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A second conflict with Iraq unlikely to become a favorite war

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: November 13, 2002

A new conflict with Iraq would be likely to go down as one of America's less popular wars.

Americans still relish their superpower status and support the 1.4 million-member military. But they fear that enemies will attack the United States in the coming decade, according to a survey of 1,001 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

The poll found that a second Iraqi war would be less popular than the major military engagements in U.S. history. The country's conflicts with Vietnam, Korea, Mexico and Spain are even less popular.

"When we look at the Vietnam War or even at the Spanish American War, there is less confidence and support for what are perceived as foreign engagements that do not directly pertain to America's security," said former Secretary of Defense William Cohen after reviewing the poll's results.

"There is a strain in American public opinion that is not isolationist, but noninterventionist. And that's something that has to be overcome," Cohen said. "Technology has diminished the significance of oceans and geographical distance. The world is smaller, more dangerous."

The poll asked adults whether "you are absolutely certain our involvement was correct" in each of the nine major wars the United States has fought since it declared independence from England in 1776. Scoring highest was World War II, which 83 percent were "absolutely certain" that the United States did the right thing by fighting.

Next in terms of support was the Revolutionary War with 73 percent, World War I with 67 percent, federal involvement in the Civil War with 54 percent, the War of 1812 with 52 percent, and the Persian Gulf War with 45 percent.

Among the less popular engagements are the Mexican War of 1845 and the Korean War, both at 31 percent, the Spanish American War at 22 percent and the Vietnam War at 18 percent.

The survey asked, "What if the United States sends troops to Iraq to force it to disarm its weapons of mass destruction?" Thirty-eight percent said they would be "absolutely certain" a second conflict with Iraq would be correct, followed by 26 percent who would be "pretty certain," 33 percent who would be "not certain" and 3 percent who were undecided.

"It strikes me that there is neither strong support or opposition here, making a new war with Iraq somewhat unique," said Northwestern University sociologist Charles Moskos, a frequent adviser to the Pentagon. "Most people don't have relatives in the military these days, so the issue of military involvement doesn't provoke the kinds of pros and cons that we once had."

Cohen agreed: "There is some ambiguity now because most of the American people have not yet been convinced that Saddam (Hussein) and Iraq are supporting international terrorism."

The poll found that men were much more likely to be certain that a new war with Iraq is necessary than were women.

Southerners were most likely to support the conflict while residents of the Northeast were least likely.

The survey also found an enormous difference in support among people of different political ideology and party affiliation, with Republicans generally in favor of a new conflict and Democrats generally opposed. Fifty-five percent of people who said they are "very conservative" also said they are confident the war is necessary, compared to only 9 percent of self-described "very liberal" people.

Yet Americans appear not to be divided in their overall support of the American military dominance in the world. Seventy percent said it is "very important" that the United States remain the world's only remaining superpower.

Nearly half of the adults surveyed said the United States should continue to have a full-time military force of 1.4 million men and women, while a third said they believe the military should be expanded. Only one in 10 said the military should be smaller.

Fifty-nine percent said it is either very or somewhat likely that "some nation will try to attack the United States in an attempt to seize our territory" sometime in the next 10 years.

The poll was conducted at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Residents of the United States were interviewed by telephone from Oct. 13-28 in a study funded by a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The poll has an overall 4 percentage point margin of error, although the margin increases when examining attitudes among smaller groups within the survey. The margin for women only, for example, is 6 percent.

Further results of the poll may be found at www.newsPolls.org.