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Legislators React to Poll Showing Americans' Enthusiasm for War Waning - 2004-07-04

U.S. legislators of both political parties are taking note of public opinion polls showing an apparent drop in the American public's enthusiasm for U.S.-led efforts in Iraq.

Among Democrats, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman has been one of the most consistent and outspoken backers of U.S.-led efforts to end Iraq's history of dictatorial rule. Speaking on the U.S. television program NBC's Meet the Press, Mr. Lieberman said the true danger to America's hopes for Iraq lies not with terrorists, militants and insurgents, but with the erosion of the American public's optimism about the mission.

"There is no way that these insurgents are going to defeat the American military and our Iraqi and international allies. The danger is that the terrorists and insurgents can win politically by dividing the American people, and of course by dividing the people in Iraq. There has to be unity in America to finish the job," he said.

Mr. Lieberman echoed a central contention of the Bush administration: that Iraq is the main battleground of America's war on terrorism.

If so, recent polling data might be cause for concern. NBC reports a recent poll it conducted with The Wall Street Journal newspaper found 51 percent of Americans now believe removing Saddam Hussein from power was not worth the cost in human life and overall expenditure. Another poll conducted by CBS showed 57 percent of Americans believe the U.S. effort in Iraq is going badly, up from 36 percent with a negative impression one year ago, and that 55 percent believe U.S. actions in Iraq have most likely created more terrorists in the region.

Even so, the CBS poll found 54 percent support for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for as long as it takes to create a stable democracy. Both polls were conducted in the wake of high-profile beheadings by insurgents in Iraq, but before last week's transfer of power.

Speaking on CNN's Late Edition program, New Jersey Democratic Senator John Corzine said blunders by the Bush administration have made it harder for Americans to be optimistic about the prospects for success in Iraq. "There is a fundamental credibility problem with this administration. They (Bush administration officials) have tried to jam much of this down the international community's throats without being straightforward with a lot of the facts. We have serious intelligence problems. We took limited information and either exaggerated it or misinterpreted it," he said.

But Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch had a different assessment. Also speaking on CNN, Mr. Hatch accused Mr. Bush's critics of hyping setbacks in Iraq for political gain and contributing to an undercurrent of negativity that could hinder America's mission in Iraq. "I am getting tired of the bad-mouthing that comes because we are in a presidential election (year). We ought to be behind our president, behind our troops. Every time we start bad-mouthing the president and bad-mouthing what is going on over there [in Iraq], I think we are undermining our troops," he said.

Senator Hatch insisted progress is being made in Iraq, as evidenced by last week's handover of power.