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Polls Show Powell's UN Speech Boosts US Support for War - 2003-02-06

Public opinion polls suggest that Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation on Iraq before the United Nations slightly boosted domestic support for a possible war with Baghdad.

The day after his spotlight performance in New York, Secretary Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he made headway with other members of the U.N. Security Council on convincing them of the threat posed by Iraq.

"There was some shift in attitude," he said. "A shift in attitude that suggested, I think, that more and more nations are realizing that this cannot continue like this indefinitely."

Public opinion polls conducted after Secretary Powell's speech at the United Nations indicate he may have also won over some converts at home for a possible war with Iraq. Polls by ABC and NBC News, as well as the Gallup Organization reported about 60 percent of those surveyed would support military action. That is an increase of between four and seven percentage points from surveys before the speech.

The bump in the polls is no surprise to American University historian Allan Lichtman. He spoke to VOA-TV's Newsline program.

"I think it will probably move U.S. public opinion more behind the Bush position, that we have to take strong action, even go to war, against Iraq," he said. "It won't be unanimous, but it will be a lot stronger, both because of the case and because of the prestige of the messenger."

Other analysts caution that U.S. public support for a possible war with Iraq is not as deep as the Bush administration would like.

John Mueller is a political science professor at Ohio State University, who has written extensively about public opinion and the 1991 Gulf War.

He says support for war is tempered by fear of U.S. casualties and concern about the impact a war would have on the U.S. economy, much as it was 12 years ago.

"They are not really gung-ho and are, at best, sort of quietly supportive," he said. "The support certainly goes up whenever there is indication that there will be international support for it."

Professor Mueller also sees another similarity in comparing today's public opinion polls with those taken before the Gulf War in late 1990 and early 1991.

"Although there wasn't an increasing [level of] support for the [1991 Gulf] war, there was an increasing belief that it was inevitable," he said. "So, at that time, even though there was not huge support for the war, necessarily, there was a growing sense of, 'well, it is going to happen anyway, so let's get it over with.' And there are already distinct signs of that approach taking hold among many Americans."

Some recent polls suggest that most Americans expect a relatively short war with low casualties, largely based on the U.S. experience in the Gulf War.

But even supporters of the president's policy warn that the administration needs to do more to prepare the American public for what could be a lengthy peacekeeping involvement in Iraq, if Saddam Hussein is forced from power.

"It may be eight months, it may be 16 months, it may be three years, but it is going to be some period of time that they [U.S. troops] are going to be there [Iraq]," said Senator Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "I don't think the American people understand that, yet."

Political analysts say there is little doubt that Secretary Powell's appearance before the United Nations, and President Bush's recent State of the Union address have helped shore up domestic support for a possible war with Iraq. But they also warn that public support can dissipate as quickly as it builds, and that the president will have to continue making the case to both the public and Congress, as the possibility of war grows more likely.