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Conflict With Iraq

Importance of Multilateral Support

Only a small minority supports invading Iraq without multilateral support -- whether specified as the participation of allies or as UN approval. However, with multilateral support, a strong majority supports an invasion. Without multilateral support the public is divided about whether to take more limited military action.

Multilateral support is a very powerful determinant of support for invading Iraq. Without it there is clear majority opposition; with it there is clear majority support. This dynamic is evident whether multilateral support is described in terms of the support and participation of allies or UN approval.

Support and Participation of Allies

The questions that show this dynamic the most clearly are ones that offer three response options - unconditional support, unconditional opposition, and support conditional on the invasion being multilateral. In every case, those who give conditional support are either the plurality or the majority. Combined with those who unconditionally oppose invasion, they form a very strong majority opposed to unilateral invasion. Combined with those who unconditionally favor invasion, they form a very strong majority in favor of multilateral invasion.

The most recent example is a September 2002 CNN/USA Today poll. Offered three options, 46% took the position that "the U.S. should send troops if at least some of our Western allies support that action"; 37% took the position that "the U.S. should send troops even if none of our Western allies support that action;" another 14% said "the U.S. should not send troops" into Iraq. Thus, 60% opposed unilateral invasion while 83% favored multilateral invasion. In August, in response to the same question, support for a unilateral invasion was even lower at 20%, opposition to any invasion was higher at 28%, and support for a multilateral invasion was approximately the same at 47%. [1]

Other poll questions that present only two response options find consistent majorities opposing unilateral invasion. In late September 2002, CNN/USA Today found that 59% would oppose "invading Iraq with US ground troops if it were true [that] the US had to invade Iraq alone." Only 38% were in favor of doing so. A September 23 CBS News/New York Times poll asked respondents to choose between two statements. Only 31% chose the one that said "Iraq presents such a clear danger to American interests that the U.S. needs to act now, even without the support of its allies." Sixty-one percent chose the one that said, "The U.S. needs to wait for its allies before taking any action against Iraq." This 61% majority is, however, 11 points down from the 72% who answered the question the same way in February 2002. [2]

Just one question reveals less than majority support for the US waiting for allies. In a late September 2002 Newsweek poll, when asked to choose between two statements, 48% chose the one that said "It would be better to delay military action to try to get more support from our allies, even if it gives Saddam more time to prepare for an attack and try to develop weapons of mass destruction." Forty-one percent chose the alternative, "It is important to take military action in the next month or so, even if many of our allies continue to oppose it." The question is somewhat imbalanced, given that it focuses on the potential risks of waiting, but not the risks of taking action. [3]

In other questions, when respondents are first asked about the invasion and then those who support it are asked if they would favor doing so unilaterally, only a minority says they would. In November 2001 PIPA found that 62% supported "sending US troops into Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein's government;" however, when asked to suppose "our allies in the region and in Europe were opposed and refused to participate," only 41% continued to support sending troops. [4]

As discussed above, when respondents are asked about taking "military action" against Iraq, rather than an invasion with ground troops, support is higher, reaching a fairly strong majority. When those who respond favorably to questions about taking military action are asked a follow-on question about doing so unilaterally, support drops -- though not always as low as in response to questions about invasion. (Some may feel that something like a limited missile attack targeted at Saddam Hussein is something the US can undertake unilaterally, but feel this would not be true of a general invasion). For example, in mid-September, a Pew survey found 64% in favor of taking military action against Iraq; however, when those who favored action were asked if the US should "attack Iraq only if our major allies agree to join us, or attack Iraq even if allies do not want to join us," just 33% wanted to go it alone. Pew found almost the exact same results in August. In the most recent ABC poll (mid-September), those who favored "military action against Iraq to force Saddam Hussein from power" (68%) were asked if they would still favor it "if U.S. allies opposed such military action." In that case, a bare majority of 51% (of the whole sample) supported taking action, with 44% opposed. Over the last six months, the percentage taking this position in response to this question ranged from 55% in March 2002 to 39% in late August. An April 2002 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found only 36% ready to take military action if US allies were opposed. [5]

When multilateral participation is posited, support for an invasion or military action can be very high. In the late September CNN/USA Today poll, 79% said they would favor "invading Iraq with US ground troops if it were true [that] other countries participated." (As noted above, in the same poll only 38% were in favor if that were not true.) When a late September Newsweek poll asked about the US "organizing an INTERNATIONAL [sic] force to force Saddam Hussein from power," a strong 69% favored the idea, somewhat more than the 63% who, in the same poll, supported the idea without this specification. Stronger support for an international effort was also evident in August. [6]

Consistent with these views, overwhelming majorities say it is important for President Bush to get international support for action against Iraq. The late September 2002 Newsweek poll found that 86% feel it is at least somewhat important (58% very important) for the president to "get support from most of our European allies before taking military action against Iraq." In the same poll, 82% thought it important (52% very important) to get support "from most of the Arab countries that are friendly to the United States" before moving against Iraq. These numbers are basically unchanged from a month earlier. [7]

A majority of Americans also expresses the view that lack of international support can prevent the US from taking action. About two-thirds (65%) agree with the statement, "The United States should take military action against Iraq only if that military action has the support of the international community." Only 27% were opposed (Los Angeles Times, August 2002). In an April 2002 Newsweek poll, a majority (54%) felt that "lack of international support prevents [the Bush administration] from taking military action against Iraq at this time." Only 31% believed there was "enough international support from our allies, the Arab nations and other countries", and another 15% were not sure. [8]

UN Approval

Not only does the public want to see the participation of US allies in any effort against Iraq, but a majority also thinks it is necessary to get support from the United Nations.

When a late September 2002 Newsweek poll asked how important it is for President Bush to "get formal support from the United Nations… before taking military action against Iraq," an overwhelming 84% majority said it is important, with 59% saying "very important." In a CNN/USA Today poll, 68% went further and said that it is "necessary for the Bush Administration to get a resolution of support from the United Nations before it attacks Iraq" (early September 2002). Just 30% said it was not necessary. Even when told that Russian President Vladimir Putin's position is that the UN should approve any attack on Iraq (Fox, February 2002), a plurality (42%) agreed with his position; another 10% opposed an attack under any circumstances, and only 35% wanted to proceed without UN approval. [9]

When UN approval as well as allied support is specified, an overwhelming majority would favor invasion under this condition, while an overwhelming majority opposes proceeding without it. In a three-way question in June 2002, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations poll found that two-thirds (65%) felt "the U.S. should only invade Iraq with UN approval and the support of its allies;" another 13% said the US should not invade Iraq; and just 20% said "the U.S. should invade Iraq even if we have to go it alone." Thus 78% opposed unilateral invasion, while 85% would support multilateral invasion. The September 2002 PIPA-Knowledge Networks poll confirmed this result, finding that a strong majority (64%) agreed with the statement, "The US should only invade Iraq with UN approval and the support of its allies." Only 35% disagreed. [10]

At this point, if the UN decided not to sanction an attack on Iraq, a majority would prefer to see the US follow the UN's lead and hold off. In a September 20-22 CNN/USA Today poll 58% said they would oppose "invading Iraq with US ground troops" if "the United Nations opposed invading Iraq." A late September CBS News poll asked, "Should the United States follow the recommendations of the United Nations when it comes to taking military action against Iraq, or should the United States decide what to do on its own, regardless of what the United Nations recommends?" Despite this provocative language, a slim majority (52%) chose the option that the US should not "decide what to do on its own" and comply with the UN's recommendation, while 37% preferred to see the US act on it own. [11]

On the other hand, support for attacking Iraq would be overwhelming if the United Nations were to back such action. In a September CNN/USA Today survey, 79% would favor "invading Iraq with US ground troops if it were true [that] the United Nations supported invading Iraq." [12]



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