Regional Issues >> Conflict With
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."
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
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. 
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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). 
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
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
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."
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).
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.
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.