With Congress preparing for renewed debate over President Bush's Iraq policies, a majority of Americans now support setting a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from the war-torn nation and support putting new conditions on the military that could limit the number of personnel available for duty there, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Opposition to Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq remained strong. Two in three Americans registered their disapproval, with 56 percent saying they strongly object. The House recently passed a nonbinding resolution opposing the new deployments, but Republicans have blocked consideration of such a measure in the Senate.
Senate Democrats, led by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (Mich.) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), are preparing another resolution that would have the effect of taking away the authority Bush was granted in 2002 to go to war. The measure would seek to have virtually all combat forces withdrawn from Iraq by the end of March 2008.
The Post-ABC poll found that 53 percent of Americans favored setting a deadline for troop withdrawals. Among those who favored a deadline, 24 percent said they would like to see U.S. forces out within six months and 21 percent called for the withdrawals to be completed within a year. The rest of those who supported a timetable said they do not support withdrawing all troops until at least a year from now.
This is the first time a Post-ABC News poll has found that a majority of Americans supported establishing such a timetable for withdrawal, which has long been resisted by the president and even some Democrats.
Growing numbers of Americans also favored withdrawing U.S. forces even if civil order in Iraq has not been restored. The poll found that 42 percent favored keeping troops there until order is reestablished, while 56 percent said the troops should be redeployed to avoid further U.S. casualties, even if the sectarian violence is continuing.
Some Democrats have called for cutting off money for the war. The Post-ABC News poll found that 46 percent of Americans supported restricting funding while a bare majority, 51 percent, opposed doing so.
There was clear support, however, for the kinds of conditions proposed by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who wants to establish requirements for the training and resting of military units that would have the effect of limiting the number of troops available to send to Iraq.
Murtha's plan has drawn fire in the House, including from some of his Democratic colleagues, after it was announced on a liberal Web site. The Post-ABC News poll, which did not associate the plan with Murtha, found that 58 percent of Americans said they support such new rules. Even some Americans, 21 percent, who supported the president's troop increase said they would favor rules for training and resting troops.
On questions relating to withdrawing troops or setting conditions on the military, there was a substantial gender gap. For example, 51 percent of men said they favored keeping troops in Iraq until civil order is restored, while 35 percent of women supported such a course.
Nearly seven in 10 women supported establishing some rules for training and rest time for troops to limit the number available for duty in Iraq, and 47 percent of men favored those limits. Similarly, a majority of men opposed setting any deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, while an even larger majority of women would like to see a deadline established.
The poll also registered a new low on the question of whether the Iraq war was worth fighting. Thirty-four percent responded that it was, while 64 percent said it was not -- 51 percent strongly. On this question, 51 percent of military veterans and 53 percent of veteran households said they strongly believe that the war was not worth fighting.
Seventy percent placed primary blame for failing to control the violence in Iraq on the Iraqi government, while just 18 percent said the United States is more at fault.
Bush's overall approval rating stood at 36 percent, up slightly from 33 percent last month. Sixty-two percent disapproved of the way he is handling his job, with 49 percent of those indicating they strongly disapproved.
Approval of his handling of the Iraq war remained near its all-time low. Thirty-one percent said they approved and 67 percent said they disapproved, a slight improvement from December, when 28 percent approved.
Bush also received negative marks on the campaign against terrorism (52 percent disapproved) and on his handling of the economy (55 percent disapproved).
By wide margins, Americans said they trust Democrats in Congress more than Bush to deal with Iraq, health care, the budget, the economy and terrorism. The Democrats' advantage on health care was 37 percentage points, on the budget 27 points, on Iraq and the economy 20 points and on terrorism 13 points.
Overall, however, 41 percent said they approved of the way Congress is doing its job, while 54 percent disapproved.
The disapproval level was marginally higher than it was a month ago. The low point for congressional approval in the past year came a few weeks before the Nov. 7 midterm elections, which resulted in Republicans losing their House and Senate majorities, when 31 percent gave Congress positive marks.
Asked about the performance of new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), 50 percent said they approved and 31 percent said they disapproved.
Her disapproval rating a month ago was 25 percent.
On another issue, the poll found that a majority of Americans now distrust the Bush administration on its handling of intelligence. Thirty-five percent said they can trust the administration to report potential threats from other countries honestly and accurately, and 63 percent said they cannot.
The administration has been challenged on the quality of the intelligence underpinning its assertions that Iran is helping insurgents in Iraq.
Forty-seven percent of those surveyed said they believed that the administration has solid evidence to support those claims, and 44 percent disagreed.
At the same time, 41 percent expressed confidence that the administration will do a good job of handling current tensions with Iran, compared with 58 percent who said they were not confident.
The Post-ABC News poll is based on telephone interviews with 1,082 adults and was conducted between last Thursday and Sunday. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.