Poll: Americans Conflicted About Iraq War

ByABC News
March 15, 2005, 1:04 PM

March 15, 2005 — -- Two years after the shooting began, Americans are deeply conflicted about the costs and benefits of the war with Iraq -- and broadly reluctant to enter into any similar military confrontation with either Iran or North Korea.

The public sees some benefits of the war -- but more for Iraq than for the United States, and, for many, not enough to justify its costs. Seven in 10 in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll call the level of U.S. casualties in Iraq unacceptable, and 53 percent, on balance, say the war was not worth fighting.

This poll finds a huge comedown from public opinion before, during and just after the main fighting two years ago. President Bush's wartime job approval rating reached 77 percent; it's 50 percent now. His approval specifically on Iraq was 75 percent as the main fighting ended; it's 39 percent now, a career low.

The number of people who say the war was worth fighting has fallen from 70 percent during the war to 45 percent now. And the number who say it has put the United States in a stronger position in the world has fallen from 52 percent to 28 percent. (It was a vastly higher 84 percent after the 1991 Gulf War.) Indeed more now say the war left the United States weaker (41 percent) than stronger.

Most, 57 percent, also say the Bush administration lacks a clear plan for handling the situation overall. And 64 percent say the administration lacks a clear plan specifically for eventually withdrawing most U.S. forces from Iraq.

Nonetheless, the successful Iraqi elections in January appear to have helped moderate what was an increasingly negative trend in views of the war. While 54 percent say the United States is bogged down in Iraq, that's down from a peak of 65 percent last spring. And whatever the difficulties, few Americans -- just 12 percent -- call for an immediate pullout of U.S. forces.

One clear finding of this ABC News/Washington Post poll is that the public has little desire for battles elsewhere. While nearly three-quarters call North Korea a threat to the United States (and 54 percent call it a "serious" threat), more than three-quarters oppose a military confrontation to force Pyongyang to relinquish nuclear weapons.

North Korea's apparent possession of those weapons may be one reason most Americans rule out a military option, but not the prime one: Two-thirds also oppose military action against Iran, which is not believed yet to possess nuclear arms.

A non-military option gets a more mixed result: Fifty-one percent favor offering financial incentives, such as aid money or more trade, to induce North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Fewer, 44 percent, favor offering such incentives to Iran. That may have to do with the lower perceived threat from Iran; 62 percent see it as a threat, but a good deal fewer, 39 percent, call it a serious threat.

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.