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Conflict With Iraq

Disarmament Through Inspections

A majority of Americans favors trying to achieve Iraqi disarmament through the process of UN inspections, rather than trying to achieve regime change, even though most Americans have doubts about whether inspections would completely eliminate the Iraqi threat. A strong majority favors the UN setting a deadline for Iraqi compliance and authorizing the use of military force if it does not comply. If Iraq allows in inspectors but interferes with their work, a majority favors using military force. A very strong majority thinks that it is unlikely that Saddam Hussein will allow the UN to perform the necessary inspections.

Currently there is substantial debate about whether the US should pursue the goal of disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction or whether it should pursue the more ambitious goal of achieving regime change through military force. It appears that a majority of Americans favors accepting the more limited goal of disarming Iraq.

In a September PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll, respondents were asked to choose between two arguments on this question. Only 30% chose the argument that "The US should invade Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, whether he cooperates with UN inspectors or not, because the UN inspectors might not find all his weapons." A very strong 68% chose instead the argument that "If Iraq allows the UN to conduct unrestricted inspections, the US should agree to not invade Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein as long as Iraq continues to cooperate, because we should only go to war as a last resort."[1]

Other polls have also found a readiness to refrain from military action as long as Iraq is cooperating with inspections, and a readiness to wait longer to see if this will happen. A September 2002 ABC News poll found that "If Iraq agrees to let United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country," 77% felt the US should "hold off on attacking Iraq." Asked in a late September CBS/New York Times poll whether the US should "take military action against Iraq fairly soon, or…wait and give the United Nations more time to get weapons inspectors back into Iraq," a solid majority (57%) preferred to give the UN more time. Only 36% preferred taking action soon. [2]

When ABC/Washington Post asked on September 26, "Which concerns you more: that the Bush administration might move too quickly to take military action against Iraq, or the Bush Administration might not move quickly enough?" 52% said that they were concerned that it would move too quickly, while 40% were concerned that it would not move quickly enough. Presumably this reflects a readiness to wait for efforts at UN inspection to work themselves out.[3]

If it does prove possible to disarm Iraq, a majority is ready to abandon the goal of regime change through military force. Asked in a September PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll, "Suppose it does prove possible to disarm Iraq of any weapons of mass destruction it may have, should the US still invade Iraq in an attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein's government, or should it not?" 56% said the US should not invade while 43% said that it still should.[4] However, the above-mentioned question from the same poll suggests that a larger percentage of Americans are ready to abandon this goal as part of a quid pro quo - 68% said the US "should agree to not invade Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein" if Iraq allows in inspectors and continues to cooperate.

Support for the goal of disarmament over regime change persists even though Americans have doubts about whether UN inspections will completely eliminate the Iraqi threat. Asked in a September Gallup poll, "If the United Nations does conduct inspections, do you think these would--or would not--be effective in eliminating the threat of Iraq using weapons of mass destruction against the United States?" 68% said they would not and just 27% said they would. In a September CNN/USA Today poll (that appeared to be asking about inspections) 70% said that they thought the UN "will not be able to prevent Saddam Hussein from building or keeping weapons of mass destruction," while 20% thought it will.[5]

To find out whether those who have such doubts favor proceeding to take military action, or if they nonetheless want to try to see if UN inspections may prove effective, in late September PIPA/Knowledge Networks repeated the above-mentioned Gallup question on whether UN inspections would "be effective in eliminating the threat of Iraq using weapons of mass destruction." This time 58% expressed the negative view. Those who took this position were then asked to choose between two positions. Thirty-six percent of this group chose the one that said, "Since the UN inspectors will not be effective the US should proceed with invading Iraq now," while 62% chose the one that said, "The UN should first try to disarm Iraq peacefully and see if that proves to be effective or not." Thus only 21% of the whole sample rejected the effectiveness of inspections and wanted to proceed with military action.[6]

Although Americans appear ready to back away from the goal of achieving regime change through military force in the event that Iraq cooperates with disarmament, this does not mean that they want the US to back away from the goal of regime change through some means. Asked, "If Iraq cooperates fully with United Nations weapons inspectors, do you think the United States should drop its efforts to force Saddam Hussein from power, or continue its efforts to force Saddam Hussein from power?" 66% said the US should continue its efforts and 31% said it should drop them (ABC/Washington Post, September 26).[7]

Setting a Deadline

A near-unanimous majority wants to see the UN set a deadline for Iraqi compliance with UN demands. In mid-September 2002, 93% said the UN should "pass a resolution that imposes a deadline on Iraq to submit to weapons inspections or face grave consequences" (CNN/USA Today). [8]

If Iraq does not meet the deadline a strong majority wants the UN to authorize military action. The same CNN/USA Today poll asked, "If the United Nations does impose a deadline on weapons inspections and Iraq fails to meet it, what should the United Nations do - authorize military action against Iraq or engage in further diplomatic efforts with Iraq?" Sixty-one percent favored military action while 35% favored diplomatic efforts.[9]

Overall, there seems to be some impatience with the UN. Asked about the performance of the United Nations, 80% said it has "not been tough enough in dealing with Iraq." Just 2% felt the UN has been too tough, and 15% said it has acted "about right."

Similarly, an August Time/CNN poll asked whether the US "should give Saddam Hussein another opportunity to comply with UN resolutions and allow weapon inspection teams into the country, or [whether] he has already had enough opportunities to comply," a majority (55%) said Hussein has already had enough time, while 42% favored giving him more time. Given the responses to other questions, it appears that this does not mean that a majority at this point wants to abandon the UN inspection process, but rather that they are exasperated that Saddam Hussein "has already had enough opportunities."[10]

Pessimism About Iraqi Cooperation

Very strong majorities express pessimism about whether Iraq will allow UN inspectors adequate access to Iraqi territory. A September 26 ABC/Washington Post poll asked, "As you may know, Iraq has told the United Nations that it will allow UN inspectors back into the country. Do you think Iraq intends cooperate or does not intend to cooperate with UN inspectors?" An overwhelming 79% said they thought he does not intend to cooperate. A CNN/USA Today poll asked on September 22, "As you may know, Iraq said it would allow UN inspectors into its country to search for weapons of mass destruction. Do you think Saddam Hussein will agree to inspections that meet the UN's requirements or not?" Only 20% thought that he would, while 77% said he would not. Seventy-four percent said they did not think that "Saddam Hussein will ever give weapons inspectors complete and total access" (Fox News, September 24-25). And just 4% predicted that Iraq "will allow free access to all possible weapon sites," while 91% think Hussein "will prevent weapon inspectors from going to some sites" (CNN/Time, August 2002).[11]

Using Force if Iraq Interferes With Inspectors

If Iraq allows in UN inspectors and does not fully cooperate with them, an overwhelming majority supports using military force. When the September 26 ABC/Washington Post poll asked, "If Iraq admits the weapons inspectors, but then interferes or does not cooperate with them, in that case would you favor or oppose having US forces take military action against Iraq?" 77% (81% on September 14) said they would then favor using force. Only 20% were opposed.[12]

It is not entirely clear from the poll question, however, whether respondents meant that the US should proceed with an invasion or that force should be used to ensure access to possible weapons sites. This level of support is higher than for most questions that ask about using military force, which suggests that if the US were to first seek to resolve the issue through inspections and then fail due to Iraqi intransigence, support for military action would be higher than had the US not made such efforts.



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