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Recent surveys show that public support for war, foreign policy objectives of Bush, Blair is dwindling
Christian Science Monitor
April 4, 2006
By Tom Regan
A series of recent polls in Britain and the US released in the past week have shown that a majority of the public in both countries has solidified its opposition the war in Iraq, or has come to question whether the war was worth the price that has been paid in blood and treasure.
In Britain, a new YouGov poll published by The Daily Telegraph shows that a solid majority of people now believe Britain and the US should not have launched the coalition effort. Fifty-seven percent of Britons now believe that the war should not have been launched against Iraq, up three percent from the last YouGov poll in Sept. of 2005. And 55 percent of Britons now believe that their troops should be withdrawn from Iraq either immediately, or within the next 12 months.
An editorial in the conservative Telegraph argues that Britain should leave Iraq "sooner rather than later." The paper, which backed the decision to go to war in Iraq, writes that three years later, supporters of the war have to "assess the situation with pitiless clarity."
The continuing insurgency can no longer be regarded as a mopping-up exercise, or a prolongation of the military campaign. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether our troops are containing a civil conflict that would be occurring anyway, or whether they are in fact exacerbating the unrest by their presence.
A bit of both, is the honest answer; but, with each day that passes, the truth tilts towards the latter. No one likes living in an occupied country. Even the kindest and most disinterested of foreign soldiers eventually become resented by all sides.
This is not 1950s Malaya, where we knew that we had to defeat a specific rebellion before pulling out; it is 1940s Palestine, where our mere presence made us targets. The goal of building up impartial state forces, trusted by their people, is an admirable one, which even anti-war hardliners ought to have the decency to support. But the converse of this argument is that it would be wrong to remain in Iraq simply to prove a point.
Last month, British Defense Minister John Reid announced the withdrawal of 800 troops. At that time, he called it "the beginning of the end."
In the United States, a new survey on US public attitudes toward foreign policy show that Iraq remains the No.1 foreign policy concern for Americans. But is it swiftly being joined by a new concern - the US dependence on foreign oil. The online news website, Epoch Times, reports that energy dependence has emerged as a huge issue with Americans.
When the first edition of the report was released mid-2005, the US dependence on foreign energy supplies was not nearly so urgent in the public's awareness. At that time, the war in Iraq (and terrorism) was the only issue in which a majority of Americans had high anxiety about and felt Washington could do something about it-conditions which compel the politicians to pay attention. However, energy dependence has now "leapt to the forefront of the public's consciousness," according to Daniel Yankelovich, who was the founder (with former Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance) of The Public Agenda organization in 1975.
While energy dependence has not quite reached the level of concern in the public that the war in Iraq has, it is approaching what Mr. Yankelovich terms a tipping point, as measured three ways: (1) frequency of concern; (2) intensity of concern; and (3) the perception that the government can do something about it. The survey also shows that the American public has become less confident in Washington's ability "to achieve its goals in Iraq and Afghanistan, hunt down terrorists, protect US borders, and safeguard US jobs."
Writing in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Yankelovich writes that the public has a surprisingly different view of what their government's foreign policy priorities should be from that of politicians in Washington. For instance, one of President Bush's most often stated foreign policy goals is helping to spread democracy, particularly throughout the Middle East. Yet those surveyed ranked this as the least important policy.
The US public holds a strikingly clear view of what Washington's foreign policy priorities should be. The goals the public highlights range widely. Those that receive the most public support are helping other nations when they are struck by natural disasters (71 percent), cooperating with other countries on problems such as the environment and disease control (70 percent), and supporting UN peacekeeping (69 percent). A surprisingly high level of support shows up for goals that represent the United States' humanitarian (as distinct from its political) ideals, such as improving the treatment of women in other countries (57 percent), helping people in poor countries get an education (51 percent), and helping countries move out of poverty (40 percent). Receiving less support are goals such as encouraging US businesses to invest in poor countries (22 percent). And receiving the least support is "actively creating democracies in other countries" (20 percent).
The Lexington Herald-Leader at Kentucky.com recently juxtaposed polls taken at the time of the original invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and polls on the same issues today. Among the changes it found in public opinion: In April 2003, 70 percent of respondents in an ABC-Washington Post poll said the war in Iraq was worth fighting. In March 2006 only 29 percent in a CBS poll said results of the war were worth the cost. The paper also looked at changes in statistics on Iraq and the US-led coalition. For instance, when looking at the reconstruction of Iraq:
Copyright © 2006 The Christian Science Monitor
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