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Americans on Iraq: Military Action or Diplomacy?

Americans on Iraq: Military Action or Diplomacy?

by Joseph Carroll

Exactly 12 years ago, just before the Persian Gulf War, most Americans believed that the United States should take a patient approach in dealing with Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 -- most wanted to wait and see if diplomatic and economic sanctions would be effective before using military force. But today, amid continued threats of terrorism post-Sept. 11, the American public is much less likely to argue for patience when it comes to combating perceived threats to national security.

The Gulf War Era: The Wait-And-See Approach to Dealing With Iraq

An August 1990 Gallup/Newsweek poll* asked Americans if President George H.W. Bush "should quickly begin military action against Iraq" or if he "should wait to see if economic and diplomatic sanctions were effective." An overwhelming 80% of respondents said Bush should wait to see if the sanctions were successful; only 17% said Bush should begin military action quickly.

In subsequent months, the number of Americans saying that Bush should "wait to see" decreased slightly. In October and November, roughly seven in 10 respondents said Bush should take the wait-and-see approach, while a little more than one in five adults said Bush should begin military action. By the end of December 1990, only a slight majority of respondents (53%) said the United States should wait and see if diplomatic and economic efforts would solve the problems with Iraq, and support for military action increased to 41%. By early January 1991, the public was essentially divided on employing diplomatic efforts (46%) versus taking military action (49%).

Bush began the Persian Gulf War on Jan. 16, 1991, with air assaults against targets in Iraq and Kuwait. A Jan. 17-18 Gallup Poll** asked the public if it approved of "the military action against Iraq" or if the "United States should have waited longer to see if economic and diplomatic sanctions were effective." A rally effect was evident, as three in four Americans (78%) said they approved of the military action, and only 17% said the United States should have waited longer.

Sept. 11, Threat of Terrorism Increase Public's Willingness for Military Action

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, seem to have changed the American public's attitude on these matters. Since the attacks, substantially smaller numbers of Americans say that the United States should rely on diplomatic and economic efforts to deal with both the general threat of terrorism and the specific situation in Iraq.

Shortly after Sept. 11, Gallup asked Americans in an October 2001 poll*** what actions the United States should take to deal with terrorism. At that time, 49% of Americans said we should mount a long-term war to defeat global terrorist networks, while 43% said we should only take action to punish those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, and only 6% said we should rely only on economic and diplomatic efforts. By June 2002, the number of Americans saying the United States should rely solely on diplomatic and economic efforts to fight terrorism had increased only slightly to 10%.

Over the past couple of months, the current Bush administration has been focused once again on addressing the perceived threat of Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Once again, the majority of Americans seem to favor military action over continued economic and diplomatic efforts.

A September 2002 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll**** asked Americans what the United Nations should do if Iraq fails to meet a new deadline on weapons inspections -- authorize military action or engage in further diplomatic efforts. Roughly six in 10 respondents (61%) said the United Nations should authorize military action if Iraq fails to meet a U.N.-imposed deadline on weapons inspections while only 35% said the United Nations should continue to engage in further diplomatic efforts with Iraq if it fails to meet a deadline.

Key Points

The debate between the within the Bush administration about a possible war with Iraq has been well publicized. Much depends on whether the American people can be convinced that military action is necessary. A Gallup Poll taken last month suggests that the U.S. public's willingness to take military action has increased when compared to 1990, when a similar choice was faced just prior to the Gulf War.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 767 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 23-24, 1990. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4%.

**Results are based on telephone interviews with 752 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 17-18, 1991. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4%.

***Results are based on telephone interviews with 819 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 5-6, 2001. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4%.

****Results are based on telephone interviews with 803 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 13-16, 2002. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4%. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Gallup

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Gallup https://news.gallup.com/poll/6946/americans-iraq-military-action-diplomacy.aspx
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