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Bush Effort to Sway World Opinion on Iraq Faces Uphill Battle - 2003-01-29

There are some early indications that President George W. Bush's State of Union Address has bolstered support among the American public for a possible war with Iraq. But the president is likely to have a tougher time swaying international opinion.

The Gallup organization reports that a new poll taken after the president spoke found that 67 percent of those surveyed who watched the speech believed that the president had made a convincing case for military action against Iraq. That was up from only 47 percent before the speech.

Among those impressed with the Mr. Bush's address was a woman from Minnesota. "I think we have to do something about Saddam," she said. "I think we should have done it 12 years ago and we have let it hang on too long."

Several political analysts are also giving the president credit for making an effective case against Iraq. "What was striking about the president's talk was both the passion and detail with which he called to the attention of the American people just how monstrous, dangerous, brutal Saddam is," said Robert Lieber, professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington and a former advisor to several Democratic presidential candidates. "I think the president has gone a long way to answering the concerns of Americans who ask why Saddam matters."

Of course, not everyone agrees with that assessment. "I do not think he came close to answering why we should send American men and women into harm's way and how that is going to make it better there," said Phil Steiger of Minneapolis.

That is a view echoed by many Democrats in Congress. They continue to press the administration to explain why the threat posed by Saddam Hussein must be dealt with now.

"We are just saying that before we commit lives, before we commit troops, before we commit the resources of the American people, we need to have a lot better evidence that that threat is more imminent and more direct to the United States than it is today," said Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle spoke on NBC's Today program.

Opinion polls indicate that a majority of the public wants the United States to line up support at the United Nations and from U.S. allies in advance of any military action against Iraq. But in his speech, the president left little doubt that, if necessary, he is willing to act without United Nations backing to disarm Saddam Hussein.

"We will consult, but let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people, and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him," Mr. Bush said.

While the president may have made headway with public opinion at home, political experts warn that he is likely to have less success in winning converts internationally.

"He understood that he was not going to change their minds," said Larry Sabato, a government professor at the University of Virginia. "He made one of the most blunt declarations of unilateralism ever heard by an American president in modern times. This was more like [former President] Teddy Roosevelt. And it basically was, we would love to have you in the coalition, we would love if we could fight side by side. But if you can not be with us, at least come down to the docks and we wave as we sail off to war, because we are going."

The next opportunity for the administration to shape domestic and international public opinion comes next Wednesday when Secretary of State Colin Powell will present more detailed information about Iraq's weapons programs to the U.N. Security Council.