The lack of appetite for military action against either North Korea or Iran underscores the extent to which Iraq has been a special case in U.S. public opinion. Saddam Hussein was seen as a particular villain ever since the Gulf War; majorities supported invading Iraq and overthrowing him as long ago as the mid-'90s, long before the threat of terrorism came clear on Sept. 11, 2001.
Americans clearly view the January election as a positive development in Iraq. Fifty-six percent now express confidence the election will produce a stable Iraqi government, up sharply from 42 percent before the vote was held. Six in 10 think the vote will speed the day U.S. forces can be withdrawn.
In another positive, 44 percent say they think the war has improved the chances that democracy will spread in the Mideast; just 9 percent say it's lessened the odds.
Again, though, Iraqis, rather than Americans, are seen as the main beneficiaries -- and for many Americans that's insufficient justification for the costs of war.
On the positive side for the United States, 52 percent believe the war has contributed to the nation's long-term security -- a majority, but not a large one; and just 29 percent think it's contributed "a great deal." By contrast, far more, 67 percent, think the Iraqi people are better off as a result of the war, and 74 percent think they'll be better off in the future.
Views of Casualties
Fewer, though still a majority, seem to think the Iraqis appreciate it: Fifty-four percent think most of the Iraqi people support what the United States is trying to do there. Thirty-nine percent think not.
As noted, some bottom-line attitudes on the war, while not broadly supportive, are at least stable. That's better than it might have been for the administration, which had been threatened (and could be again) by deteriorating views of the situation.
While 53 percent say the war was not worth fighting, for example, that's been roughly stable since December. (In a similar question, 51 percent call the war "a mistake," about the same as in a Gallup poll in January.)
While 70 percent say the level of casualties is unacceptable, that has been stable since June, when it increased from the low- to mid-60s. The long-term security number likewise is stable, as is the number who say the administration lacks a clear plan for handling the situation.
There's also stability in perceptions of the administration's veracity as it prepared for war: Fifty-five percent think the Bush administration told the American public what it believed to be true. Fewer -- but still a substantial 43 percent -- believe instead that the administration "intentionally misled" the public in making its case for war.
Bush's Handling of Iraq
The issue of veracity also plays out in views of weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda. Fifty-six percent of Americans still think Iraq did possess WMDs shortly before the war, though none has been found; that's sharply down, though, from the 89 percent who thought before the war that it had such weapons.