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US Public Support for Iraq War Declines


While President Bush prepares his new strategy on Iraq, public-opinion polls indicate Americans are more pessimistic than ever about the chances for success there. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Several recent polls paint a grim picture of how Americans view the war in Iraq.

One survey by the Washington Post and ABC News found that 52 percent of those asked believe the United States is losing the war and that 70 percent disapprove of President Bush's handling of the conflict.

Another poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News found the president's own job approval rating at 34 percent, an all time low for that survey.

Other polls by Newsweek magazine, USA Today and the Gallup organization, and CBS News contain similar findings.

Sarah Dutton is deputy director of surveys for CBS News.

"One thing most Americans do expect from the new Congress is that it will try to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, and that is something that more than half the public would like to see."

The surveys suggest most Americans want U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq within the next two years.

President Bush is busy preparing his new strategy for Iraq to be unveiled early in the new year. Mr. Bush says most Americans want to succeed in Iraq and that it is important for the United States to remain engaged there.

"We are not going to give up. The stakes are too high and the consequences too grave to turn Iraq over to extremists who want to do the American people and the Iraqi people harm," said Mr. Bush.

A recent USA Today-Gallup poll found that about eight in 10 Americans agree with the president's desire for success in Iraq. But the poll also found that by a two-to-one margin, most people do not believe the cost of succeeding in Iraq is worth it.

A few Democrats in Congress continue to push for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Among them is Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who has announced he is running for president in 2008.

"We are actually planning to spend twice as much on the war as we did last year," he said. "Somebody did not get the message and unfortunately it is the leadership of the Democratic Party, and the consequences may be disastrous for our party, our nation and the world."

Kucinich also ran for president in 2004, but garnered little support.

Most Democrats oppose an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, but will be looking to President Bush to offer a new strategy on the conflict that will bring U.S. troops home sooner rather than later.

"He [Bush] understands that he has to now share power. He has lost control of Congress, which means he has lost control of the legislative agenda," noted Tom DeFrank, Washington bureau chief for the New York Daily News and a guest on VOA's Issues in the News program. "The president is not going to be able to wield the power he wielded for the last six years, and he understands it, I think, finally."

Mr. Bush says he will take into account the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group as part of the administration's policy review, before deciding on a new course in Iraq.

Former Republican Senator Bob Dole says it is important to try to unify the country around a new strategy in order to avoid a repeat of the mistakes made during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.

"In the American experience, wars that enjoy equivocal [uncertain] support from our people usually end with equivocal outcomes," said Dole. "This is why our country must unite behind a strategy for a successful military mission, a viable exit plan, and a recognizable vision for Iraq's future."

That is also the view of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton.

"We have made a terrible commitment in Iraq in terms of our blood and our treasure, and I think we owe it to them to try to take one last chance at making Iraq work. And more importantly, to take one last chance at unifying this country on this war," commented former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, a member of the panel.

President Bush and members of Congress from both parties have raised concerns about some of the recommendations from the Iraq Study Group, especially the proposal to reach out diplomatically to Syria and Iran.

Despite those concerns, political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says the November election results and the report of the Iraq Study Group have given official Washington a rare chance to reassess U.S. policy toward Iraq.

"It is a defining moment," said Rothenberg. Both the elections and the issuing of the report provide political figures an opportunity to reassess. They can take a deep breath and say, what went right and what went wrong? Not a lot went right. Some things went right militarily initially, but since then a lot has gone wrong. What can we do to change things?"

Iraq is likely to be a key topic of debate in the 2008 presidential election.

Susan Rice, who served in the State Department and on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and is now a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, says Republican presidential candidates should be concerned if Iraq remains the major political issue two years from now.

"I think if there is one thing that is clear out of this, it is that the Republicans do not want Iraq to be the dominant issue in 2008 and so they face a self-interested imperative to take the issue off of the table," said Rice.

Several presidential contenders are expected to announce their White House plans early in the new year.