A record number of Americans disapprove of the war in Iraq, and a clear majority now favors the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces, even if civil order has not been restored there -- potentially a tipping point in public attitudes on the war.
While solutions remain vexing, for the first time ABC News/Washington Post polls show a narrow majority of Americans support setting a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Two-thirds oppose George W. Bush's troop surge; most oppose it strongly.
It all makes for a continued hard slog for the president: Just 36 percent approve of his job performance overall, very near his career low of 33 percent last month. Bush hasn't seen majority approval in more than two years -- the longest run without majority support for any president since Harry Truman from 1950-53.
While rooted in Iraq, Bush's problems with credibility and confidence reach beyond it. Sixty-three percent of Americans don't trust the administration to convey intelligence reports on potential threats from other countries honestly and accurately. And 58 percent lack confidence, specifically, in its ability to handle current tensions with Iran.
Iraq Weighs on President's Popularity
Bush is paying the continued price of an unpopular war. Sixty-four percent now say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, up six points from last month to a new numerical high. (It was 63 percent in October.) A majority hasn't said the war was worth fighting since April 2004, and it's been even longer since a majority has approved of how Bush is handling it. Sixty-seven percent now disapprove; 55 percent disapprove strongly.
In a fundamental change, 56 percent now say U.S. forces should be withdrawn at some point even if civil order has not been restored in Iraq. That represents a continued, gradual departure from the "you break it, you've bought it" sentiment that until now has mitigated in favor of continued U.S. involvement until some stability is attained.
Another part of this change has been a shift in views on setting a withdrawal date. Given pro and con positions (avoiding casualties vs. encouraging insurgents), support for a deadline has risen from 39 percent in late 2005 to 47 percent last summer and 53 percent now. That's a majority, but not a large one; 46 percent still oppose a deadline, underscoring the difficulty of finding consensus on how to get out of Iraq.
Among those who do support a deadline, 85 percent said it should be within the next year (including 46 percent who said it should be within the next six months), essentially unchanged from previous polls. (Questions on troop withdrawal deadlines depend on the options offered.)
The Blame Game: Advantage Democrats
Views on Iraq are accompanied by a broad sense that the main blame for failing to control the violence in Iraq rests with its own government (70 percent say so), not the United States (18 percent).
Indeed, two-thirds favor reducing U.S. military and financial support if the Iraqis fail to make progress restoring order -- one of the popular steps proposed by the Iraq Study Group in December, but not taken up by Bush. (Another is the group's proposal for a shift to a military training mission, with most U.S. combat forces withdrawn by early 2008; at the time of the proposal, 69 percent supported it.)