March 13, 2008
Pg. 1 USA Today/Gallup Poll
Most say invasion was wrong, but differ on leaving
By Susan Page, USA Today
WILMINGTON, Del. Five years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Bree Tease is trying to balance the obligations she feels to Iraqis and to the children whose needs she sees every day in her fourth-grade class.
"Over here, there are so many ways we could use that money," the teacher, 27, says. "But then I think about the poor families and children in Iraq, and they didn't do anything wrong." If U.S. troops withdraw, Iraq could fall into chaos. So should they stay? "You have to leave at some point," she says, uncertain over when.
Her frustration is repeated around the table when a dozen Delaware residents of various political bents gathered one evening last week to talk about the Iraq war with USA TODAY. As the fifth anniversary of the invasion approaches next week, their conversation mirrors a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll that finds attitudes toward the nation's deadliest conflict since Vietnam threaded with crosscurrents particularly among those who want to set a firm timetable to pull out U.S. troops.
The survey finds the 40% of Americans who want to stay the course in Iraq are relatively united confident the invasion was justified and the consequences of withdrawing too soon disastrous.
However, the 60% who call the invasion a mistake and want to set a timetable to get out are fractured into four distinct groups, a USA TODAY analysis of public opinion toward the war concludes.
They include those who want U.S. troops out immediately and others, like Tease, who argue America has an obligation to improve Iraq's stability before going. Such divisions have complicated efforts in Congress to force a change in President Bush's war policy.
The unsettled sentiment over the war is clear in the conversation about Iraq in a conference room at The News Journal
in Wilmington (which, like USA TODAY, is owned by Gannett). Meeting over sandwiches and soft drinks after the workday is over, the discussion begins when each participant is asked to write down a word or two that describes the situation in Iraq.
"People in need," writes Lynn Tarney, 64, a retired camp director.
"Mistake," writes Joseph Coccia, 27, a technical writer for a chemistry company.
"Unnecessary death and destruction," writes Yahna Talley, 38, a program coordinator at a family resource center.
"Sand," writes Bill Shields, 49, the vice president of a plastics manufacturing company.
"It's easy to step in it, but it's hard to get out," he explains.
Seven of the 12 have seen the war touch their lives much like the 55% in the USA TODAY Poll who say a family member, friend or co-worker has served in Iraq.
Ron Burkett, 49, a real-estate agent and former teacher who argues in favor of getting out as quickly as possible, has bumped into former students who have been deployed there. A childhood pal of Coccia has completed one tour in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. Talley and Kassia Bradigan have close friends whose husbands are serving in Iraq. A former boyfriend of Tease was killed there a year ago.
An analysis of the telephone survey of 2,021 adults taken Feb. 21-24 and the conversation around the table in Wilmington reflect the complex and sometimes conflicting ways Americans view the war.
Respondents clustered into five distinct groups:
*The war's defenders make up 40% of the total and are the most affluent and conservative group. They say Iraqis will be better off in the long run as a result of the invasion and warn the consequences of pulling out would be catastrophic. Nearly two-thirds say terrorist attacks on the United States are more likely if U.S. troops leave.
Seven in 10 back Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, over his Democratic rivals.
"There have been some good consequences for (Iraqis) school systems
and police training," Tarney says. The United States' status as a world power carries obligations that "the American spirit" will meet, she says. "We always come up with solutions and we always will," learning from mistakes that were made in Iraq in the past.
*Those who want to get out now, whatever the consequences, include nearly one in five Americans. They see no U.S. obligation to establish better security in Iraq before leaving, arguing that the U.S. troop presence is provoking violence and making things worse for Iraqis and Americans.
They decry the war's cost and say the money being spent on it ought to be devoted to problems at home. In a new book, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates the total cost of the war will reach $3 trillion or more, a number the Pentagon calls inflated. Last fall, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and anti-terrorism expenditures overseas had cost $600 billion since 2001 and could cost a total of $2.4 trillion over the next decade.
"There's going to be a civil war" in Iraq, Shields says. "It's either going to be now, if we get out now, or it's going to be 15 years from now, if we pull out 15 years from now."
*War opponents who want security established first, before withdrawing, make up another one in five Americans.
This is the group that most strongly supports Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama over Hillary Rodham Clinton no surprise since it is dominated by the younger voters who have streamed to his campaign.
"The soldiers need to be home," says Tally, calling herself "torn" on the question of how quickly to pull out. "There's a lot of destruction, a lot of death, and it needs to stop. At the same time, I'm concerned about the people there, the families there.
Those people are just going to be left vulnerable."
*The most pessimistic, just over one in 10 Americans, say the conflict has been a disaster for both the United States and Iraq, and they see no end in sight. Most expect a significant number of U.S. troops to remain there for at least five more years. Iraqis will be much worse off over the long run as a result of the invasion, most in this group say, predicting history will judge the war as a failure.
"At the time we invaded Afghanistan there was al-Qaeda in Afghanistan," Coccia says. "Now there's al-Qaeda in Iraq because of what we did there. What's next? Pakistan? Saudi Arabia? It's a mess over there, and we're knee-deep in it."
*One anti-war group has largely tuned out. This cluster, including one in 10 Americans, calls the invasion a mistake and backs a timetable for withdrawal but declines to assess the consequences of keeping troops in Iraq or bringing them home. This group gives Clinton her strongest support.
"I think so, yes
but I don't really know much about what's going on," Bradigan, 38, says about whether she thinks U.S. troops should pull out. She is an administrative assistant at a bank and the mother of three school-age children, including 9-year-old twin boys. "I don't watch the news."
The debate over Iraq is likely to be sharpened in this year's presidential campaign in a way not seen since President Bush launched the invasion in 2003.
McCain has been the invasion's most consistent defender on Capitol Hill and an early critic of how the administration was executing the war. He's likely to stand against Illinois Sen. Obama, who has made his opposition to the war the foundation of his presidential bid, or New York Sen. Clinton, who says she would withdraw her vote to authorize the Iraq war if she could and promises to start a pullout within 60 days of taking office.
"This election is going to be a referendum, to some extent, on the war," says Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University who studies public opinion on Iraq.
In the USA TODAY Poll, six in 10 Americans said the United States should set a timetable for withdrawal and stick to it no matter what. Just 35% said U.S. troops should remain until the situation in Iraq gets better, a number as low as it's ever been.
That would seem to be a boon to Democrats, but the politics of Iraq aren't that simple.
Among the groups of anti-war voters, McCain draws support from one-third of those who are the most pessimistic about the future of the Iraq conflict, a group that includes a mix of Republicans and Democrats. In a head-to-head contest against Clinton, McCain also wins one-third of those who want to get out but feel obliged to achieve more security first. He has argued to them that, whatever differences they have on the wisdom of the invasion, he is the candidate best able to stabilize Iraq.
McCain's appeal to some anti-war voters makes it possible that he could put together a majority coalition or at least neutralize the issue despite the downturn in public opinion toward the war.
"You cannot go into a country and destroy everything and leave it in chaos without helping them rebuild some kind of infrastructure," says Jennifer Curry, 59, one of the Delaware residents who joined the roundtable discussion. She supports withdrawing U.S. troops but only when Iraq is reasonably stable.
"I mean, there's a limit," she says, "but I think we owe it to them to give them a shot."
"If we leave there now, what will happen?" counters Burkett, a former Marine. "If we wait a year and leave there, what will happen? The answer will still be the same whether we're there six months or whether we wait 10 years and leave."
Anthony Lewis, 59, an audio-visual specialist, wants policymakers to brainstorm for fresh solutions.
"We've tried the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and that hasn't worked," he says. "Somebody needs to say, 'Switzerland knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody let's see if we can't sit down and talk.' What we're doing is not working. We've spent millions of dollars at this. Somebody has to say, 'Timeout.' "
Support for setting a timetable for withdrawal hasn't wavered even as attitudes toward last year's increase in U.S. force levels improve: Four in 10 now say it has made the situation in Iraq better, a more positive reading than last summer and early fall. And most Americans support a pull-out plan even though they also predict damaging repercussions as a result.
By wide margins, those surveyed said that pulling out U.S. troops would make it more likely that a broader war in the Middle East erupts, more likely that Iraqis will die from violence and more likely that al-Qaeda will use Iraq as a base for terror operations.
They were evenly split over whether staying or going makes it more likely that the United States would be attacked by terrorists.
"I think we keep forgetting that the war is going to come to us," says Rafael Castro, 45, the facilities director at a Wilmington community center. "And I don't think that America's prepared for that the terrorism, the way it's growing."
Castro and others worry, too, about the impact the war has had in the United States, especially for the troops who have served there.
Talley thinks "all the time" about "just how they're going to get on with their lives and rebuild their own lives at home with their families all the time lost, all the deaths they've seen."
The war has changed the nation in ways that may be hard to recognize, Lewis says. "Iraq, to me, is like a puddle," he says. "We've thrown a rock into it and the effects have come out like ripples."
Cynicism toward the government has swelled. By 53%-42%, the widest margin ever, those polled said the Bush administration deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the prime justification given for going to war.
"I'm so distrustful of our government," Curry says. Jeffrey Loveland, 32, a business analyst, adds, "I still wonder what's going on with Osama bin Laden." Several are suspicious about why and how bin Laden has eluded capture, 6½ years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The conversation ends with the participants writing down a word or two that describes the impact on the United States of the Iraq war, five years after it began.
"Awareness," writes Tarney, the retired camp director.
"Politically activating," writes Shields, the businessman.
"Questioning government's motives," writes Tease, the teacher.
"Loss; grief; frustration," writes Janice Chandler, 57, a retired operations analyst.
Lewis struggles aloud over finding precisely the word he wants.
"You're for the war or you're against the war," the audio-visual specialist says, finally settling on "divisive" as his word. "It's put us in two different camps." Americans consider the future in light of the Iraq war Which would be better for the United States?
Keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation there gets better: 35%; Set a timetable for removing troops and stick to it regardless of what is going on in Iraq: 60% Among those who support withdrawal:
Withdraw troops as soon as possible: 30%; Set a timetable for gradual withdrawal: 69% Just your best guess, for how many more years will the United States have a significant number of troops in Iraq?
1 year or less: 7%; 2-3 years: 32%; 4-5 years: 26%; 6-10 years: 17%; 11-20 years: 5%; More than 20 years: 4% Does the United States have an obligation to establish a reasonable level of stability and security in Iraq before withdrawing all of its troops?
Yes: 65%, No: 32% Are each of these developments more likely to occur if the United States keeps its troops in Iraq or withdraws its troops from Iraq?
The United States will be attacked by terrorists -- More likely if keeps: 40%, More likely if withdraws: 38%
Al-Qaeda will use Iraq as a base for its terrorist operations -- More likely if keeps: 20%, More likely if withdraws: 63%
A greater number of Iraqis will die from violence there -- More likely if keeps: 27%, More likely if withdraws: 57%
A broader war involving several Middle East nations will occur -- More likely if keeps: 35%, More likely if withdraws: 50% In the long run, will Iraq be better or worse off than before the U.S. and British invasion?
Much better off: 23%, Somewhat better off: 44%, Same (volunteered): 3%, Somewhat worse off: 14%, Much worse off: 12%, No opinion: 5% In the long run, how do you think history will judge the U.S. invasion and subsequent involvement in Iraq?
Total success: 4%, Mostly successful: 38%, Mostly a failure: 36%, Total failure: 18%, No opinion: 4% Source: USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 2,021 adults taken Feb. 21-24. Margin of error +/ 2 percentage points. A spectrum of views on what's next in Iraq
A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found that four in 10 Americans are relatively unified in supporting the Iraq invasion and opposing timetables for withdrawing U.S. troops. Among the six in 10 who oppose the war, however, there are significant differences about what to do now. Here's a look at how public opinion divides: We will win --
Percentage of sample: 40%. Views: This is the only group with majorities saying the invasion wasn't a mistake and opposing a timetable for withdrawal. Characteristics: Most affluent group; mostly conservative, Republican.
In their own words: "The media doesn't spell out all the good things, establishing schools and that kind of stuff. If we can stay the course, we should be able to get Iraq on its own two feet." Greg Huddleson, 44, Durham, Calif. Invasion wrong, but U.S. obliged to stay in Iraq
--Percentage of sample: 20%. Views: They opposed the invasion but believe the United States must establish reasonable stability in Iraq before withdrawing troops. Characteristics: Youngest group; mostly Democratic, liberal.
In their own words: "I do think we should set a timetable. It's important that the region is stabilized to an extent." Jon Gos, 26, Atlanta It makes no difference --
Percentage of sample: 10%. Views: Most say neither staying nor withdrawing troops would affect terrorist attacks on the USA or have other consequences. Characteristics: Oldest and least affluent group.
In their own words: "It is such a complex situation I don't even know" what will happen. "All I know is that something has to be done now. I really have mixed feelings." Barbara Longo, 61, Pequabuck, Conn. Get out now --
Percentage of sample: 17%. Views: This group strongly supports a quick withdrawal, and believes staying would only make things worse for the USA and Iraqis.Characteristics: Mostly Democratic, liberal.
In their own words: "I can understand the conclusion that some people have come to that we just need to pull out." Ellen Napier, 35, Philadelphia The profoundly pessimistic --
Percentage of sample: 12%. Views: Most in this group predict U.S. troops will be in Iraq for years. They are the most downbeat about the war's impact on Iraqis and how history will judge the war. Characteristics: A mix of Republicans, Democrats.
In their own words: "It's just a mess, a total and complete mess. That's going to continue." Marco Canales, 30, Flower Mound, Texas