Restoring Order Balances Bush Criticism
June 27, 2005 — -- A sense of obligation balances negative public views on Iraq: Despite broad concerns and sharp criticism of the administration's performance, nearly six in 10 Americans say U.S. forces should remain in place until civil order has been restored there.
That expression of resolve works to President Bush's advantage as he prepares to address the nation on Iraq, as does a slight improvement in some bottom-line measures. But steep challenges remain: Recriminations against his administration have jumped, with a majority for the first time saying it "intentionally misled" the public in going to war, and nearly three-quarters saying it underestimated the challenges involved.
A record 57 percent also now say the administration intentionally exaggerated its evidence that pre-war Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Views such as these cut to the administration's basic credibility and competence, vital commodities as Bush tries to turn public opinion in a more favorable direction. He speaks tomorrow night, the first anniversary of the handover to an interim Iraqi government.
Bush's overall position isn't enviable. Not only do 51 percent of Americans disapprove of his job performance, a record 40 percent disapprove "strongly" (compared with 27 percent who strongly approve). That exceeds career-high strong disapproval for his two immediate predecessors, President Clinton (33 percent strongly disapproved in fall 1994, shortly before his party lost control of Congress) and Bush's father (34 percent in summer 1992, shortly before he lost re-election).
On Iraq specifically, 56 percent disapprove of Bush's work, and 44 percent disapprove strongly. (Strong disapprovers outnumber strong approvers by 19 points.) A majority hasn't approved of his handling of the situation there since January 2004, shortly after the capture of Saddam Hussein. On a more emotional level, nearly a quarter of Americans say they're "angry" about the war.
At the same time, while 53 percent say the war was not worth fighting, that's eased a bit from its record high, 58 percent early this month (a majority of Americans hasn't called the war worth fighting in more than a year, since April 2004, as the insurgency heated up). Similarly, 52 percent now say the war has improved long-term U.S. security, up five points from early June. And 53 percent are optimistic rather than pessimistic about the prospects for Iraq in the next year. These indicate incremental gains as a result of the administration's recent counteroffensive in laying out the war's value.
Other views show divided assessments in some bottom-line views. The public splits, 48 percent to 51 percent, on whether the war was "the right thing" or "a mistake." People divide, 47 percent to 52 percent, on whether it's going well or going badly. And the public splits by 48 percent to 51 percent on whether the United States is making significant progress restoring civil order in Iraq. As in the past, political partisanship and ideology continue to run very strongly through these and related opinions.
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