Americans overwhelmingly support sending U.S. ground troops into Kosovo as part of a peacekeeping force but remain sharply divided whether to mount a major rebuilding effort in the province or elsewhere in Yugoslavia, according to a Washington Post survey.
Even as Serb forces continued to retreat out of Kosovo, the Post poll and other recent surveys found that the end of the bombing has not been matched by a surge in support for the war effort or for the way President Clinton has handled the conflict.
Clinton's job approval rating stands at 58 percent, where it has hovered since April. Barely half of those interviewed -- 53 percent -- said they supported the way Clinton was handling the situation in Kosovo, unchanged from recent polls but down from its peak of 60 percent in early April, two weeks after the NATO air campaign began. Half of those interviewed -- 52 percent -- said the United States did the "right thing" getting involved in a military confrontation with Yugoslavia, while 40 percent said it was a "mistake."
A total of 1,175 randomly selected adults were interviewed Friday through Monday for this survey. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Conspicuously absent from the latest round of polling is any of the euphoria that followed the end of the Gulf War in 1991, or even the sense that the United States and its allies have won. Not even half of those interviewed -- 48 percent -- believed the United States and its allies won the war, according to the Post poll. Only one in 10 declared Serbia the winner, while the remainder said neither side won or were undecided.
Similarly, a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 46 percent said the United States and NATO achieved their goals. A Gallup Organization poll for USA Today and CNN found that nearly half of those interviewed said NATO should have continued military action in Yugoslavia until President Slobodan Milosevic was removed from power.
To most Americans, Milosevic is the Saddam Hussein of the Balkans. Support for giving "significant" amounts of money and material to help rebuild Yugoslavia stands at 54 percent -- but only if Milosevic is removed or resigns from the presidency, according to the Post survey.
If Milosevic remains, only 4 in 10 -- 39 percent -- of those interviewed said the United States should launch a major rebuilding effort in Serbia.
It's also unclear just how far Americans are willing to help in Kosovo. Two in three interviewed in the Post and Gallup/CNN/USA Today surveys supported sending U.S. peacekeeping forces into the province, including majorities of Republicans, Democrats and political independents.
Americans also are willing to offer some assistance to Kosovo. Seven in 10 interviewed by Gallup said they favored the United States sending in at least some economic assistance to help rebuild areas in Kosovo to which refugees are returning.
But in the Post survey, 53 percent said they would support the United States spending significantly to help rebuild those areas, a result that suggests Americans are not yet convinced that it is a good idea to make a major investment in Kosovo.
One reason may be that the public fears the peace agreement may not hold or that an extended United States presence may lead to American casualties. Fewer than a third of those interviewed in the Pew poll believed that the Serbs or the Kosovo Liberation Army will comply with terms of the peace accord, and 40 percent said they were "very worried" that U.S. troops might suffer casualties.