked but HOW these questions are asked?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: I think opinion polls are one of the best guides we have to understanding the public. However, you are right that question wording is very influential. Thus we have to be careful in how we view and understand polls. One should be very tentative in comparing poll results from questions that have different wordings. With that caveat, however, I think polls are the best measure of opinion we have.

Somewhere, USA: The White House policy is out of sync with public opinion. It is clear to me that we do not want war. However, Bush and his old school network want war.

Why can't we have a national election with the simple question: Should we go to war with Iraq? Yes/No. Done. The American people will have their chance to speak. No mix-ups (except in Florida). Just a clear message that the president of United States cannot misinterpret. Yes to War or No to War.

It is the only way that Bush will be able to actually speak for the people. Or perhaps we should just do what all of Bush's religious rights folks say cures all: Pray it away. (Yea, that's been successful so far)

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: Scheduling a referendum is not practical, but we do have many opinion polls on this issue, and they can be quite informative. Overall, I would say that the American public is not nearly as opposed as you suggest. In fact, the poll results suggest a solid majority support using force under a UN mandate.

Lady Lake, Fla.: It seems to me that the only lessons we learned from the Vietnam experience were military. The antiwar movement in the 60's and 70's was not anti-America. What are your thoughts in regard to the view that many seem to have that those opposed to moving quickly to war are pro-Saddam, un-American and treasonous? Are we blindly going to allow our rights and those of our fellow citizens to be usurped by any group that feels the need to wave the flag?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: The debate over Iraq has been broad and fairly deep. Can you name a case in the past 40 years where there was more vigorous debate in advance of the actual use of force? I see little evidence of rights being usurped by the pro-war side of the debate.

Bowie, Md.: To what extent is American support for action against Iraq predicated on the belief that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks?

Do a lot of people support action as a way introducing Western values into the region as a whole?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: There certainly are segments of the population who support war for this reason. The Bush administration's strategy seems to have been to marshall a wide variety of arguments supporting the use of force. No single argument seems to be central for everyone.

My own view on this is that Bush's evidence of a link to al-Qaeda is quite weak. I think a much stronger case can be made that Hussein is in further violation of resolution 1441.

Cumberland, Md.: Since there is always a "silent majority" out there -- aren't the "number of people in the street" a poor gauge of public opinion, especially as there is no exact way to count that numbers -- and accurate counts from the air often show the number considerable less than those on the ground estimated?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: Yes, this is precisely why protests in the street should never be the sole measure of public sentiment. Neither should they be totally ignored, however, since they are a good indicator of which issues stir passions and which issues do not. It is no accident that there are no major public protests about a government decision to change the way the export-import bank functions. So wise politicians spend more time assessing public sentiment on issues that spark public protests than they spend on issues that the public largely ignores.

Vienna, Va.: My read on this situation is that the administration leveraged the "be patriotic" tactic from day one. And this was amplified by the very powerful talk radio circuit. So we wound up with a sizable segment of the population declaring that war with Iraq is necessary and if one is against the war, then one is unpatriotic.

Now analysts are assessing the details and we are applying logic; with less fear of being labeled as un-American (or unemployed) if their work takes them to the conclusion that war with Iraq is not a good thing.

When I track the administration's statements backwards in time, I frequently discover disconnects between words, actions and reality. There was a Mountain Dew commercial that said "Image is Everything." That seems to be their motto. It seems to me that this is making us as a nation appear very superficial.

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: It seems to me that every administration cares about its "image" and you may see a substantial gap between Bush's image and reality because you don't agree with him. That is just fine, but it doesn't necessarily mean that Bush is more concerned about image than other presidents.

As for the "patriotism" issue, I am not sure why you think that Bush feels that those who do not support the war are not patriotic. It seems to me that he has told the protesters that he "respectfully disagrees" with their views on Iraq.

It seems possible to me that you are conflating the Bush administrations position with those of right wing talk radio. Some of those folks might view opponents of the war as unpatriotic, but I don't think Bush has said that.

Cumberland, Md.: At least where war is concerned isn't their a segment of the population that wants peace at all costs no matter what -- thus rendering their views irrelevant?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: I would not say that their views are irrelevant, just that their views are predictable and not amenable to public persuasion.

There does appear to be a pattern in polls on the use of force going back perhaps as far as the Korean war. One segment always expresses firm opposition; a second segment always expresses firm support; a third is "casualty phobic," willing to support the mission if costs are essentially zero; and a fourth is "defeat phobic," willing to support the mission if it is successful.

Of course, the perceived stakes or national interest in a case shift the relative size of these groups up or down.

Arlington, Va.: There is an even deeper issue that is not being discussed. That is the backlash against political correctness. Many people feel that labeling antiwar as anti-Americanism is a boomerang for the left's inability to deal with criticism during the 90's. If you disagreed with the left you were labeled as racist, homophobic, sexist, etc. Even those who are against the war see the anti-American reaction as the left getting a taste of their own medicine.

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: The current debate over Iraq probably does have linkages to the broader culture war. Part of the reason for that is that the wisdom or folly of going to war against Iraq depends largely on (1) the degree to which President Bush and his team have accurately gaged a hard-to-measure-concretely threat from Iraq and (2) the degree to which President Bush and his team will have the staying power to see this through to a successful end.

People who trust this President are more inclined to trust him on Iraq and vice-versa. Of course, whether you trust this President is also a function of how you view his positions on all the other issues....which gets us back to the culture war.

Jonesboro, Ga.: While I wholeheartedly supporting the war on terror and bringing Saddam to his knee, I am equally, if not more so, worried about Bush projecting this war in a religious and moral tone -- seeing himself "chosen" to propagate our brand of morality to the world, increasingly superimposing his religious beliefs on the nation in order for us to accept the war. I am worried because the terrorists and the other dictators in the Middle East view themselves in the same light.

Do you think that there will be a backlash domestically to Bush politically if he persists in describing everything in simple black and white, religious terms? Or, do you think that the country is now ready for such evangelizing from the White House?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: It is true that President Bush is a religious man, and - from what I have seen - he seems to take his religious beliefs seriously in making policy. This was especially true after 9-11 because religion can give us a language for expressing grief, hope, and perseverance.

That being said, I am not sure that it is bad, however, for a president to consult his (or her!) moral values in making policy. Surely we want presidents to choose policies that they believe are good an right.

Moreover, I am not sure that it is fair to say that Bush is framing war with Iraq or other US foreign policy issues in religious terms. Instead, he has focused on al-Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction.

Washington, D.C.: How will public sentiment in Europe, Mexico, and Canada affect our trade relationships with them in the next few years?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: It seems unlikely to me that states will retaliate against the US by curtailing trade. This would hurt them as well as us. I think other countries will find more subtle ways to try to constrain the United States. For example, states could begin shifting trade transactions with other countries from dollars to other currencies - such as the Euro.

Brookline, Mass.: How important has public sentiment on any issue been to President Bush?

This is a man who lost the popular vote, gained the presidency through the courts in one of the closest elections in our history, but governs as though he has a clear mandate from an electorate that is overwhelmingly on the far right.

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: President Bush subscribes to the momentum theory of politics: that success breeds success, and political capital accrues to the one who spends political capital. So far, this has worked remarkably well -- it carried him through the nominating process, the post-Florida process, the legislative successes of the first 100 days of his tenure, and even (domestically) on Iraq.

But the danger is that it can lead to over-reach -- if President Bush misjudges popular sentiment while pursuing this strategy he is likely to fall much further/faster than a more cautious politician who triangulated every issue and never tried to lead public opinion anywhere.

For that reason, public sentiment is probably more important for President Bush than for other presidents -- he is trying to do more and is willing to get out in front of the public more than other Presidents and this makes him more exposed.

Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: I don't believe the polls that say blood thirsty Americans are ready for war. Most of the folks I have contact with have grave reservations about this adventure. Are the protesting students in today's online edition of The Post expressing the real doubts and dissatisfaction that Americans have about not being consulted about a regional war to be conducted in their name? Bush went to the U.N. but he didn't go to his own people. The black and white philosophy of a born again guy that got Cs in college isn't enough for me. Apparently not for American students, either. Thanks much.

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: You will find that students are all over the map on this issue. Some oppose the war, more support the war. Polls suggest that younger people are more persuaded by the Administration's arguments on Iraq than are older people.

Springfield, Va.: How does a sampling of 1,000 people supposed to accurately reflect the views of 280 million Americans?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: If the respondents are chosen randomly then it is surprising how few one needs to get a good estimate of the whole population. The reason is that - if you choose people at random - then after a certain number of responses they start repeating one another and we don't really gain much new information about public opinion as a whole.

The key to this process, however, is choosing the respondents randomly. That is what good surveys and opinion polls do.

Washington, D.C.: What disturbs me most is the American antiwar embrace of France as a model. This is a country which has never accepted responsibility for torturing thousands of Algerians during their imperialist war. A country which has refused to own up to it's imperialist and brutal past. I am against the war, but seeing Europe, especially France, as a model of peace is insane.

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: You point to a deeper problem: France has thus far not been very candid about its own ambivalent support for inspections/sanctions/containment of Iraq. Part of the reason why France has thus far failed to persuade this Administration to let inspections run for a longer period is precisely because France has not adequately explained why it is embracing inspections now when it was arguably undermining inspections earlier.

Washington, D.C.: Since the public only supports war so long as no significant number of Americans get hurt relative to the casualties they inflict (Vietnam all over again), what obligation does the media have to present a successful effort until the generals have a chance to accomplish their war aims? Put another way, how long will the media cover for the generals under a right or wrong interpretation of national interest?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: Actually, I think that the public's response to casualties is more complicated than that. I think the evidence from Vietnam - and other US conflicts - suggests that the American public does not turn against conflicts because of casualties. Instead, they turn against conflicts that where casualties are suffered in a losing cause.

Thus in Vietnam the Tet offensive was a turning point in public opinion not because of the US casualties suffered but because it caused the public to view the war as a losing cause.

Rockville, Md.: There is widespread opposition to this war from the U.S. public, despite what the media and pro-war pollers make us believe. It appears to me that GW is acting like a tyrant by not listening to the people. Furthermore, his statement that "you're either with us or against us" which is what Hitler often said, is really frightening. Does Bush think that he can get re-elected this way?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: I understand that you are opposed to the war and you are very much entitled to speak your opinion.

I am puzzled, however, as to why you view the pollers as "pro-war." What evidence supports such a claim?

It seems to me that pollers are simply asking questions of a sample of the US population and a substantial number of the respondents support a war. You may not agree, but it seems that a substantial number of American's do. In fact, more do now than when he was initially elected.

So, yes, he does think this will get him elected - though likely without your vote, I think.

Alexandria, Va.: Thanks for the chat. I'm really enjoying it. I just wanted to ask if you have any advice for younger people who'd like to learn more about how diplomacy and conflict resolution really work in the world or who want to try to express their opinions through newspapers and similar forums? How did you get started?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: Thanks for your interest in politics! I "got started" by getting a Ph.D. in political science, but that is by no means the only way to go. There are also a number of Master's Degree programs in public policy schools that place people in policy relevant jobs working for the US government, international organizations, or non-governmental organizations.


Long Beach, Calif.: I contend that the U.S. is abusing the rights of antiwar people by unwisely censuring itself. Examples:

1. Avoiding the spying on Security Council Members story, which ran world-wide before anyone in the U.S. touched it.
2. Downplaying the extent of the protests world-wide.
3. Calling North Korean aid "blackmail" and Turkish aid "helping an ally."
4. Assuming that war is inevitable.

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: I see no evidence of abuse of the rights of antiwar people. That is precisely the sort of rhetoric that (1) marks out many in the antiwar movement as extreme and thus easier for this Administration to dismiss and (2) has the effect of chilling debate rather than encouraging it.

A fair reading of the past 18-months would show that this Administration has tried fairly and responsibly to persuade the American public of the wisdom/need for the course of action the President wants to pursue. The Administration has succeeded to a large extent.

The effort to persuade the rest of the world, however, has been less vigorous, less comprehensive, less systematic and, partly as a result, less effective.

As for media coverage, see earlier response. On the specifics, the first two stories did get coverage in the U.S. press -- the spying story is one of the few examples of a story that broke in a foreign newspaper first (most break in a U.S. newspaper first). Another example, which cuts against your point, is a story in the Independent of a few weeks ago about three Iraqi ships allegedly steaming in circles in the Indian Ocean. That story did not get much play in the U.S. press, and I suspect the story may have problems with it -- but if the press were as biased as you imply, they would have ran with the story because it largely supported the Bush line.

Washington, D.C.: Don't you think it is logical that a majority of the world's population is against this preventive war given that it would violate the UN Charter and is at least arguably a violation of international law?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: The Bush administration would claim that it has the international legal authority to attack Iraq as enforcement of UN resolution 1441. Other Security Council members might dispute whether 1441 grants such authority.

More generally, international legal principles have little to do with popular opinion, so the popular opposition to the war abroad is not really the issue there. At the same time, preventive attack is not generally recognized as a legitimate legal basis for using military force. Thus Bush's legal claim rests on UN authorization.

Washington, D.C.: Your response to the Florida question seems to be out of touch with reality. The debate over this war has been far from vigorous, and it has only very recently begun to heat up. The Bush Administration was very cagey in taking over the debate in the beginning and making it a question of when and how rather than why. The media did a poor job of expanding the debate and forcing the president to, until recently, make detailed justifications for a preventive war. Your thoughts?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: I guess I spend more time reading newspapers than you do. My Iraq clippings file has been bursting since the axis-of-evil speech in winter 2002. I have given talks based entirely on major headlines from the WashPost/NYT from summer 2002. I taught a course throughout the Fall 2002 which bored students to death with examples taken from the Iraq debate. As I recall, a major Democratic complaint about the 2002 election was the way the Republicans made the war on Iraq a priority, sucking time and attention away from other issues.

It is true that the Administration's arguments have evolved as have the arguments against the war. And certainly too much of the debate has been spent on silly aspects -- eg., is this a war to avenge his father's reputation or to boost Halliburton stock.

Crownsville, Md.: Have there been any polls (or do you have a sense) of how Americans feel about the dramatically increased tensions between us and our traditional allies? Do the American people blame the Bush administration for the rift or the allies?

Also, do you think our allies believe that the American people share the views of those in the administration who think that what our allies want isn't that important?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: This is an excellent question that, unfortunately, I do not know the answer to. I have not seen any polls on this. But great question!

Washington, D.C.: Can you briefly explain what kind of work TISS does?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: Great question! Go to our Web site to find out more

We are a consortium of research faculty and other experts that study security issues, broadly defined.

Some of our work has resulted in books that I encourage you to buy, even or especially if you disagree with what we think we know!

I do not speak for TISS, and I am sure that many of my TISS colleagues disagree vehemently with some of my arguments.

Washington, D.C.: In regards to patriotism, what of the comments by Fleischer that people should "watch what they say." Or the comments from administration officials that dissenters are aiding the enemy. Or broad comments that you are either with us or against us.

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: The Fleischer comment was unfortunate and, I believe, he modified it shortly after he made it.

As for the idea of aiding the enemy, it is simply a fact that Iraq is bolstered by the anti-war protests and is pursuing a wedge strategy hoping to isolate the Bush administration on this issue. So whether or not that is the intention of the war protestors, it is one of the results. One of the reasons why the war protests have not been more persuasive is precisely because the protestors have not come to terms with the net result of their actions and have not presented a credible strategy for dealing with Iraq.

Helena, Mont.: How do you explain the enormous disparity between U.S. polls showing support for a war and those conducted in almost every other country? During the first war, wasn't public opinion pretty uniform world-wide? There must be a reason we are standing pretty much alone this time.

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: My own view is that in 1991 the previous Bush administration had a much stronger argument for attacking Iraq - especially on international legal grounds. Iraq was clearly and unequivocally in serious violation of the UN charter by invading Kuwait and most countries could agree that Iraq should not be allowed to invade its neighbors.

Today the legal case is much less clear. Iraq has not invaded anyone, and while it seems very likely that it is not in compliance with UN resolutions, its violations are not nearly as severe as in 1991 - especially now that inspectors are in place.

Given the reduced severity of Iraq's violations and the weaker legal case, I think many people around the world are increasingly concerned about the US using its tremendous power unilaterally around the world. Rightly or wrongly, for many people I think the United States is now viewed as the greater threat to international peace and security.

I don't get it: Why are so many countries opposed to what they see as U.S. unilateral action in regards to Iraq and at the same time urging us to deal one-on-one with North Korea?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: I think they oppose unilateral US military action, unilateral US concessions do not concern them so much.

Harrisburg, Pa.: What are your thoughts on the argument that there is no need to invade Iraq while we have them contained and they are at least busy trying to hide their weapons and are thus unable to use them? Or, if they appear they are going to use them, then there will be fairly unanimous consent that we strike then? What is the need to invade Iraq now?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: I found Kenneth Pollack's op-ed on the containment question (in the NYT) fairly persuasive on this point.

The real problem of imminence is that it takes quite a while to mobilize/deploy U.S. troops to the region. So what you are asking is will we be able to state with confidence that roughly six months from now the threat will be imminent and so we better move now in order to be in a position to deal with the threat when it is imminent then.

If what you are suggesting is that US troops now in the region stay in place indefinitely so that they would be ready to go quickly if the threat ever did become imminent, you are raising other problems. It is important to note, however, that the French/Germans et al., are not really doing much to make it easier for the U.S. to maintain that ready deployment posture for the indefinite future. On the contrary, they are working hard to undermine support for the U.S. deployment/threat of force, and this is contributing to the sense of urgency you hear from the Administration.

Arlington, Va.: So far the administration has only mentioned the rosy best-case scenario regarding both the war itself (quick and painless) and the aftermath (the Iraqis will welcome us with open arms and democracy will sprout overnight and flourish). Do you think they have a responsibility to also tell the People what could potentially go wrong? Seems to me that most people only know what they do from little snippets of TV news and don't fully understand what the potential disasters are from the whole endeavor. Should the administration be more honest, or is their rosy propaganda enough?

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: President's are always going to be campaigning on behalf of their own views. That is why it is so important to have a free and independent media to as those kinds of questions!

Washington, D.C.: Former student of Prof. Feaver's International Relations class at Duke here! I still remember much from this class, even though it has been a while.

How much do you think that Bush is thinking about his "place in history" so to speak in that is he really convinced that Hussein has WMD and that he will be the one remembered for "saving" the world? I just find it fascinating how world politics is part theory and part personality of whoever is leading nations.

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Peter: I have to go so I will indulge a former student! I think President Bush is probably strongly motivated by a desire not to be remembered in history as "the President who could have done more to stop Iraq but didn't" -- in other words, he really does think (1) that Iraq poses a serious threat to U.S. interests, (2) that the threat can be handled now more easily than later, and (3) that after 9-11 what he is willing to consider a "tolerable risk" has changed.

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Chris: Thanks so much for your interesting questions. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi: Thanks to all who asked questions, and apologies to those I missed. My fingers are exhausted and I have renewed sympathy for my students (and my political leaders) who are expected to field questions like this under sharp time limits on a regular basis.

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