Americans have rallied strongly behind President Bush and his policy of disarming Iraq by force, while most Europeans remain sharply critical of Bush and his foreign policy, according to surveys released last Tuesday.
Overwhelming majorities of Ameri-cans have accepted their president's call for war with Iraq as the only practical way to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and end the threat posed by his weapons of mass destruction, according to a poll conducted on the night of March 17 by The Washington Post and ABC News.
Support for going to war with Iraq surged to 71 percent after Bush's nationally televised speech that night, up from 59 percent a week before, according to the poll. Nearly two in three -- 64 percent -- said they approve of the way Bush is handling the confrontation with Iraq, an increase of 9 percentage points in eight days.
Across the Atlantic, attitudes continue to be broadly negative toward Bush and his policies toward Iraq, even in several nations that Bush counts among his "coalition of the willing." In France and Germany, countries that oppose the war but would be counted on by the United States to help rebuild Iraq, more than two in three reject a U.S.-led attack, according to surveys conducted two weeks ago by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
"Looming war with Iraq has taken a further toll on the image of America -- not only in countries highly critical of our Iraq policy, such as France and Germany, but also in coalition countries such as Britain, Poland, Italy and Spain," wrote Andrew Kohut, the center's director.
Even in Britain, only 39 percent of citizens favored going to war, down from 47 percent in November, although other surveys suggest that support may have rebounded in recent weeks. In Spain, which joined with Britain and the United States in a recent unsuccessful effort to win U.N. Security Council support for war, eight in 10 oppose military action against Iraq.
Still, some experts say that these differences, which were expected to widen even further once the war began, could largely heal if the war is quick, relatively bloodless and does not spread beyond Iraq.
"Once the war is over, I think both sides will wake up and realize, whether they like it or not, it's in our common interest to work together, and people will want to do that," says Philip H. Gordon, head of the Brookings Institution's Center on the United States and France, citing past international experiences in the Balkans. Before that military intervention, he says, "the U.S. and Europe were deeply divided. Once we finally got up the will to go in militarily and moved on to the reconstruction phase, cooperation was excellent because we all had a common interest."
Partial support for that view came from the Pew survey, which found that residents in most countries surveyed thought that "in the long run the Iraqi people will be better off, and the region more stable, if Iraq is disarmed and Hussein is removed from power by the U.S. and its allies," Kohut wrote. "Only the Russians and the Turks, who see this as a war by the U.S. against an unfriendly Muslim country, disagree."
Souring European views of Bush and U.S. policies contrast strongly with the surge in backing for the president and his war policies that followed Bush's speech to the nation last Monday. Seven in 10 said they supported Bush's televised call to go to war without the blessing of the United Nations unless Hussein and his sons left Iraq within 48 hours, according to the Post-ABC poll. An equally large majority said they believe Bush has done enough to win support from other nations. More than two in three said his policies on Iraq are the right ones, although less than half said they were strongly convinced.
The poll suggests that the increased support for war is largely because more Democrats have come around to the president's view. About six in 10 Democrats said they supported an attack on Iraq, compared with about four in 10 in an early March poll. At the same time, however, nearly half said they disapproved of the way Bush has handled the conflict with Iraq.
The public's preference for a U.N.-endorsed war also has faded following the collapse of efforts by the United States and its allies to win support for a second war resolution in the Security Council. Three in four in the Post-ABC poll disapproved of the way the United Nations has handled the crisis, up from slightly more than half a month ago.
But the anger shown in these poll numbers does not reflect a desire to withdraw from the international community or to punish France for derailing a second U.N. resolution backing war. Only a third said they believe that the United States should withhold support and be less cooperative with the French government, and even fewer (one in five) said the United States should change its relationship with the United Nations.
The Pew survey, which included a separate poll in the United States, also found broad international support for the United Nations. "There is more consensus on both sides of the Atlantic about the U.N. It is still important, say majorities or pluralities in most countries polled," Kohut found.
The Post and ABC interviewed 510 randomly selected adults after Bush's speech. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 5 percentage points. The practical difficulties of doing a survey in a single night represent other potential sources of error in this poll.
Approximately 5,500 adults were interviewed for the Pew project, including 500 each in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, Russia and Turkey, and about 1,000 each in Britain and the United States.