Doubts Rise Over War Rationale, Bush Credibility
by Jim Lobe
doubts about President George W. Bush's credibility and his justification
for going to war in Iraq are on the rise, according to a
new survey conducted by the University of Maryland's Program on
International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).
survey of a random sample of more than 1,000 voters, which echoes
the results of other recent national polls, found that 55 percent
of respondents believed the administration went to war on the basis
of incorrect assumptions, particularly the notion that Iraq posed
an imminent threat to the United States or its allies.
despite subsequent denials by senior administration officials, an
overwhelming 87 percent of the public felt that the administration
before the war portrayed Iraq as an imminent threat.
42 percent believed that the administration did have the evidence
to justify such a depiction, a strong majority of 58 percent said
that it did not.
disparity, according to PIPA, which conducted the survey between
Oct. 31 and Nov. 10, has translated into major questions about the
president's personal veracity and credibility.
42 percent of those polled said they believed that Bush was "honest
and frank," while 56 percent said they had doubts about the things
72 percent (up from 63 percent in July) said that when the administration
presented evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
one of its two major prewar reasons for attacking Iraq it
was either presenting evidence it knew was false (21 percent) or
"stretching the truth" (51 percent), according to the
represents a sharp rise in public skepticism about the war's justifications
from five months ago.
June, 39 percent of respondents said they thought the administration
was being truthful in its prewar assertions about the threat posed
by Baghdad. That percentage has now fallen to 25 percent.
the 21 percent who now believe the administration was, in effect,
lying in its claims about Iraqi WMD is more than double the 10 percent
who told pollsters that five months ago.
changes are particularly significant for Bush's reelection prospects,
according to PIPA's director, Stephen Kull, who noted that trust
in the credibility of candidates is one of the most reliable indicators
of voting behavior in the United States, even higher than party
those who said they believed the president was being truthful about
the prewar situation were 11 times more likely to say they intended
to vote for Bush next year than those who expressed doubts.
also told the media that the decline in Bush's credibility might
be the single most important factor in a sharp rise in the number
of voters who say the president's handling of Iraq has made them
less likely to vote for him in the November 2004 presidential elections.
recently as two months ago, a plurality of 35 percent of respondents
said Bush's performance on Iraq would make them more likely to vote
for him, as opposed to 31 percent who said it would not affect their
vote either way, and 30 percent who said it would make them less
likely to back him.
the same percentage of voters (35 percent) insists his performance
in Iraq will still incline them to vote for Bush, 42 percent now
say they are less likely to vote for him for that reason.
the first time, the president's handling of Iraq has shifted from
a net positive to a net negative for his electoral prospects,"
the increasingly violent resistance to the US occupation in Iraq
was a factor, he added, the fact that more people believe the administration
lied or was "stretching the truth" about the reasons for
going to war was the main reason for the rise in the "less
likely" category, he added.
the findings of most prewar polls, which, until immediately before
the war, showed that majorities of the public favored giving United
Nations arms experts more time and seeking more international support
before invading Iraq, the new survey finds that Americans have returned
to their prewar views.
majority of 61 percent said the administration should have taken
more time to find out whether Iraq did indeed have WMD, and 59 percent
said they should have taken more time to build international support.
contrasts strongly with opinions during and in the immediate aftermath
of the war.
one Los Angeles Times poll taken Apr. 23, for example,
two-thirds of respondents said Bush had devoted enough time to international
diplomacy and 73 percent said he had given arms inspectors ample
time to search for the weapons.
most of the public in the latest survey believed that Bush was determined
to go to war regardless of the actual evidence.
percent said the president would have attacked even if US intelligence
agencies had told him there was no reliable evidence that Iraq possessed
or was building WMD or was providing substantial support to al-Qaeda.
all of these findings, only 38 percent of those polled believed
that going to war was the wrong thing to do. Forty-two percent said
the war was the best thing for the United States and an additional
15 percent said they supported the war in order to support the president,
though they were not certain that war was the best option.
these judgments was the belief that, while Iraq might not have posed
an imminent threat on the order depicted by the administration,
most of the public still believed it had a WMD program (71 percent)
and was providing support to al-Qaeda (67 percent), despite no evidence
to support these conclusions.
majority's views about the decision to go to war are nuanced,"
said Kull. "It believes there were legitimate concerns that
prompted the decision, while at the same time it believes the threat
was not imminent and the decision was taken precipitously, without
proper international support."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2003 Inter Press Service