Americans Believe Iraq War Makes Them Less Safe

Americans solidly oppose a cut-and-run policy for U.S. military operations in Iraq even as they heap criticisms on President Bush’s handling of the war and question whether he has a well-thought plan to eventually extract troops from southwest Asia.

Nearly half believe the United States is “less safe” from terrorist attack because of the military actions in Iraq, according to the latest survey of 1,016 adults conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University.

Fifty-one percent of the survey participants said they disapprove of the job Bush has done as president, while 44 percent approved and five percent were undecided. But his disapproval ranking rose to 54 percent when people were asked to specifically rate his handling of Iraq.

The recent terrorist bombings in London did not give Bush a “rally effect” _ a tendency of Americans to rally in support of the current White House administration in times of national emergencies. His approval ratings were well above 80 percent immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks four years ago.

Only 24 percent said they believe “President Bush and his military advisers have a clear, well-thought plan to get our troops out of Iraq,” while 66 percent doubt he has such a plan and 10 percent were undecided. More than a third of Republicans in the poll doubt the president’s Iraq planning, while Democrats and political independents were overwhelmingly critical of the president’s planning.

Despite the criticisms Bush is receiving, Americans are still committed to the White House’s ultimate policy that creation of a democratic regime in Iraq is worth the sacrifices that have claimed the lives of more than 1,770 U.S. troops.

The poll asked: “Should the United States begin pulling its troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, or should we stay for at least a few years until the new government in Iraq is secure?” Fifty-six percent said the U.S. should continue its military operations, while 34 percent want to exit as quickly as possible and 10 percent are undecided.

The poll found most Americans have a realistic assessment of the length of the military commitment. Less than a quarter expect American involvement in Iraq will end within two years, while about half estimate troops will be needed for five years or longer.

A third said they believe either the “war on terrorism” or “peace in the Middle East” is the nation’s top concern, knocking the U.S. economy to a distant second place.

But Americans are increasingly doubtful about one of the core claims the Bush administration made when calling for war three year ago. Only 36 percent said they believe the nation is “safer from terrorist attack today because of our military action in Iraq,” while 49 percent said we are less safe, 9 percent were uncertain and 6 percent gave other answers such as “we are in more danger now, but will be safer in the long run.”

The survey was conducted by telephone from July 5-19 among 1,016 households nationwide. It has a margin of error of about 4 percentage points. It was funded through a grant from the Scripps Foundation.

(Thomas Hargrove is a reporter for Scripps Howard News Service. Guido H. Stempel III is director of the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University.)