A majority of Americans support attacking Iraq even without the approval of the United Nations, provided that the United States has the backing of some key allies, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Nearly six in 10 Americans say they would endorse military action to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein over the objections of the U.N. Security Council if the United States is supported by close allies such as Britain, Australia and Italy. The governments of those countries have been among the strongest supporters of military strikes against Iraq.
In important ways, the latest survey documents how President Bush has managed in a few weeks to refocus national attention on the crisis with Iraq and renew public support for taking military action in the next few weeks.
Bush's job approval rating, which had spiraled steadily downward through 2002 and into January, has rebounded and now stands at 64 percent. Support for military action is far broader and deeper than opposition to it. A growing majority say negotiating with Iraq won't work. And the proportion of the public that wants the war to begin in a few weeks rather than a few months has never been higher.
The survey also found that a majority of the public remain open to a postwar role for the United States in Iraq. But most Americans are unwilling to commit the United States to the kind of postwar rebuilding effort that many inside and outside the administration say will be essential to bringing economic and political stability to the country.
Fifty-six percent said they oppose the postwar rebuilding efforts in Iraq if the United States would have to keep troops in the country for several years and spend $15 billion a year, the most conservative publicly available estimates of what it would take to stabilize a post-Hussein Iraq. Opposition is fairly strong even among Republicans (46 percent), who strongly support the president's positions on Iraq.
Taken together, the poll results suggest that Americans are far more willing to wage war than to do what may be necessary to bring a lasting peace to Iraq -- views that could change as the Bush administration moves from winning support for the war to persuading the public to support ambitious plans to rebuild postwar Iraq.
A total of 1,001 randomly selected adults were interviewed Feb. 6 to 9 for the poll. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Americans clearly sense these are troubling times at home and abroad. More than seven in 10 said they are worried about the situations in Iraq and North Korea, and nearly as many expressed concern about the national economy.
The survey shows how the public has rallied around Bush during this time of national crisis. Six in 10 approve of the way Bush is handling the Iraq situation, up 11 points in three weeks. More Americans say Bush is doing a good job dealing with North Korea than disapprove of the president's performance. But fewer than half -- 47 percent -- like the way Bush is managing the economy, a slight improvement in recent weeks.
The survey found support for war has surged since mid-January, a boost that began with Bush's State of the Union address and was sustained by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's address two weeks ago to the U.N. Security Council.
Two in three Americans support going to war, unchanged from immediately after the State of the Union speech but up 9 percentage points in less than a month. Half the public continues to support U.S. action if the United Nations opposes war -- a proportion that rises to 57 percent if at least some allies join the United States. On the Sunday morning talk shows Feb. 9, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice made repeated references to the "18 European countries" that support disarming Hussein.
Support for war remains far stronger than opposition to it. Two-thirds of those who favor attacking Iraq said there is little chance they will change their minds. But more than half of all opponents -- 53 percent -- acknowledge they are wavering and could switch.
One reason for the broad and deep support for war is that the public's confidence that diplomacy will be successful is diminishing. Fewer than a third -- 30 percent -- say there is at least some chance negotiations with Iraq will work, down from 38 percent in a Post-ABC survey conducted a month ago. (In contrast, 2 in 3 believe negotiations will successfully conclude the confrontation with North Korea, although the proportion expressing confidence is also down from last month.)
Another reason is that an overwhelming majority of Americans now believe there is clear, convincing evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and is hiding them from U.N. inspectors. Seven in 10 believe Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, and six in 10 believe Hussein is trying to develop nuclear arms. A majority -- 55 percent -- believe that Iraq has provided direct support to the al Qaeda terrorist group, up from 49 percent immediately after Powell addressed the Security Council.
And Americans, 56 percent to 33 percent, say Iraq poses a greater threat to the United States than North Korea, the other "axis of evil" nation in the headlines recently for its apparent renewed efforts to develop nuclear weapons.