The public remains unconvinced of key elements in Bush's case for war. Nearly three-fifths of respondents said they did not believe the report from U.N. weapons inspectors last week -- it was sharply critical of Iraq -- by itself provided "sufficient cause" to go to war. And just one-third of those surveyed said Bush had presented enough evidence to convince them of his charge that Iraq and Al Qaeda had established links; 56% said they remained unconvinced.
Despite those doubts, poll respondents, by 57% to 38%, still said they would support Bush if he decides to "order U.S. troops into a ground attack against Iraqi forces." That's virtually unchanged since December.
But that support is qualified by reluctance to invade without an explicit authorization from the United Nations. Fully 65% of Americans agreed the U.S. "should take military action against Iraq only [with] ... the support of the United Nations Security Council." Just 30% said the U.S. should act without such authorization.
Just 45 percent of registered voters said they are now likely to support Bush for re-election, while 40 percent said they were inclined to back the Democratic nominee, the survey found. Fifteen percent said they don't now lean in either direction.
As recently as last December, just more than half of adults in a Times poll said they would likely support Bush for re-election in a question that was phrased slightly differently.
Though opinions are likely to change several times before voters go the polls in 2004, the new results suggest that the close partisan balance that defined U.S. politics before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is slowly reasserting itself.
The fall in the percentage of voters committing to support Bush's re-election parallels a decline in his job approval rating since last fall and the return of sharp divisions along party lines about his performance and priorities.
One of the more cynical assumptions that has been made about an Iraq invasion is that it's as much about ensuring Bush's reelection as it is about sound foreign policy. (Really, considering how much the War on Terra was politicized during the 2002 election cycle, it's not even that cynical.) So I've got to wonder: Given the poll numbers, which have consistently shown high levels of doubt about unilateral invasion and our alleged casus belli, is anyone still convinced that an invasion which is done over the objections of the UN will be a political boon to Bush?
Personally, I think his approach has boxed him in, much like he's boxed in with North Korea. Large segments of the public have not bought the rationale for invasion, and the UN inspections have not provided a smoking gun. If after all this, Bush winds up going hat in hand to the UN to start building an international invasion force, I think he'll have a hard time claiming full credit for Saddam's eventual deposement. Surely the Democratic candidates will remind him often that they were the ones who argued for working with the UN in the first place.
It's also possible that Team Bush isn't really paying attention to these numbers. They may sincerely believe that invading Iraq with or without international support is the right thing to do regardless of the possible political fallout. Or, and this is more likely in my opinion, they think that everything will go as planned and they'll be swept to electoral invincibility by the inevitable wave of adulation.
That's a pretty high-stakes game to play, and as Wampum reminds us, other issues may still swamp their boat. I sure hope they know what they're doing, but I'm not counting on it.Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 05, 2003 to The making of the President | TrackBack