September 23, 2003

Give UN Control in Order to Get More Foreign Troops

Public Staggered by Costs But Wants to Stay the Course

Introduction

Concerned by the rising costs and growing casualties of the U.S. military operation in Iraq, Americans are looking to the United Nations to assume a greater role in the country, even if that means ceding some authority over military decisions to the world body. Just over half (51%) believe that the United States should give up some military control to the United Nations in order to get other countries to deploy troops to Iraq.

There is even more support for the U.N. taking on significant responsibility for establishing a stable government in Iraq. Seven-in-ten Americans favor such a role for the U.N., up from 64% in April when major combat was winding down. Americans remain divided over whether the U.S. or the U.N. should have the most say in creating a new government, though a growing number (44%) wants the U.N. take the lead.

Despite the persistent attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, the public remains solidly behind the mission. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) think the U.S. should keep its troops in Iraq until a stable government is formed, while 32% want to withdraw the forces as soon as possible. The percentage of Americans who say the U.S. made the right decision in going to war has held steady at 63% since early August, and perceptions of how well the military operation is going have stabilized as well. However, as in recent months few (15%) believe things are going very well, which was the majority view in April.

At the same time, there is substantial public opposition to the rising cost of the military operation. Nearly six-in-ten Americans (59%) say they oppose President Bush’s request for an additional $87 billion for military and rebuilding costs in Iraq and Afghanistan while just 36% back the request. Notably, this is not just a case of “sticker shock.” When a separate sample was asked whether they favor a “large amount” to support U.S. efforts in the two countries, with the total dollar amount not specified, there was nearly as much opposition to the spending (55%).

The latest Pew Research Center national survey of 1,500 adults, conducted Sept. 17-22, finds substantial doubt about whether President Bush has a plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion. More than half (58%) say the president does not have a clear plan for exiting Iraq, compared with less than a third (32%) who say he does. And many fewer are satisfied with the president’s explanations of the current situation than was the case before the war. Just 30% say the president has “explained clearly” his plans for the end game in Iraq, compared with 49% who said he had explained the reasons for war clearly prior to military engagement.

A growing number of Americans also fault the president for not lining up more allied backing before going to war in Iraq. A narrow majority (53%) still feels Bush was right to order the attack when he did, but 42% say he should have waited for more allied support, up from 28% in April.

Still, Americans accept one of Bush’s central premises for the war ­ that it helps in the struggle against global terrorism. A 54% majority believes the war in Iraq has helped the war on terrorism as opposed to 31% who think the Iraq conflict has hurt the fight against terrorism. But here again, opinions have shifted since spring. In May, Americans by three-to-one (65%-22%) said the war in Iraq helped, not hurt, the war in terrorism.