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Conflict With Iraq

Concerns About the Demands and Consequences of War

Majorities are fairly pessimistic about the demands and consequences of a war with Iraq. Majorities believe that a war would be long, weapons of mass destruction would be used against US troops, and that, after invading, US troops would have to remain in Iraq for an extended period. As a consequence of war, majorities believe there would be an economic recession, that oil prices would go up, that the threat of terrorism against Americans would increase, and that the Mideast would become more unstable.

Demands of the War Itself

A majority seems to expect that a war with Iraq would be quite demanding. A modest majority expects a long rather than a short war. In a late September 2002 CNN/USA Today survey, 54% felt a "war against Iraq" would be a long war, while 42% felt it would be short. In early September, CBS/New York Times found 53% saying a conflict with Iraq would be "a long and costly involvement" as opposed to "a fairly quick and successful effort," which 41% believed would be the case. Asked by Pew in August, "What's your impression of what a war with Iraq would be like? Do you think it would be a long war or a quick one?" 52% thought it would be long, while 38% thought it would be quick. Given three options in an August Time/CNN poll, 49% believed that a war with Iraq would be "a long war with many casualties and a US victory"; 30% thought it would be "a quick war with few casualties and a US victory"; and 15% felt it would result in "withdrawal without victory." [1]

A stronger majority thinks it likely that Iraq would use weapons of mass destruction against US troops. In an August Time/CNN poll, a strong majority (66%) said it is likely that "weapons of mass destruction will be used against US troops" in a ground war in Iraq. [2]

Asked to think about the aftermath of a victorious war, large majorities assume a long occupation. Pew found an overwhelming 76% saying that "if the United States does remove Saddam Hussein from power…the US will have to keep military forces in Iraq in order to maintain civil order there;" only 15% thought this would not be the case. In a September Newsweek poll, 55% thought it would be necessary for "a large number of American soldiers" to stay for at least several years. [3]

Economic Consequences

A majority is quite pessimistic about the potential economic consequences of the war.
In an August Time/CNN poll 88% said they expected that as a result of the war oil prices would go up and 55% said they expected an economic recession. [4]

Increase in Terrorism

A very strong majority expects that one consequence of an invasion of Iraq would be an increase in homeland terrorism. An overwhelming 77% told Time/CNN that "more acts of terrorism in the United States" were "likely to occur" "if the US sends ground troops into Iraq" (August 2002). In the same month, 66% said they thought "an attack on Iraq would increase the threat of terrorism against Americans" in a Los Angeles Times poll; only 17% thought an attack would reduce this threat. [5] (This same pattern of pessimistic expectations is present in Americans' attitudes toward the war on terrorism more generally. In the Terrorism report, see Military and Non-Military Means for Addressing Terrorism.) However, in a mid-September ABC poll, when asked to evaluate taking action as compared to not taking action against Iraq, 55% said that not taking military action "would create a greater risk of further terrorism to this country" (up from 47% in late August), as compared to 36% saying the greater risk lies in taking action. It is possible that this positive response about military action referred to long-term consequences, while the pessimistic responses to the other questions referred more to short-term consequences. [6]

Further, in August a clear majority (58%) believed that a ground invasion of Iraq would likely result in "less cooperation from our allies in fighting terrorism" (Time/CNN). [7] However, the change of emphasis by the Bush administration, begun in September, toward seeking UN and international support might modify this belief.

Greater Instability in the Middle East

Pluralities to majorities see military action against Iraq as tending to destabilize the Middle East further. Asked whether "greater instability in the Middle East" was "likely or unlikely…if the US sends ground troops into Iraq," an overwhelming 74% thought it likely (not likely, 21%; Time/CNN, August 2002). [8] However when the question raised the prospect that the "military action against Iraq" might "help to stabilize the situation in the Middle East" (presumably, again, in the long run), or have no effect either way, only a plurality of 40% said that it would "help to destabilize it," while 23% said it would be stabilizing, and 20% thought it would have no effect (Los Angeles Times, August). [9]

A majority of 58% also thought that "if the US sends ground troops into Iraq," it is likely that, "weapons of mass destruction will be used against Israel" as well as US troops (Time/CNN, August 2002). [10]



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